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From ocean to classroom: students reap benefits of military experience

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Maritime training lecturer Stephen Hurd has plenty of firsthand seafaring experience to share with his students after a deployment to the Gulf of Aden as a Naval Reservist.

A lecturer at AMC since 2008, he has drawn on his military career and ties with the Australian Defence Force to train students in various aspects of seafaring.

Through his continued service with the Naval Reserve, Mr Hurd was able to apply for a deployment to the Middle East as the head of plans for Combined Task Force 151; a multi-national counter-piracy task force based in Bahrain. 

CTF151 is one of three task forces that coordinate operations in support of the 32-member multinational Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).

Deployed from June until November 2016, Mr Hurd was based in Bahrain but forward deployed to sea in a Republic of Korea Navy destroyer in the Gulf of Aden.

The CTF 151 staff comprised 19 officers from seven different countries; with lead country the Republic of Korea supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the Republic of Singapore, the United Kingdom and Australia.

As head of plans (or N5 in Naval terms), Mr Hurd worked with the other CTF staff to plan ship and aircraft operations from longer term up until 48 hours ahead of time.

“We were living on board one ship but directing the operations of multiple ships and aircraft. The ship’s routine involved two weeks at a time escorting convoys through the Gulf of Aden, followed by a two or three day port visit to Salalah in Oman,” he said.

A typical day would start with the Admiral’s morning briefing, assessing events and issues from the previous 24 hours, what was planned for the next 24 to 48 hours, and the longer term outlook.

“Getting all of that information across via the common language link of English was sometimes a struggle, but we stuck at it. It was interesting how our common understanding of naval operations seemed to soak through and sometimes dissolve the language barrier,” Mr Hurd said.

As the AMC’s Security Awareness unit co-ordinator, he believes the benefits gained from his experiences are invaluable for ensuring his teaching is in line with current industry practice.

“One of the challenges for any lecturer is to maintain currency within their discipline while being away from their vocation teaching others. So in that regard, my Naval Reserve deployment could be considered as a really beneficial period of professional development,” Mr Hurd said.  

“My Maritime Trade Operations work with Navy involves interaction with the maritime industry, so the experience I gained planning operations to disrupt and deter pirate attacks on merchant vessels in an international environment also brings direct benefit to my Naval Reserve role,” Steve said.

But one experience won’t make it into the lecture theatre.

“I made the decision early on to try and master chop sticks and by the end of the deployment I was arguably competent. I gained a new appreciation for kimchi, but did have to draw the line when ‘Fermented Fish Intestines’ appeared on the menu!”

The deployment marked a return to sea for Mr Hurd, who began his maritime career in 1989 when he joined the Royal Australian Navy and studied at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. 

Over 14 years he served in a range of roles, including Officer of the Watch, Navigating Officer and Principal Warfare Officer, and developed his appetite for training and lecturing while posted as a bridge simulator instructor at Navy’s simulation facilities at Watson’s Bay, Sydney. 

2003 saw Steve seeking a career which involved less time away from home, and he started work in Tasmania as a customs officer, before changing roles in 2008 to lecture at the AMC.

But his ties to the Defence Force remained strong, as he transferred from full-time service to the Naval Reserve where he has undertaken a range of duties including community engagement, watch keeping roles at sea, and 12 months in 2007 as the Aide-de-Camp to Tasmania’s Governor.  

Since 2014, he has been Deputy Director of Navy’s Maritime Trade Operations capability, an area of Navy that performs liaison with, and support to, the maritime industry.

Mr Hurd acknowledged that time away from the workplace and from home is not something that is always easily arranged, and he is grateful for the opportunity.

“I was fortunate to have very good support from both AMC and from my family which made it possible for me to be away for the four-and-a-half months.  The University of Tasmania is registered as a supportive employer of Defence Force Reservists and has policies in place to manage the Reserve service of our staff and our students,” he said.

Steve’s contribution to CTF151 was recognised with a commendation from the Rear Admiral who commanded the task force.

“This was a unique opportunity and I was very pleased to be able to take it.  Such a long period of continuous full-time service certainly isn’t usual for me though, so it has been good to get stuck back into our programs here at AMC.”

Published on: 13 Dec 2017