The theory behind the 20-week New Entry Officers Course (NEOC) is that after the first four weeks, (the Intensive Training Period) the course gets a little easier. The 17-hour days have been replaced by 10-12 hour days. Weekends have generally been off, except half of the time when duty or travel has reduced our weekend to just one day. Now as we are about to start week 12 and go to sea for 3 weeks it is worth looking back at the last 7 “easier” weeks. Where….
· we learnt to drive small boats by passing a solid practical and theoretical test.
· we completed a 4 day first aid course in 2 days with practical test and a written exam.
· we survived a theory and practical test on how to abandon a ship and board a life raft.
· we learnt, and passed a test to disassemble, reassemble and test, a Steyr 88 assault rifle. Then by simulation, and finally live fire, we passed a target test at 100 and 200m.
· we sailed for a week on a small ship on and around Jervis Bay, where we learnt, amongst other things how to steer and command the ship, how to leave the ship in a small zodiac boat in big swell, get to shore and search for casualties.
· we endured three grueling days in the field with heavy packs, carrying weapons, with plastic sheets to sleep under and ADF ration packs to sustain us. In the name of leadership we were examined to see if we could lead a small team in exercises like crossing a simulated mine field or leading a search party into a tent of well armed terrorists.
· we had a week learning the theory (with a very tough written exam) and the practice of fighting floods and fires on RAN ships in a rather large impressive simulator. If that was not enough we ended that week learning to kit up and survive a tear gas attack with real tear gas.
· we also learnt to be real RAN officers by attending the Captain’s Cocktail party while entertaining some very important VIP guests.
· we also continued to spend countless hours in class room backed up with assignments, task books, marching, quite a bit of yelling and a history essay.
Three things for me have been crucial to my endurance so far. One has been the wonderful support of my family who have supported and encouraged me constantly. Being away from your wife and best friend is the hardest part but somehow the distance is lessoned by text, phone, email, commitment and love. Family is one of God’s greatest gifts. Secondly my young fellow NEOC’s, and especially Phillip Division, (my ‘oppos’) have become increasingly like an extended family. Their humour, friendship, enthusiasm and confidence so often has helped me keep going. Finally God has been so evident and clear that my faith has been renewed, refreshed and replenished by the whole ordeal. The beauty of God’s creation, the gift of prayer, the touches of his grace and of course the encouragement of his word have been a daily experience.
I have been reading a Psalm a day. Starting on day one with Psalm 1 I hope to finish NEOC with the reading of Psalm 143. In the middle of the week before last we were battling flood, and fire in a simulator that the RAN could only insure by describing it as a theme park ride. I have new appreciation for the strength of fire fighters to wear heavy suits and man handle powerful fire hoses. On the Wednesday of that week I read these relevant words from Psalm 66.
Our God, you tested us, just as silver is tested. You trapped us in a net and gave us heavy burdens. You sent war chariots to crush our skulls. We traveled through the fire and through the floods, but you have bought us to a land of plenty.
Psalm 66: 13-15. (CEV)