CO 3CER LTCOL John Daunt
Naturally, it won’t be a happy day, but he will find plenty of things to smile about, not least the memory of the row of black and white photographs of former Commanding Officers in the office that was his for two years.
They’re a stern bunch, the older ones, all sporting dapper military
CO 3CER LTCOL John Daunt (left) talks with Chief of the Defence Force, ACM Mark Binskin during a visit to Yeppoon in the wake of Cyclone Marcia in 2015
moustaches, wearing peaked caps and short-sleeved polyester shirts.
Since January this year, unnoticed by everybody except RSM 3Bde WO1 David Lehr, an extra photograph has been hanging on the wall, slipped into the line-up just before the first CO of the Regiment and later Chief of Army Ken Gillespie.
Like the others, the newcomer is wearing a moustache and a short-sleeved shirt and is photographed glaring out at the camera from under an old-fashioned peaked cap.
WO1 Lehr spotted the imposter because of a medal ribbon that jarred his RSM’s sensitivities – an Australian Active Service Medal from Afghanistan.
Nobody spotted that it was LTCOL Daunt, who, having grown a moustache during the Christmas break last year, decided to have a bit of fun by posing for the photograph.
It says as much about his attitude to being the figurehead of the Regiment (as well as its leader), as it does about his sense of humour.
He has a clear view on the role of a commanding officer in a Regiment with a proud reputation and history of service.
“If I was focussed on leaving a legacy, I would have the wrong mindset,” he said.
“The job is never about the individual [in that role], it’s about the Regiment and progressing the Regiment.”
LTCOL Daunt said he had focussed on a couple of things in particular, in his two years at the helm.
He said improving the way the unit looked after its wounded, injured and ill was a priority.
“The key thing for me was that we changed how we manage the wounded, injured and ill in the Regiment,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“I have been through the Regiment and I was a firm believer in the past of keeping them in the fold.
“That’s where they get their support, they need to be in the Regiment and so on… but it doesn’t work.”
LTCOL Daunt said he was convinced some people needed an opportunity to recuperate outside the high demands of the Troop environment.
He said it wasn’t anything new and was a similar program to that run by other units.
“It’s no different to somebody with a bung knee continuing at work when they should be resting and recovering,” he said.
MAJ John Daunt of 3CER joins soldiers from the Royal Netherlands Army in an early morning patrol through the ‘Green Zone’ in the Chora region during Operation Spin Ghar
He said they managed to continue doing their job even with the bung knee, but they didn’t do it as well and it took them longer to
Spot the odd one out
recover because they kept trying to ignore it.
He said he tried to develop a better way within the Regiment to look after those soldiers and to help them on the road to recovery.
Some soldiers struggle with the idea of coming back from a long-term medical injury.
“It’s often a combination of physical and mental factors that prevents them from getting back to full fitness,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“By allowing them time to focus on their own recovery, there is less chance of a ‘false start’ where they try to do things at work before they’re ready.”
LTCOL Daunt said his other personal focus had been to try to cement the identity of the Regiment across all of its parts, and part of that involved taking better care of the unit’s history.
“As a Regiment, we have done amazing things,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“We have been the ‘go-to guys’ in the 3rd Brigade, which, for 30 years, was always the Ready Brigade, and we have done a lot of operational deployments.
“But we don’t have much in the way of photographs, documents, or memorabilia to show for it.”
LTCOL Daunt said because the Regiment’s squadrons were basically the unit of action, there was already a strong sense of identity within each squadron.
“But we don’t achieve things at squadron level without a regiment behind them, so my mindset was on fostering and developing the regiment identity.
“That’s who we are.”
LTCOL Daunt said members of the Regiment had done multiple rotations to Afghanistan, including a Mentoring Task Force lead (MTF-3), multiple HADR missions and had deployed as a Regiment to Timor-Leste.
“We have done all these things, but we haven’t documented it well,” LTCOL Daunt said.
He asked historian Sebastian Spencer from the Corps Museum –and SO2 Head of Corps, Craig Clunas to visit 3CER and go through all the bits and pieces stored in cupboards and drawers.
“They found some gems,” LTCOL Daunt said.
Some of what they found was deteriorating in the North Queensland weather, and was loaned to the Corps museum to ensure the pieces could be preserved.
“We tend to live in the here and now, but who we are and what we do has been built on the reputation and hard work of our predecessors,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“It’s hard to say you’re one of the next generation of a proud legacy if you don’t know what that legacy is, so that’s why we’re doing it.”
Former RSM, WO1 Terry McKeown, now a Reservist, has been seconded from 11Bde to try to rectify that deficiency and is working his way through albums of photographs as the first step.
LTCOL Daunt said a lot of attention had been paid this year to the way the unit trained.
“Engineers are the jack of all trades, we’re expected to do a lot,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“But, more and more we risk heading towards the other half of that phrase… masters of none.”
He said the harsh reality was that nobody could afford not to be the master of their trade when they were deployed on operations.
“They’re expected to provide a capability to the deployed force, but also, being a master of their trade is a force preservation measure,” LTCOL Daunt said.
He said the equipment used got more technical every year and he believed there was a heavier exercise requirement in the modern-day Army.
The more technical equipment – even basic communications
equipment – means the ability to operate it can no longer be passed on in a “soldier’s five”.
“And some soldiers need to be able to use a radio at a high level of proficiency, and it takes time to acquire that skill,” he said.
All sappers need to be competent in basic Combat Engineering skills – demolitions, breaching, search, basic construction, and field engineering.
“For some of the more specialist roles, we really need to focus on discrete capabilities to do those.
“Instead of everybody trying to achieve everything, we look at smaller groups.”
LTCOL Daunt said he didn’t like saying the smaller groups were specialising because that inferred those members were singular specialists.
“They’re not specialists, they’re still generalists, but they have an area on which they’re more focussed.”
One other project – not specifically within 3CER – that will hold LTCOL Daunt’s interest for many years to come is the Vasey Resilience Centre.
“I think it’s an exciting new direction and, as it matures, will prove its value,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“We have always done activities to focus on resilience, but more often than not, it was a scatter-gun approach.
“This gave us the opportunity to develop a program to provide structure to the Brigade’s existing resilience activities so they could reinforce each other.”
He said instead of allowing soldiers to go off and do adventure training, the program let them understand the whole process when mind and body goes through a traumatic event.
“So, when they actually experience a traumatic event, they can recognise what’s happening to them,” he said.
The initial program, developed by WO2 Adam Keys and CHAP Dan Cassidy focussed on issues typically faced by soldiers new to Army life.
“We can focus on why we have combat shooting, aspects of adventure training, physical fitness, technique training and nutrition,” LTCOL Daunt said.
But there were other, simple things, that could be very beneficial to young soldiers.
“If you put up a website tool to let a soldier do their own budget, how many would actually do it?” he said.
“None. But if you schedule a meeting with their financial advisor and tell them they have to prepare a budget so they can discuss it at that meeting, then they need to do it, and they will benefit from that.”
For all the downside of leaving the job to which he aspired since first joining the Regiment, there are some things in which he takes great pride.
“To finish my regimental time in the same Regiment in which I started is just fantastic, I won’t forget that,” he said.
He said he felt a great deal of pride at the way 3CER members responded to back-to-back Humanitarian and Disaster Relief tasks last year.
“We went to Rockhampton after Cyclone Marcia, then backed up straight away in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam,” LTCOL Daunt said.
“Most of them were home for less than a week before they had to leave for Vanuatu.
“Talk about a destructive test of resilience – the soldiers did brilliantly well on the ground and they and their families dealt with the pressure of not knowing when either deployment would end.
“It was a fantastic performance considering what they were put through.
“I will always be very proud of that.”
LTCOL Daunt is looking forward to an interesting job as part of the Counter-Improvised Threat Taskforce in Canberra, but he is not looking forward to leaving the Regiment for the last time.
He will hand over command of the Regiment to LTCOL Jennifer Harris on December 12.