The inaugural Cove Conference was held at Victoria Barracks, Sydney on the 30th of May 2019. The theme of the conference was 'Effective Decision Making' and the aim was to provide Professional Military Education to junior leaders from across the Australian Army. An invitation for five junior leaders (four Corporals and one Lieutenant) from each formation was sent out and the response was overwhelming. Over 70 members wanted to attend the conference, which in the end we had to cap at 56 due to space constraints.
The Cove Conference included presentations on Reflective Practice by CAPT Joe Read, Adolescent Learning Strategies by COL Brad Kilpatrick CSC, Critical Thinking by Mrs Anne Goyne, Ethical Decision Making by LTCOL Tom McDermott and Combat Decision Making by MAJ J. There were also Small Group Discussions, a Presenter Panel Discussion and an RSM's Panel Discussion.
The following are five short 'reflections' from the five members who attended from the 16th Aviation Brigade.
Reflection One by Corporal Braidee Bell
Captain (CAPT) Read is an Education officer in the British Army and is currently working with the Cove Team as a part of Exercise Long Look.
The presentation from CAPT Read resonated with me for a number of reasons, which I will cover below. CAPT Read kicked off his presentation by explaining how learning is hard work and an individual, on average, will only use 10% of their brain each day. He made it clear the brain uses shortcuts to make things easier, such as the use of patterns.
He asked one brave person from the room to state the months of the year. Easy right; January, February, March etc. As we sat there puzzled at the meaning of the simple task he then asked if someone would be willing to attempt the next task, name the months of the year in alphabetical order, not so easy. This really provided an example of those short cuts that the brain uses to make things easier.
This became relevant to me in the way we train and the methodologies we use throughout basic training. Through my time at Kapooka we conducted high repetitions of a particular exercise or movement, for example push ups, drill movements and weapon handling to build muscle memory. By doing so built the neural pathway for this exercise or movement to become second nature. Likewise, as an instructor at Kapooka, I used a similar method when conducting weapon handling for recruits to change the sequence of the stoppages to counteract the neural paths that had been built through previous training.
CAPT Read said we shouldn’t just settle to be satisfied with mere learning but to add practice and then training. The use of reflection (in any form) allows us to identify shortfalls that we may need to work on. I think we have mastered the application of the training aspects to build the neural pathways; however, I do think we do settle to be satisfied with mere learning. Our organisation, as a collective group and as individuals, doesn’t apply reflective practice to better ourselves.
Corporal Braidee Bell enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in 2008. She was originally allocated to the RACT for a short time before corps transferring to RAAOC as a Command Support Clerk. She has been posted to 1 Armd Regt, 3 RAR, CTC and 1 RTB as a Recruit Instructor. CPL Bell has deployed on OP Mazurka and OP Slipper. CPL Bell is currently posted to HQ 16 Can Bde as the Orderly Room Corporal.
Reflection Two by Corporal Jessica Canly
I am sure I’m not alone when I say that I didn’t know what to expect from the Cove Conference. Many remarked throughout the day that they had expected this to be a more traditional leadership seminar, perhaps with elements of military history or IMAP. I was impressed by the organisers’ dedication to ensuring that the presentations were inspiring, thoughtful and relevant.
The first presentation of the day was Reflective Practice by CAPT Joe Read, who spoke about using reflection as a way to strengthen and develop the skills and attributes that make a great leader. CAPT Read asked us all to draw a self-portrait to reveal how we saw ourselves as a leader. Whilst we all enjoyed flexing our drawing skills and talking about our artwork, it did not seem to be that significant.
However, it did demonstrate that the day would be different to our initial expectations, and when mulling over the events of the day I realised that starting the day with a reflective mindset had a particular effect. Every presentation had significant messages and complex ideas, and I had spent the day contemplating how that fit in with the leaders that I knew, reflecting on my own successes and failures, and considering how I can use this knowledge in my day-to-day life.
This experience was both humbling and inspiring. I appreciated the lessons learnt and I left the Cove Conference feeling encouraged about Army’s future.
Corporal Jessica Canly enlisted into the Australian Army in 2013. She was allocated to the RAAOC and posted to APSC (APAC – NSW) upon completion of IETs. She has deployed on OP Accordion and is currently posted to 1 Avn Regt.
Reflection Three by Corporal Mathew Stewart
I recently attended the inaugural Cove Conference Sydney. Whilst this activity had key take away points for the Junior Non Commissioned Officer (JNCO) and Lieutenant (LT) ranks I also believe that it had a place for Other Ranks as well, possibly including the Sergeant level.
The reason for my observation above is that Leadership and/or Decision Making is a responsibility of all levels, not just JNCO and LT. This is taught from day one at Kapooka, that everybody is a leader.
A senior Private soldier, who is about to commence his/her promotion courses would benefit from attending a Cove Conference, just as much as a Corporal, as they can take away the exact same key points as the JNCO and put the skills to use in the not too distant future.
On the other end of the scale, I suggest future conferences are opened up to the Sergeant level, albeit with a caveat, that being a junior SGT. A junior SGT still needs just as much mentoring and help tackling the Army’s 18/19 year old youth of today’s generation. Referencing the topic 'The Adolescent Mind', which spoke of the brain not maturing until age 25, a SGT is more than likely going to be faced with the same difficulties when it comes to some sort of discipline being handed out, therefore having the foresight of the content that was provided during that topic would help the SGT make a more informed decision regarding discipline and punishment.
In conclusion, the speaker I enjoyed listening to most was MAJ J. He spoke from direct experience, being someone that has had to make quick and effective decisions on the battlefield.
Corporal Mathew Stewart enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in 2010. Initially, he was allocated to RAAOC before transferring to AAAvn in 2013. He has been posted to 9FSB, AAvnTC and is currently an Aircrewman at the 5th Aviation Regiment. Throughout his career CPL Stewart has been deployed on OP Atlas, OP North QLD Flood Assist and OP Solomon Island Assist 2019. CPL Stewart is currently posted to 5 Avn Regt.
Reflection Four by Corporal Alexander Smith
My time at the Cove Conference was a surprisingly interesting one. Prior to being nominated to participate in this event I knew very little about The Cove or what it was all about, naturally this led me to carry out my own investigation into what I was about to experience. After gaining an understanding via The Cove website my expectations were set high for the conference. I was not let down.
Throughout the day there were many excellent presentations, so it’s difficult for me to pick a single ‘most memorable’ moment. However the one that I found especially interesting was the presentation regarding the adolescent mind. I think that the presented information could easily be implemented in regards to training and conversing with the younger soldiers of the Australian Army. Even if it wasn’t ‘officially’ implemented into training, simply a basic understanding of how the adolescent mind is different could drastically improve efficiency of learning. For me this really seemed like it could be a way forward for the Australian Defence Force.
The most useful thing that I learnt during the Cove Conference was the idea of self-reflection. I was always aware that it can sometimes be beneficial to reflect on how a particular task was conducted or how I personally handled a situation. However I did not realise just how game changing it can be when carried out routinely and to a much more in-depth level. This is something that I can take away and use in my everyday life, not only for personal improvements at the work place but perhaps even in my life at home too.
Overall, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to participate at the Cove Conference and the chance to interact with the presenters. I can honestly say that I will pass on what I have learnt to others and maybe even encourage them to attend the next Cove Conference.
Corporal Alexander Smith enlisted into the Australian Army in 2012 as an Avionics Technician. He is currently posted to 171 Squadron, 6th Aviation Regiment where he conducts maintenance on the Blackhawk helicopter.
Reflection Five by Lieutenant Alexander Newsome
To me, the most striking presentation was from COL Kilpatrick on ‘The Adolescent Mind’. In this lecture COL Kilpatrick discussed the development of the brain and how this affects young adult’s decision-making and reaction to complex situations. It was hypothesised that the teaching methodology present in much of Army training is not appropriate for adolescents and may lead to trainees failing components because of their emotional responses rather than their aptitude.
COL Kilpatrick offered several examples of students who were otherwise more than capable of completing a scenario, but who in the moment were overwhelmed by panic; students who committed bizarre acts and could not explain why; and students who simply lied, unambiguously and without remorse.
Throughout the presentation COL Kilpatrick referred back to the maturation pattern of the adolescent brain to offer possible explanations for this behaviour and approaches to counter it. One area of note was that young adults are generally not ready to process the typical deep-end instructional style used within training establishments, leading to a devastating fear response. COL Kilpatrick encouraged the use of lead-up exercises and walk-throughs to normalise stressful situations and give students the tools to manage their own emotions, but to be cognizant of their limitations.
Perhaps one of the key takeaways from the talk was that adolescents are largely fighting against their own instincts when it comes to making empathetic, considered decisions. It is not that young adults are bound to poor reactions or choices, but we must understand this tendency and adapt our training to suit.
Lieutenant Alexander Newsome received was commissioned into the Australian Army in 2018 after graduating with a Bachelor of Electronic Engineering. Initially, he was posted to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Maintenance School to complete his Initial Officer Training Continuum and is currently a Learning Engineering Officer at 6 Avn Regt.