Exercising Task Group muscles

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Todd Fitzgerald (author), LSIS Justin Brown (photographer)

Location(s): Darwin, Northern Territory

Topic(s): HMAS Newcastle (F06), Exercise KAKADU

Commanding Officer HMAS Newcastle, Commander Mark Sirois, RAN on the bridge wing of his ship as they conduct a replenishment at sea (RAS) with HMAS Success during Exercise Kakadu 2016. (photo: LSIS Justin Brown)
Commanding Officer HMAS Newcastle, Commander Mark Sirois, RAN on the bridge wing of his ship as they conduct a replenishment at sea (RAS) with HMAS Success during Exercise Kakadu 2016.

Commanding a task group during the Royal Australian Navy’s largest multi-lateral exercise is about managing fatigue, thinking on your feet and trusting your experience says Commander Mark Sirois.
 
Commander Sirois, onboard Australian frigate, HMAS Newcastle, was recently using all of those skills in charge of up to 14 warships, multiple aircraft and thousands of personnel when they came together as a unit at sea to practice high-end warfare. Although he had support from those directing the exercise, he was effectively in charge of the safety, well being and tasking of assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
 
“I was responsible for fighting the battle, using all of the assets at my disposal within the task force,” he said.
 
“You feel the weight when you are in charge of almost 2,000 lives and that is a normal reaction, but it is how you manage that pressure. 
“I trust my team. I have a well rehearsed team and I trust their skill and professionalism.
 
“I also trust my experience, knowing when something is right and when something is wrong,” he said.
 
Commander Sirois said his past experiences and respect for his fellow Commanding Officers made the decisions during the serials less daunting.
 

“It takes lots of patience and you have to be calm; you have to understand how the other ships in your group operate, you have to know their limitations and what they are comfortable doing. 
 
“After working with the Americans, Japanese, Malaysians and Indonesians recently, I could see they all had different comfort levels and procedures. When you do close manoeuvring you get an appreciation of whether you are asking too much or if you need to amplify what you are asking to be done.”
 
He said one of the most demanding aspects of commanding international task group operations was maintaining Australia’s reputation as a professional fighting force, during all serials, at all times.
 
“Managing fatigue, always being on call, having to think on your feet all the time and having to manage not only your ship’s company, which I am always thinking about, but also thinking about other nations is the hardest; all while ensuring our partners go back to their countries and speak highly of Australia, our officers, our sailors and our Navy.”
 
That said, his role’s rewards outweighed the challenges through seeing people achieve what they thought impossible. 
 
“These are ordinary citizens doing amazing, extra-ordinary tasks. That is the privilege of command; leading men and women through difficult challenges. You bring them together as a team, as a family, and you see the camaraderie. They see they can do the impossible.”