Scary green monsters are really super mentors
19 June 2012
Commander Wiremu Leef has a problem he’s determined to solve. His Maritime Operational Evaluation Team—MOET—has a somewhat negative image among many of the ships’ companies it engages with.
“Traditionally we are not liked as we are the ones who go on the ships to light fires and put them through their paces,” says the affable CDR Leef, who assumed command of MOET last November. “It’s been us-and-them, which is not what we are about.”
Green-overalled MOET squads go aboard ships and subject them to rigorous training, including fighting fires and dealing with floods, dealing with missile and bomb attacks, injuries, toxic gas leaks and man overboard exercises. These crises—often accompanied by explosive sounds and billowing smoke—occur without warning and often one on top of another, day and night.
A ship’s company is expected to react appropriately and deal with each trial as if it were real, the object being to meet the objectives and be able to operate as a fully functioning, operational ship in the fleet.
The size of a MOET squad ranges from about eight for an Inshore Patrol Vessel to 35 for an Anzac frigate, the numbers reflecting the size and complexity of the ship concerned.
“People usually see us only when we turn up on the ship, wearing green and creating havoc,” says CDR Leef. “But our job is to support, train and mentor ships so they can achieve their missions safely. We provide a benchmark—a standard all ships must meet.” As an element of the Maritime Component, CDR Leef and his MOET team are responsible to the Maritime Component Commander for the generation of operational capability, which is achieved through a staged process which commences as a ship is bought out of maintenance through to an operational evaluation on completion of a Work Up period.
In April, the MOETs held a three-day retreat at the Tamaki Leadership Centre at Whangaparoa Peninsula to address various issues, including the team’s image. One of the key objectives to come from this was to improve the perception of MOET. A roadshow was planned, plus an intention to seek opportunities in the training environment to give briefings on what MOET is and does.
“A key MOET mantra is, ‘if a ship fails, MOET has failed’. If a ship does not meet the required standards, we have not got them to the standards we set. Can they safely work as a team and deal with difficult incidents safely? How do they operate externally from a ship, that is, can they conduct boarding operations in support of other government agencies? A key question for MOET is, with each of a ship's different departments, are they confident in their ability as a ship to do their job and do the operations they have been directed to do?”
The MOET has 15 core members. Reporting directly to CDR Leef, they include a Fleet Warfare Officer, LT CDR Martin Doolan, a Fleet Navigating Officer, LT CDR Rewi Thompson, a Fleet Seamanship and Executive Officer, LT CDR Phil Rowe and Fleet Damage Control Officer, LT CDR Dave Griffiths. Under each are experts in specialisations such as damage control, engineering, medicine and aviation. All are senior and very experienced.
Frigates require one Work-Up (WUP) a year, usually early in the year. TE KAHA’s and replenishment tanker ENDEAVOUR’s were in February and March, off the east and west Australian coasts, Because of the need for a larger team, the core MOET squad was augmented with specialists from around the Navy who were required to fly to Australia, where the both Work-Ups were conducted (see Navy Today Issue 166).
“There is an expectation that MOET staff are experts in their various areas,” says CDR Leef. “One of the biggest challenges is to find a balance in the teams supporting the ships. I can’t take non-MOET personnel away from their primary jobs as, say, engineers, for six weeks. So there is a need to build the relationships and negotiate support to MOET for shorter periods. This year engineering support was critical and therefore I had to limit their time away to two weeks at a time, which worked well.”
CDR Leef joined the RNZN in January 1991 as a fleet midshipman, working on various ships and ashore, specialising in aviation. From 2002 until 2005 he was a Flight Observer on Seasprites in TE KAHA and TE MANA. He came ashore for two-and-a-half years in a number of aviation roles before rejoining TE MANA as Executive Officer in November 2007. He remained as XO until posting to the NZDF Command and Staff College in May 2009, undertaking post-graduate studies until he took command of HMNZS MANAWANUI in March 2010, a post he held until his promotion and move to MOET in November.
“One of the challenges I had taking over the role is I was newly promoted as a Commander. Usually it’s a more senior commander. But from a personal perspective the challenge was to step up and lead a team of very experienced, dedicated guys. We work well. We are very focused and share a common desire to make MOET work.”
He’s loving the task, despite the issue of struggling at present to get the experienced people MOET needs. Many of the core team have to do a lot more than normally expected.
“The biggest challenge for MOET is to try to maintain the standards across the fleet at a time when the temptation is to cut corners. Our challenge is to maintain standards and say if a ship is not good enough for its role.
“We are short of people in critical areas—for example, the navigators on patrol boats are quite junior and need to be mentored. How do we support the vessel and mitigate the risks when people are so new? Because of that, there is an emphasis on MOET providing mentoring for these young sailors in these jobs. We know how challenging the jobs are because we’ve all done them.”
MOET have just finished a three-week Work Up with TAUPO where she successfully completed two weeks of core marine skills training followed by a final week of multi-agency operations with Fisheries staff. Next will be MANAWANUI in July.
“We are not the scary green monsters—we are an essential part of the Navy whose sole purpose is to support the fleet.” With a mischievous grin, he says he likes to think of MOET as akin to Superman. “I’d like to think if we opened our overalls, you’d find the Superman symbol there. Could you run a picture of that?”
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