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July 19, 2012
LTHOUGH he knew he had
trained for this moment,
Naval Health Reserve anaes-
thetist CAPT Fabian Purcell
had reason to dread what was about to
In 2010, during the inaugural
Exercise Bluestokes and his first
attempt at Helicopter Underwater
Escape Training (HUET) he had to
withdraw during the fifth drill, having
failed the cross-cabin egress.
It was a personal setback in a
22-year career with Navy Reserve that
had included deployments as medi-
cal officer to operations in the Middle
East, Operation Relex and Sumatra
Assist Phase 2 as well as a 10-year
teaching position at the Australian
Defence Staff College.
But the lack of HUET qualifica-
tions had weighed heavily on his mind.
Without it, he knew it would always
restrict his level of operational readi-
Determined to pass through that
barrier, CAPT Purcell committed him-
self to a six-month training regime in
the gym to build up his lung capacity
and his confidence.
And when he also learnt that he
was tasked as officer in charge of
Exercise Bluestokes 2012, it gave him
extra impetus to succeed.
He passed the first five drills with
But when it came to the final
assessment, something went wrong.
To pass HUET, he was told, he would
have to perform the final drill again.
For a moment he wondered if he
was about to fail a second time.
That’s when his instructor, LS Jan
Gilmour came to the fore.
She “got into my face”, he said.
“She told me to forget what happened
two years ago and to focus on the
LEUT Debra Holland
WHEN Jan Gilmour joined the
WRANS, she was given a choice
of working as a Navy cook or den-
She chose the latter, deciding
that “peeling potatoes” was not
her preferred career option.
By the time she completed her
first four years of service, and had
seen her class intake of 24 dwindle
down to just three, Jan had been
promoted to leading seaman and
had changed over to being a phys-
ical training instructor (PTI).
Within a few years she was
back at HMAS Cerberus train-
ing new recruits before pursuing
further education, acquiring both
a diploma in teaching and a bach-
elor of education.
During the 1980s, Navy PTIs
doubled as promotional officers,
which meant travelling around
rural Victoria demonstrating
gymnastic tricks such as vaulting
through rings of fire and swinging
LS Gilmour only took up
the role of HUET instructor a
few years ago when a recurring
knee injury forced her out of the
HMAS Albatross gym and into
the Naval Aviation Sea Survival
Centre (NASSC) pool next door
When encouraged to apply for
a position as HUET instructor,
LS Gilmour saw an opportunity
to combine her passion for swim-
ming, snorkelling and social div-
ing with her interest in education
and youth self development.
Now one of three lead instruc-
tors at the NASSC, LS Gilmour is
grateful that her Navy career has
led her to her “dream job”.
Her role allows her to work
one on one with men and women
of all ages and backgrounds and
guide them through one of the
most mentally gruelling challeng-
es they will ever undergo during
their Navy training.
“It is all about self belief in
your own capability and trust in
your own preparation and in the
instructors who are there to guide
through every step of the way,”
LS Gilmour said.
“Whether it is a real life emer-
gency or HUET, getting out of
a ditched aircraft safely comes
down to three key messages:
Don’t panic, know your exits and
have a plan.”
Reserve medical and
nursing officers were
put through their
paces during Exercise
Bluestokes at HMAS
Albatross in June.
LEUT Debra Holland
reports on just one
This time was different
“She told me to close my eyes, find
my inner calm and relax.
“And this time, with her guidance
and support, I finally pushed through
the mental barrier.’
As CAPT Purcell surfaced, the
thumbs up from LS Gilmour told him
he had passed.
It couldn’t have been better news if
he had won Olympic gold.
“You bloody beauty!” he shouted
and swam over to thank her.
“When I checked my phone later
that day, it had all these voice mes-
sages from friends and family anxious
to find out how I went,” he said.
“To say I had finally passed
HUET is one of my proudest personal
achievements as a senior Naval Health
“I was particularly grateful that I
could set an example and show that
it is possible to face your anxiety and
‘It’s all about self belief’
Fabian Purcell surfaces
after escaping from the
Modular Egress Training
System; right, with
instructor LS Jan Gilmour.
Photos: ABIS Hayley Clarke
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