A 40 year career is impressive by any standard but very few have a CV that reads like that of Captain Jim Hutton, OBE, who has just returned from leading one of Australia’s biggest defence activities, Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2018 (IPE18).
Being commander of the IPE Task Group is but the latest achievement in a military career spanning 40 years precisely, next month.
Captain Hutton was born in Scotland and grew up near Glasgow. In September 1978, at the age of 17, he made a decision that would forever change his life – he decided to join the Royal Navy.
“I signed up because I wanted to get out and see the world. I wanted to learn new skills and serve my country,” he said.
But after completing naval training, rather than continue as a midshipman, he joined the Royal Marines.
“I was on a task group deployment on the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and our midshipman’s mess was next to the Royal Marines’ barracks.
“They’d come back every day full of amazing stories while we were chipping and painting all day,” he said.
Captain Hutton spent the next 34 years as a Royal Marine, serving in some of the world’s toughest environments: Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Belize, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including running the International Assistance Afghanistan Force’s (ISAF) daily operations as Chief of Combined Operations in 2008.
“When I look back and reflect on those times, I realise that I was constantly being challenged by tough hard men in extreme conditions.
“We were involved in intense operations and arduous exercises in the mountains, the jungle and deserts, all over the world,” he said.
In 2003, Captain Hutton was second-in-command, when 40 Commando Royal Marines conducted a dangerous night-time amphibious assault on the strategic Al Faw peninsula in Iraq.
“We spent two months preparing for this operation; it was top secret with only a few of us privy to exactly why we were on deployment conducting exercises in Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates.
“We spent a lot of time at sea training and rehearsing for all eventualities; we had to plan to third and fourth order consequences so that nothing surprised us.
“And in the end, nothing did.”
Captain Hutton’s unit over-ran the critical landmark taking 145 prisoners of the 300 Iraqis who were defending the peninsula and, amazingly, without suffering any casualties.
“I realised that Al Faw was the war I had been training for all my career; I was being held to account for everything that I’d been trained to do,” he said.
After Iraq, Captain Hutton lived in Naples, Italy, training NATO Maritime and Amphibious task groups before moving into a new role as Royal Marines Director of Training and was awarded an OBE for his work supporting Marines.
He guided the way Marines were trained after unacceptable losses in Afghanistan. The changes have had a lasting effect with significantly fewer casualties now than previously.
He also led a charity to mobilise corporate support for injured marines returning from fighting.
“I was surrounded by the great and good when I was presented with an OBE by Princess Anne, it was a truly humbling experience and one I shall never forget.”
A major career and life change came in 2011, when Captain Hutton moved to Australia as the new RAN Deputy Commander of the Amphibious Task Group, to support the development of our amphibious capability.
“This was a role I sought out. I heard about it when I was holidaying in Australia and visiting my son in June 2011.
“Given my entire career as a Royal Marine had been spent working in amphibious operations, I talked to a few people and by November of that year I was offered and accepted the role,” said Captain Hutton
He went on to form the Force Generation Directorate to train maritime task groups.
Now, almost 40 years to the day since he signed up as a Royal Navy Midshipman, he has just completed his most recent assignment, leading Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2018.
“It was an incredibly rewarding experience, working with a great group of men and women.
“My job was to educate and explain to them why we are in the South Pacific, to demonstrate the capabilities we have to our neighbours and make every soldier, sailor and airman and woman understand that they are an ambassador for our country.
“No one let us down,” he said.
“I never doubted it.”
Captain Hutton lives in Sydney and is married to Sally, a former Women’s Royal Naval Service officer and midwife. Their late son Jamie followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Royal Marine sniper; their younger son Ewan (31) is a post-grad traveller, currently in Japan.