Lieutenant Simon Le Poidevin
He commands a platoon of 30 soldiers as they work alongside soldiers from New Zealand, Tonga and Papua New Guinea and are prepared to lend support to the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
Lieutenant Le Poidevin has worked as the Platoon Commander since January 2012 but has known some of the soldiers under his command for several years.
“My job as the platoon commander is to make sure things run smoothly,” he explains.
“I command and administer the platoon in the field. On CTF 635 there’s a range of tasks: being on duty for the QRF (Quick Reaction Force), training guys on POM (Public Order Management), arranging future training such as range shoots, battle preparations, future operations, and undertaking current operations as they come up.”
As a member of the Army Reserve, Simon completed his officer training while studying law and accounting at university.
His military training was done through the First Appointment Course (FAC) in a combination of training at weekly parade nights, weekend activities, and residential training blocks of two and four weeks.
At the end of several years of part-time training, Simon received his commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Infantry.
“The FAC is focussed on command and leadership in the field and is very tactics based. But that is only a small part of the job. Once you’re in the job there’s is a lot of administrative management, face-to-face personnel management and so on.
“Those sorts of things you have to pick up as you go. You can conduct the best ‘platoon attack’ in the world and be all about the tactics but if you don’t get on with your troops they won’t work with you. So my focus as a platoon commander is on the face-to-face side of things.”
Simon has spent four years as lieutenant while working as a prosecutor for the South Australian Government but stepped aside from his civilian work to prepare full-time for his role as a platoon commander in Solomon Islands.
“You spend months getting ready. You train for the worst-case scenario, which has you working to a very high level because you need to be.
“The reality here is that the operation here is less intensive, which is good when you consider that for us to roll out in full kit and loaded weapons means things have gone very, very wrong.
“That we don’t have to do that is indicative of the greater success of the mission.
“A part of my role is to keep them motivated and keen, and all the extra training we can do here, such as the jungle warfare stuff, helps keep their skills up.”
The CTF 635 command team has created some opportunities for jungle warfare training for the soldiers not on duty with the QRF.
The jungle warfare training is new to many of the soldiers currently in Solomon Islands with CTF 635, and the training has been hard going for Simon as well as for his men.
“There’s an expression, ‘the jungle is neutral’. I understand what it means now. Regardless of whatever technological advantages you have to work with, to operate in the jungle you need to have robust individuals that possess exceptional soldier skills. You can’t learn this from a book. You need to experience it to understand it.”
Despite the physically and mentally tough elements of the job, or perhaps because of them, Simon and his soldiers keep going.
“The truth is I still don’t know why we don’t just pack it in,” he said.
“For some reason I don’t say ‘shove it’ when things get hard. I guess I think about all of those other soldiers have served before, the ANZACs who fought throughout the history of Australian armed conflict, soldiers from other nations who fought here in Solomon Islands - they did it tougher and harder than any of us here.”
Lieutenant Le Poidevin has experienced a sense of accomplishment at seeing his platoon come together.
“There’s a lot of professional satisfaction from doing the job you’ve trained for and taking a disparate bunch of part-time soldiers and working with them to create a functioning team, that’s a great feeling.
“It’s not something you can do in just a few training weekends or parade nights, you need to spend months together to accomplish it. I’ve made some good mates along the way, so that’s a plus.”
When asked if he’d recommend the Army Reserve Officer training to someone else, Simon said: “If you’re the right sort of person, you should definitely give officer training in the Army Reserve a go.”
Lieutenant Le Poidevin continued to describe what he thought were the key attributes to get through the training.
“You need to be intelligent, but not too academic. You need to be confident, but not arrogant. And you need to be physically robust, but don’t have to be superman.
“If that’s you, then you should give it a go. There have been thousands of officers in our history, and they’ve been all different types of people. We’re a diverse Army.”