Ballarat resident John Spencer has just celebrated his 53rd birthday on operations – one of many celebrated overseas for the Australian Army officer who enlisted as a digger 37 years ago.
Currently on his 14th overseas "trip" with Defence, Major Spencer is deployed to Afghanistan as part of the UK-led Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) advisory effort based at Camp Qargha, Kabul.
He is the Officer Commanding Capability Assessment Team (OC CAT) and Executive Officer for all Australian force elements within the camp.
"It certainly keeps me busy having several jobs, especially working with coalition personnel from all walks of life," Major Spencer said.
There are about 350 coalition personnel based at the camp including forces from the UK, Denmark, New Zealand, USA and Turkey.
As the OC CAT, Major Spencer is responsible for managing the assessment of training delivered at the individual and institutional levels of the academy.
Prior to his arrival, there was no standard tool for assessment, limiting performance reporting in terms of measuring progress and identifying areas for improvement.
He said late last year scientists from the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) visited the academy to review assessment methods.
"With some input from our DSTG colleagues, we developed a training tool to be adopted by both Afghan and coalition staff to ensure consistent and accurate reporting," Major Spencer said.
Despite having a new tool for assessment, differences in experience among the coalition mentors meant that all personnel using the tool required training.
"With such varied backgrounds, every mentor brings their own perspective," he said.
"To ensure consistency across the board, we conducted training in the use of the assessment tool for all assessors."
The academy has a wide variety of mentors, from a 21-year-old Danish Sergeant to Major Spencer: a 53-year-old Australian Infantryman "who's been doing it for a while".
He has indeed had a long and colourful career.
Enlisting into the Royal Australian Infantry Corps at 17, he was posted to the 8th/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Brisbane back in 1981.
Over the next 22 years, he was sent overseas as part of various training teams and exercises to Indonesia, Papau New Guinea, Malaysia, USA and Brunei.
Selected for Commissioning in 2003, he deployed as an instructor with the United States Marine Corps to the Mojave Desert and on operations to the Solomon Islands.
In 2012, he fulfilled a career long goal of deploying to Timor Leste on Operation Astute as Officer Commanding Anzac Company for the last rotation of the seven-year peace keeping operation.
Major Spencer enjoys passing on his experience to the ANAOA coalition mentors and is looking forward to seeing the standard of training continue to improve.
Six months into his deployment, he is planning his deployment leave – a belated 30th wedding anniversary gift for his wife Tracey – with help from his British colleagues.
"She has put up with a lot over the years during my time in the military and deserves something special," he said.
"The Brits have been fantastic arranging for us to view the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London as well as the Changing of the Guard from inside the gates at Buckingham Palace."
There are about 80 Australian Defence Force personnel based at ANAOA, including 12 mentors, a force protection element and logistics element on operation Highroad.