CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE
Interview with Matina Jewell
IN 2006, MATINA JEWELL’S life changed forever while on duty, with a car accident in the ancient Lebanese city of Tyre. She was thrown onto the bulletproof windscreen of her vehicle, the impact so strong it broke her back in five places and ruptured her diaphragm. Evacuated to hospital, it wasn’t long before she heard that her teammates back at the UN compound had been killed in an air strike.
Matina writes about her experience in her book Caught in the Crossfire, a true insight into her life as a peacekeeper in the war-ravaged Middle East. The book tells the story of coping against the odds, making decisions to determine your success and questioning your thinking. It is also the first book in Australia to contain QR code technology, allowing readers to step into the story: by scanning a barcode symbol with their phone they can watch videos taken while Matina was in the Middle East.
When Elite Agent caught up with Matina recently, we were inspired. First we wanted to know what led her to a career path with the Armed Forces.
“During my schooling I had been looking at different career paths, but a pivotal point for me in deciding what I actually wanted to do with my future was that I played a lot of sports. I represented Australia in a couple of sports, 10 sports at state level. [And travelling to places like China] gave me a whole new perspective on life outside of Australia,” she says.
“It made me far more appreciative of the privilege I had. My Chinese opponents would ask me if I’d ever seen stars at night, because it was something that they had never seen for themselves!”
Matina returned from that experience with five career goals: to travel overseas, to help disadvantaged communities, to be in a team environment, to be a leader and to focus on something that was a combination of sporting and academic. The ADFA ticked all the boxes and, with an added goal of becoming financially independent at the age of 17, the drive to succeed in the Armed Forces outweighed the surprise her parents initially felt.
“I remember their parting words were, ‘There’s no way you’ll see military action as a woman’ and here I am, five overseas missions later and having almost lost my life. I could have died so many times.”
Along with serving in a number of war zones around the world, Matina was the first woman to qualify as a Navy diver, despite being in the Army; she was also the first woman to qualify to fast-rope out of helicopters to board smuggle ships
– something that is usually reserved for Special Forces but which became a necessity at the time.
“I was given the opportunity to do things with my career I’d never imagined, and at the same time I was in a leadership role with soldiers looking at me to provide the example, to leap out of that helicopter and lead my team in extreme environments.”
Given the path her career led her on, there is little doubt that at some point Matina was terrified of what lay ahead or, more accurately, around the corner. So what advice does she have for managing fear?
“The most terrifying situation I’ve ever been in was in Lebanon during the 2006 war. We were surrounded by Hezbollah guerrilla forces and in a split second it went from monitoring a peace agreement as an unarmed peacekeeper to suddenly being thrown into full-scale warfare where Israeli fighters had attack helicopters,” she says.
“As a leader, you’ve got to put aside your personal fear. You need to be able to put your emotions aside so you can keep operating and keep being decisive: making decisions, managing the risks at the same time and being able to keep clarity around what you’re doing.
“You’ve got to say, ‘Okay, yeah. I’m terrified, but that’s not helping. I have no option. I have to keep making decisions.’ Otherwise it’s more likely that a worst-case scenario will occur.”
Although it’s a far cry from stepping into a war zone, as a property manager you’ll still face adversity that challenges your role and your mindset. If you want to be a leader in your profession, Matina offers the following tips.
“It’s the little steps. Most people in business don’t go suddenly from doing nothing to overnight business success. It’s a process. It’s the learning opportunities that come along and having that courage to make the most of it and keep positive about what’s happening around you. Keep the momentum moving forward, find your sense of purpose and hang on to it.”
In property management, leadership is key to success. According to Matina, there are three key skills required for someone to be a great leader, regardless of the industry they work in. 1. Effective delegation and empowering others to carry out your vision. 2. Effective communication with your team so there’s crystal clear alignment of the leader’s vision. 3. Knowing your team so you can draw on individual strengths and weaknesses to make the team as strong as it can possibly be. No matter the industry, you need to be agile, brave and willing to tackle change – even if that change leads you in an uncertain direction. And when it comes to facing challenges in life, Matina says you need to focus on the incredible opportunities that come from extreme adversity.
“I hit absolute rock bottom after I was injured so I know what it’s like, but my advice to people going through tough times is to focus on your purpose, and if it can help others it does have a double positive. If you’re a leader and you need to build resilience in your team, try and focus on a new sense of purpose.”
And with focus and positivity two of her best traits, Matina is putting them to further good use by becoming an ambassador for Thankful Foundation, an Australian initiative partnered with the United Nations, that seeks to empower women and children around the world.
“There are a number of aspects to it: looking at everyday activities and shifting our mindset into one that’s more positive; to be thankful for the things that we have, rather than striving for other things or focusing in a negative way on all the things we don’t have, or are yet still to achieve or attain,” she says.
“As a society, we need to raise our children and ourselves to become more appreciative of what we have, to look at what’s happening around the world and realise how very fortunate we are to be in Australia.”
“MY ADVICE TO PEOPLE GOING THROUGH TOUGH TIMES IS TO FOCUS ON YOUR PURPOSE, AND IF IT CAN HELP OTHERS IT DOES HAVE A DOUBLE POSITIVE. IF YOU’RE A LEADER AND YOU NEED TO BUILD RESILIENCE IN YOUR TEAM, TRY AND FOCUS ON A NEW SENSE OF PURPOSE.” “IN A SPLIT SECOND IT WENT FROM MONITORING A PEACE AGREEMENT AS AN UNARMED PEACEKEEPER TO SUDDENLY BEING THROWN INTO FULLSCALE WARFARE.”