Innovation across the Submarine Force

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), CPOIS Damian Pawlenko (photographer)

Location(s): Rockingham, Western Australia

Lieutenant Karin Leepere with Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster near Diamantina Pier at Fleet Base West.  (photo: CPOIS Damian Pawlenko)
Lieutenant Karin Leepere with Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster near Diamantina Pier at Fleet Base West.

The wellbeing of junior submariners is the focus of an innovative program which has been created and coordinated by a junior officer and a Chief Petty Officer from the Submarine Force at HMAS Stirling

Program Manager Lieutenant Karin Leepere said the mentoring scheme is designed to address the specific needs of submariners.

“Every Navy member knows the pressures that come with the job but eventually that stress can take its toll," she said.

"I wanted to find a way to address these stresses from a specifically sub-surface perspective."

Lieutenant Leepere set to work researching what was on offer. 

“Navy has a formal leadership mentoring program and there are plenty of civilian mentoring equivalents out there but none were tailor made for submariners, so we began to create our own."

With the strong backing of her command and the assistance of Chief Petty Officer Combat System Manager Lee Webster, Lieutenant Leepere adapted mentoring concepts to make them more relevant to young members of the Submarine Force. 

The challenge then was to match less experienced sailors to a suitable mentor. 

"Initially, our mentees were exposed to a number of mentors who are specifically matched in specialisation or category with the intention that it would provide guidance to overcome obstacles in the workplace," Lieutenant Leepere said.

The progress of each member is carefully monitored. Group follow up with mentors show where organisational trends are developing, this then allows Chief Petty Officer Webster to investigate themes and patterns more deeply and make recommendations and apply cultural change solutions on behalf of command.

Feedback sessions between the Program Manager and each mentor provide tangible evidence to participants that their contribution remains valuable and provides each individual an opportunity to re-assess their availability at any particular time.

Lieutenant Leepere said that the program has been equally successful in addressing personal issues. 

“It quickly became apparent that about 90 per cent of personnel actually needed an avenue to also balance life/work,” Lieutenant Leepere said. 

“For example, we found a mentor for a young female sailor who had just returned to sea after having children. 

"She wasn’t concerned about her level of competence; she was just looking for advice on how to cope with her new circumstances.” 

Chief Petty Officer Webster says he’s been delighted by the positive impact the program has had on submariners from both a work and life perspective. 

“This program is about improving and maintaining mental health as it is professional development,” he said. 

“The divisional system remains vital in caring for our people but our program takes Navy’s informal mentoring methods a step further.”

Lieutenant Leepere agreed that the innovative project has proved its worth and that she is most often approached by sailors seeking a mentor who will be empathetic to their personal needs: gender, sexuality, marital status, living arrangements, family dynamic, religion, to name just a few.

“People don't always realise they're becoming stressed until it's too late and being officially supported into a bond with a trusted person who understands our unique working environment is a mechanism to overcome private obstacles before they develop to overwhelming proportions," she said.