This article received 3rd place in the OR category of the Cove Competition 2022. Check out more in 'Tips for Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSM)'.
By way of introduction, my name is WO1 Joshua Mattsson and I am currently in the first year of my first appointment as the RSM of 8 CSSB. I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences from the past year in the hope it may resonate with somebody else who is currently also in their first appointment, or about to be.
We talk a lot about being physically fit for our role and we work on this element through physical training and being active. However, what I have discovered is that working on my mental fitness is equally important. I thought I would outline some of the strategies that I have used to assist in my mental fitness, in the hope it may break through some barriers associated with both the role of the RSM, men's mental health, and the unwritten man code of toughness.
Back in the last weeks of March 2021, I found myself waiting patiently by the telephone in the nervous anticipation that I may receive a call from SWOMS that I had been selected for a possible appointment of RSM. I must have checked my number was correct on the 'green tree' about 15 times! After what seemed like a call that would never come, I finally received the call I was waiting for. Following the phone call a wave of emotions quickly followed; excitement (a dream come true), fear (do I actually know how to do this job?), and anxiousness (will I be good enough? Will I get along with my new boss?).
After the appointments list came out I received a wave of phone calls and emails. This made me realise that perhaps I am good enough to take up this position and that I must be doing some things right within the organisation. My thoughts then moved to – should I email my new boss to start the conversation? Will they know me? Should we start planning our rise to fame in the unit next year?
With my new appointment also came the thoughts associated with being separated from my family as this would be our first experience of MWD(U). We had decided that this would be the best situation, but I knew it would come with some adjustment and potential struggles. How was I going to support my family through this? Was I going to gain a solid work-life balance with juggling support to family, work, and myself? How do I stay committed to work when I know I am missing the family moments?
As I moved towards the end of the year and completed the RSM course, it began to feel more real that my promotion was going to happen. I was then left with many thoughts/fears and asking myself many questions, “Do I call every WO1 by their first name? Do I call Tier C RSMs sir/ma’am; Will my new boss and I get along?” Although there is no checklist RFI register for first appointments, if there was, these would definitely have been on it from me.
As I stepped into the role and have now been here for the past 8 months, I have experienced many feelings, struggles, questions, and thoughts over this time. I can remember my first training night Tuesday thinking “I wonder how many people are going to be there? Is there going to be a parade? Should I have announced that there is going to be a parade? How do I announce it to people that are not online all the time? How does ForceNet work? What if no one turns up? Is that my fault or is that the way times are moving to?” You plan for everyone to turn up, but the reality is that you have no idea how many will show on the night. It is important to note that my unit also came out of a considerable time in lockdown during the last months of 2021. Many people advised me not to waste the resources if there were not viable training outcomes. However, I decided ‘If you build it, they will come’. You may only get five or you may get 30, either way continue to run the training. The members that turn up will benefit, and they will pass this onto those that did not. I remember some conversations with previous RSMs who advised to run parades. Something so simple, but brings people together. At my first parade, I was so nervous that I nearly dropped my pace stick! However, I quickly realised that everyone else was just as nervous. Getting back to basics never felt more real at this time. We now run a parade every Tuesday night at 1900 just to signal the start of the night. We have grown from a parade of 5-10 in March to now getting up to 40 personnel.
Until this year, I had never considered the effect on myself of a dislocated and absent workforce. This was something very uncommon for me moving into the role as RSM. I had previously been in a unit with three other CSMs to bounce ideas off, 6-10 other units to also interact with and use for training, and a Battalion and Brigade HQ that was just up the road. Now I have five depots spread 700km apart, eight other units that are geographically spread across the state, and a Brigade HQ that has to go all around to see it all. The other noticeable difference is the absence of the constant human presence which has disappeared due to the workforce I am now part of. This left me with doubts around knowing if I was doing enough and if the returns I was doing were relevant and on time. Was I doing enough honours and awards, PSTP, or will I remember who these people are when we only get together every few months? This was a difficult time in the first months of the year, and I was caught in the thought that I needed to be all things to all people all the time. I was exhausted. I needed to break the man code. I needed to become vulnerable, something men tend not to be the best at. I discussed this across the other members within the cohort and was surprised that I was not alone. I spend a lot of time in the car travelling, and there is never enough time in the day, week, or month to achieve everything. I now try to remember that I am not alone in these thoughts and to tick off one job at a time.
I have been fortunate that my CO is a SERCAT 7; however, I still began the year with thoughts of “what if we do not get along, it will be harder if we have no common interests other than we work together”. For those that have SERCAT 5 commanders, this may be even harder juggling their civilian requirements around the unit's needs. I was extremely nervous approaching this with my CO. There were so many times where I would have something to say, or maybe a joke, but thought against it as I thought that they would not appreciate my humour or my personality. It started to affect my way of thinking and work. I reminded myself that I had got to this position by the way I have previously interacted, and I needed to be fearless and just jump right in and deal with the consequences later. It was the best decision I have ever made. I now feel confident in being open, honest, and authentically myself.
These are just a few of my reflections on some areas that I did not expect, nor had I been exposed to within my posting profile. Proceeding on posting as MWD(U) was also something which was new for me. I have taken it upon myself to do a lot more reading and listening to podcasts in order to help me with my mental fitness. This in turn helps me in my role as RSM, but also in supporting my family. As much as I want to spend every minute at work to justify the decision of going MWD(U), I recognise the need for downtime. To begin with, I initially felt guilty for enjoying myself away from my family, but I now recognise it as important and necessary. I now write down plans for my day and reflect on the outcomes at the end of each day and week. Giving myself mental direction and goals to work towards has been uplifting. During the past year, I have also started journal writing through the assistance of the Resilience Journal. I have now switched to a focus on the GEM principles from a book called The Resilience Project. This allows me to reflect on the great elements of my day, build on the areas to improve, and look towards achieving some success tomorrow. Every day I ask myself what are the three elements of my day that went well and the three things that I am looking forward to tomorrow. As I move towards the second year of my first appointment, I hope that it is as enjoyable as the first. I will not always get it right, nor do I have all the answers, but I am continually learning with the support of a fantastic team around me.