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Leadership lessons from a peacekeeper

Byron Connolly | July 29, 2014
Former Australian soldier Matina Jewell knows a thing or two about leading a team. She shared her experiences as a United Nations peacekeeper during the 2006 Lebanon War with attendees at this year's CIO Summit.

In 2005, Byron Bay born, Matina Jewell, was selected to represent Australia as a peacekeeper with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) on a Middle East mission.

A year later during the outbreak of war in Lebanon, Jewell was stationed at UN patrol base 'Khiam', situated just inside Southern Lebanon, the most dangerous of all UN bases in the Middle East at the time.

It was the toughest situation she had ever faced as a soldier.

"The 2006 Lebanon war was the most terrifying and challenging environment I've ever faced. This war really did test my skills and abilities unlike any situation I had faced previously," Jewell told attendees.

Her team survived more than 50 near misses from bombs fired by Israeli fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks and their artillery fire, as well as Hezbollah (the Shi'a Islamist militant group) rockets being fired into Israel.

"There were at least half a dozen times where I really should be died during this war," Jewell recalls.

Her luckiest escape occurred on the second night of the war when an Israeli 155mm artillery round exploded 15 metres in front of Jewell and one of her UN colleagues. It wasn't until the next morning that the soldiers comprehended how close they came to being killed.

"The shell of the round split into three pieces on impact, which gives you an idea of how big these rounds are. A high explosive canister sits at the rear of these projectiles and that had caught on fire and was still smouldering the next morning.

"Had that canister detonated the way it's designed to, it would have shattered that shell into over 2,000 of hot metal shrapnel, which would have been like 2,000 bullets flying out from that point of impact," Jewell said.

"And given that was only 15 metres in front of me, it would most likely had been a fatal hit."

But it was when Jewell was tasked to command a convoy of UN vehicles — two large armoured personnel carriers — and a crew of 16 soldiers, that she faced her toughest leadership challenge.

Jewell needed to get the convoy from Khiam to UN headquarters at the Lebanese port of Tyre, a two-hour trip under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, Israel had commenced its ground invasion into South Lebanon at the same time.

The Israelis were either using or bombing the roads Jewell was using. This meant the convoy had to backtrack and find alternative roads to reach its destination.

The vehicles did not have GPS units, forcing Jewell to rely on maps, which only indicated roads that had been previously used by the UN. This made navigation extremely difficult.


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