Lieutenant Samantha May is a tenacious individual, taking on challenges that most, including herself, would never have imagined in their first year as an infantry platoon commander.
CAPTION: Australian Army officer Lieutenant Samantha May, of the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, with local children in Papua New Guinea. Story by Captain Diana Jennings. Photos by Leading Aircraftwoman Emma Schwenke.
Growing up in Logan, Queensland, Lieutenant May said she chose a career in the Army to see what she was capable of.
Completing a Bachelor of Business at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Lieutenant May was appointed to the Royal Military College – Duntroon (RMC-D), where she graduated in 2022 and posted to Townsville’s 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR).
“Initially, my intentions were to become a cavalry officer, but after being exposed to the infantry and everything it stood for, I realised my values aligned more with the regiment,” she said.
Although apprehensive, she hit the ground running (and leopard crawling), with a whirlwind six months leading her platoon through three major exercises and experiencing every element of combined arms firsthand.
“I went through the School of Infantry and School of Armour before posting to Bravo Company 3RAR and deploying almost immediately onto Exercise Talisman Sabre as a platoon commander,” she said.
“Exercise Brolga Sprint was next, conducting a series of live-fire air mobile insertions, and after a quick turnaround we deployed to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for Exercise Wantok Warrior to complete amphibious and air mobile assaults in the jungle.”
CAPTION: Australian Army officer Lieutenant Samantha May takes a sight picture during Exercise Wantok Warrior in Wewak, Papua New Guinea.
Training alongside PNG Defence Force officers at RMC-D, Lieutenant May was familiar with the military relationship between the two nations but didn’t expect such a warm welcome from the entire community.
“PNG is such a vibrant community. We were welcomed from the moment we arrived; people were waving and yelling hello as soon as we stepped off the plane,” she said.
As the soldiers conducted their assault scenario on Muschu Island, Lieutenant May said the community members took it upon themselves to look after the soldiers.
“It was beautiful. They made shelters for us when they saw we were treating scenario casualties and POWs [prisoners of war] in the sun and brought over fresh coconuts,” she said.
“Most of us aren’t used to that sort of culture. Here, they really want to get involved and be a part of everything we’re doing.”
But it wasn’t all sunshine and coconuts. The contingent executed high-level training, clearing enemy positions in a tough environment and employing unique assets to reach their objective.
“Working in a different combined arms space has been a standout of the exercise for me,” Lieutenant May said.
“Seeing the different assets on the ground, how they’re employed tactically and the synchronisation of effects on the battlefield was a highlight.”
Spending the majority of her time in the field, Lieutenant May said sleeping on the same patch of dirt and carrying the same pack was the best way to get to know her soldiers, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’ve been living in each other’s pockets since Talisman Sabre, and despite not being in the battalion very long, I’ve been able to build solid relationships with both my soldiers and my platoon staff,” she said.
“It’s been a big year, but it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it’s definitely not what I thought my first year as a lieutenant would be like.”
A perfectionist, Lieutenant May admitted she still questions herself but, with the experience gained over the past six months, said she was coming into her own as a strong leader.
“I’m still second-guessing myself and rehearsing everything because there’s always that fear of failure, but at the end of the day we will get it done,” she said.
“I feel privileged to be here in this role at this regiment, and I’m pretty proud.”