Realistic training scenarios tested New Entry Officers’ Course (NEOC) trainee’s leadership skills during Exercise Matapan, held between November 15 – 25, at HMAS Creswell.
CAPTION: (Left) Royal Australian Naval College New Entry Officers’ Course 65 Midshipman Stuart Munro and Midshipman Ellen Kozlowska carry the front of a stretcher after rescuing an unconscious pilot during a training scenario for Exercise Matapan at HMAS Creswell. Story by Private Jacob Joseph.
The trainees faced challenges such as rescuing a group stranded at sea infected with a highly contagious virus.
It demonstrated how the Royal Australian Naval College was preparing officers for modern operations, according to Lead Instructor – Leadership, Lieutenant Lloyd Nash.
“We try to touch all facets of leadership in our assessments. This scenario had an ethical decision-making element to it.”
Named after a resounding World War II Allied naval victory in the Mediterranean, Matapan is the final exercise before NEOC graduation.
The culmination of more than 19 weeks training, which included time at sea aboard HMAS Choules, trainees navigated dozens of humanitarian assistance disaster relief-type activities designed to assess an individual’s leadership decisions, such as search and rescue missions and supporting free, “Creswellian” elections.
A team of more than 40 role-players acted as “locals” and “casualties”, adding realism and uncertainty.
Midshipman Daniel Wise said it was the most challenging aspect of the exercise.
“The humanitarian aid operations had a lot of role players who were under stress, they weren’t necessarily hostile but were antagonistic towards us,” Midshipman Wise said.
“Figuring out how to manage that grey zone was a lot of fun and very interesting. Seeing all the different styles of leadership was a highlight.”
Serials ranged from meeting with “local officials” to obtain a cache of stolen weapons to carrying out emergency repairs to a damaged communications relay.
Trainees took turns in command; it was the first time they had full discretion to make decisions.
They had three attempts to meet the standard or risk being removed from course and possibly returning to complete NEOC again.
Exercise instructor Lieutenant Jared Willans said retests were assessed by higher ranks, which added pressure for some.
“If someone doesn’t get over the line we provide feedback and coaching,” Lieutenant Willans said.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to be an officer in the Royal Australian Navy so they have to learn how to operate under pressure.”
Lessons learned during NEOC were put into practice during Exercise Matapan, but Lieutenant Nash believes leadership training and practical skills development needs to continue throughout their careers.
“Exercise Matapan gives them the confidence to lead a team,” he said.
“Leadership skills need to be something consistently worked on in the background.”
Almost 300 Navy members have completed officer training in 2021 – the largest cohort of new officers to graduate in a single year since the 1950’s.
This week, 125 RAN members graduated from the NEOC at the Royal Australian Naval College in Jervis Bay.
Another 173 officers completed the world-class leadership course in the first half of 2021.