Where are they now – Ben Couch (SPC 2004-09)
October 27, 2020
The College recently reconnected with Old Boy and Lieutenant Ben Couch (SPC 2004-09), who is a Navigating Officer with the Royal Australian Navy, and is currently aboard HMAS Hobart. Ben shares his incredible career path with Australia’s defence forces and how COVID-19 has impacted on Australia’s emergency and naval response this year. He also encourages current students to put thought into their subject selections, because you never know when you may need to use the Pythagoras Theorem – which for Ben, it turns out, is quite often, and Ben credits SPC for teaching him resilience, to be a good person and to reach for your goals!
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
I left St Pat’s in 2009 before studying a Bachelor of Science at Deakin University, trying my hand in a number of careers primarily in the marketing and fitness industries, but I lacked the passion I thought I would have.
I had always appreciated military service and service to our nation. To be honest, it was always in the back of mind whilst at school, but I suppressed the desire, following what I thought to be my passion – science. I joined the Royal Australian Navy in 2012 as a Maritime Warfare Officer, leading a team responsible for the control, navigation, weapon systems and maritime safety of warships at sea. Balancing my love for science and problem solving with my leadership ambitions, I specialised as a Navigation Warfare Officer – the Commanding Officer’s principal advisor on ship-handling, GPS-denied navigation and tactical employment of a task group to achieve the Government directed mission, be that peaceful or in conflict. I provide the warship redundancy in the event of information or cyber warfare, and I am trained to successfully navigate a warship anywhere in the world (including into and out of any port in any country) with or without electronic aids – think of the traditional marine navigation skills used by Captain Matthew Flinders employed when he first circumnavigated Australia between 1791 and 1803 – I retain a skill set similar to the navigators of the past, refined with advancements in technology.
I have seen operational service across the world, furthering Australia’s national interests of the ADF in 17 countries and I have spent five of the past eight years at sea. From an operational perspective, I have spent significant time protecting Australia’s borders in support of Operation’s Resolute (the ADF’s counter people smuggling, maritime terrorism, illegal fishing and illegal exploitation of natural resources mission). In 2016, I was fortunate to deploy to Fiji in HMAS Canberra (Australia’s flagship) as we supported our regional partner in their recovery from severe tropical Cyclone Winston. This was highly rewarding as we delivered more than 200 tonnes of humanitarian supplies to a devastated people. In 2018 I deployed to the Philippines to train and support their Navy in law enforcement and military operations as they battled to re-take control of their city Marawi from ISIS.
In 2019 I worked in the ADF’s strategic headquarters in Canberra, serving as the Chief of Navy’s Personal Lieutenant, supporting my Commander as he leads our Navy into the maritime 21st century. This year has been extremely busy, having just finished a tenure as a Navigation and Warfare Instructor at HMAS Watson in Sydney, training our leaders of tomorrow in maritime navigation and combat.
I recently assumed my current role as the Navigating Officer in HMAS Hobart (Destroyer 39) – one of the world’s most formidable Air Warfare Destroyers. I lead a team of 25-30 personnel charged with her navigation and seamanship. We provide anti-air and anti-missile defence to Australian or Coalition Task Groups, while still capable of controlling the surface and under-sea warfare environments. She’s an awesome ship, coming in at 147m long, displacing 7000T and housing more than 200 of Australia’s best. It’s an honour to keep her safe at sea!
How is the coronavirus presently affecting your work and industry?
I would be lying if this year hasn’t been challenging, but as a Navy that’s what we train for. We support our government and the people of Australia. 2020 has required us to adapt and overcome, facing an invisible enemy. Despite significant portions of the ADF being deployed in support of Operation COVID-Assist, we continue to meet government objectives. Our Navy people are resilient, with some ships spending more than 100 days at sea without a port visit – something not seen since World War II. Within my personal workplace we have had to think laterally, looking for innovative ways to achieve the mission in a COVID-safe way.
Do you have family ties with SPC?
I do! My two brothers Jack Squire (SPC 2013-18) and Henry Squire (SPC 2014-19). They thoroughly enjoyed their time at St Pat’s and my cousin Dr Steve McMahon (SPC 1986-91) was a student and teacher at St Pat’s for a number of years. So it is safe to stay that the Green, White and Blue runs deep within my families’ veins.
What are your fondest memories of your time at St Patrick’s College?
Boat Race. I wasn’t a rower, but I still find myself following it every year, I hope to make it back to watch one year soon. So I suppose my fondest memories of the school was our fierce pride, love and passion for our esteemed history. Our sporting prowess is known across Australia and the importance of physical activity within the school was critical to my growth as an athlete and student.
Which teacher from your time at SPC had the greatest impact on you?
Tough question. One that I can’t decide on, I have two. The first would have to be Mr Michael Brady, it’s scary moving from primary to secondary school and he made it less so. He was humanistic, understanding and absolutely hilarious. The decision to make him the Year 7 Coordinator was a great decision, setting the culture and expectations from day one. The second would be Mr Damian Kinnersly, he taught me Physical Education, Health and Sport and Recreation. His passion for the fitness industry was clear, it inspired me and shaped the person I am today.
How has your education shaped your professional life?
St Pat’s really does take boys and develop them into men. I left in 2009, completely comfortable and confident to leave home, move to Melbourne and start my tertiary education away from home. This wasn’t an accident, it was in large part due to the resilience St Pat’s instilled in me over six years. My education was important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s everything else the school does for young men that is vital, they teach you how to live a good life, in whatever career you choose. If I can, depending on my locality and service I plan to send my future children to St Pat’s.
How has your time at SPC shaped your personal values and your family life?
The ADF lives by values and signature behaviours. Everything we do is based on ethical leadership and decision making. I still remember Year 9 and our camp at Apollo Bay. I didn’t realise it then, but my leadership training started in 2006. After SPC it felt normal abiding by a life values, being a part of something bigger than yourself.
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
The importance of maths and STEM. I didn’t do Year 12 maths during VCE and I regret it to this day. My role as a Navigator requires me to apply trigonometry, geometry and algebra on a daily basis. I still remember stating in Year 11 to one of my friends “when am I ever going to use the Pythagoras Theorem” – ironically it is my most used formula. Most people have more than one career, you don’t know what you don’t know and STEM provides you options and credibility in 2020. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, without STEM your options are limited. Finally, love your school, love its traditions and look after your friends, you will keep them for life. Ecka Dora.