The 2018 Duke of Gloucester (DOG) Cup was contested at Lone Pine Barracks, Singleton during the week 06-10 Aug 18. The DOG Cup is an annual military skills competition competed for by the regular infantry battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment. Each battalion sends a section which, over five days, are tested on individual and collective soldier skills, skill at arms, endurance and combat effectiveness.
In this article, three section commanders who have recently led winning sections provide insights into some key aspects they focused on, both in their build up training and during the conduct of the competition.
Corporal (CPL) Liam Kiernan: CPL Kiernan was the commander of the winning team in 2017 for the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR). CPL Kiernan has competed in four DOG Cups, three as a Private and one as the Section Commander. Liam is a Sniper Team Leader in 2 RAR, and recently returned from Operation TAJI.
Progression in training: We always started the training with individual soldier skills. This built confidence in the team for when we progressed to section drills and more complex scenarios, as well as fostering competitiveness and making the training more enjoyable. For example, if we were doing a live fire activity we would conduct individual drills, then pair, then team and then section drills. Good individual skills will always set the groundwork for the team and give the command team less to think about.
Leading by example: During training for the competition my second in command and I ensured we set the standard that we knew we would need to win the competition, both during the military skills training but also in physical training. We would rarely be first for a run or do the most push ups but we tried to make sure we were doing everything to the standards we were expecting. This influenced the team passively and also gave us the credibility to critique or address issues.
Flexibility in training: We went into training with more of a flexible training program, ensuring we covered all the skills required while also being flexible enough so that we could focus on certain components or parts we thought were lacking. If the mental or physical fatigue from training was starting to negatively influence the team we would adjust as necessary.
Sergeant (SGT) Brodie Keating: SGT Keating led the 2015 winning section for the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR). SGT Keating is currently posted to the sniper section of the School of Infantry (SOI). He will be posted to the 8th/9th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in 2019 as a Platoon SGT.
Leadership: I tried to foster a group of like-minded individuals that wanted to work for each other. I wanted a brotherhood; a place where everybody’s opinion mattered. The aim was for each individual to feel as though they were respected and an integral part of the team, because they were. This was achieved by allowing the men to make important decisions during the lead up training that we would then try out. I would also ask what they thought of an idea and would respond to their feedback positively. The more input a section commander has, the better his decision making ability. This is a 'short term pain, long term gain' approach. It payed off in the end because everybody in the section was a leader; but they still respected and understood why I made certain decisions in certain situations.
Section attacks: I found that there was no point doing a section attack once, talking about it and then calling it there. If we conducted an attack on a particular piece of terrain, we would always attempt to conduct that attack again. If we couldn’t, we would walk and talk the attack again. This would give the team an audible, visual and kinaesthetic learning opportunity. It would also help consolidate the teaching points and would be provide evidence they had learnt the required lessons. Even something as simple as drawing the attack on a white board worked well. Instead of just the audible cues to learning, they now had something visual to focus on. The gold standard though is conducting the attack again. Only this way can you accurately determine whether the required lessons have truly been learned.
Rest: This is just as important as the training itself. Without rest you do not grow. This is true for the mental side as well as the physical side of training. What I tried to find was the perfect balance of work and rest. I used the unit Physical Training Instructor (PTI) to monitor their physical performance. This was done by tracking the weights they lifted and the times they ran. We would also speak to the men about how they felt throughout. If we felt we had gone too hard for a certain week we knew to lower the intensity the following week. Our training followed a progression as well. Just like a football team in pre-season, we increased intensity as the competition got closer.
Monitoring someone mentally was a little more difficult. The men would tell you they were fine even if they were not. I had to look at my own mental fatigue and judge the men by that. If I felt I was starting to fatigue, I knew that the section would be feeling the effects as well. We would look at having an early knock off or lowering the intensity of training to enable recovery. In saying that though, there are times that you need to fatigue the section beyond what they originally thought was possible. This approach was used sparingly, and sufficient rest was given afterwards. Balance is the key.
SGT Benjamin Katz: SGT Katz’s section won the DOG Cup in 2013 for the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. As a Corporal, SGT Katz was posted to the SOI for two years in Riflemen Wing where he trained infantrymen on their initial employment courses. He was then was posted back to 2RAR as a Platoon SGT.
Team Cohesion: Having good team dynamics is vital to any sort of team orientated activity, especially military skills events. During training we had to take into account personality traits to both foster the positive and account for the negative. All the team volunteered and had a common goal, so it was easy to build camaraderie both at work and away from it. While some individuals kept the teams morale high during the harder parts of training and competition, others would keep everyone focused on the task at hand.
Gruelling Physical Training: During training we would run the team through extremely gruelling physical sessions, sometimes with added mental challenges such as Keep in Memory Systems (KIMS) and knowledge tests. This was done to set the team’s mental expectation of their own capabilities, so that when it came to the competition they would have a basis for comparison and not be taken by surprise by the level of difficulty of some events .This mentally prepared them at a high level for the challenges they could endure as well as help build the camaraderie from shared experiences.
Shared Leadership: Whenever big decisions were to be made, we valued the whole team’s perspective and point of view on the task or challenge. This made the most of the varying levels of experience and specialist qualifications, and encouraged the team to have greater personal investment in the task and outcome. This created a positive environment where no one in the team was reluctant to give their perspective of a situation, no matter what position they were in or how junior they were.
These valuable lessons don’t just apply to the DOG Cup, nor are they pertinent only to the infantry. The above observations are good advice for any Section Commander, from any Corps, who may be tasked to lead a Section in a competition or during their normal duties leading their soldiers.