Two school mates are currently deployed together in the Middle East Area of Operations on maritime security operations, 20 years since they met on their first day at Blue Mountains Grammar.
Lieutenant Jamie Imlay Gillespie and Lieutenant Commander Kent Browning, both officers in the Royal Australian Navy, are currently deployed to Bahrain, a small island nation in the Arabian Gulf working with the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).
The CMF is a 30-nation coalition of navies providing maritime security to the Middle East and Indian Ocean region.
Jamie, from Glenbrook, is currently deployed as a Battle Watch Captain for Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a challenging watch-keeping role that coordinates the operations of the many navy ships and aircraft within the naval coalition.
Kent, from Yellow Rock, is the legal adviser for Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), one of the three task forces within the CMF. CTF 150’s mission is to promote maritime security in order to counter terrorist acts and related illegal activities, which terrorists use to fund or conceal their movements.
His role is to manage the many legal complexities with naval operations in the Middle East and Northern Indian Ocean regions.
Kent said this is both his and Jamie’s second deployment to the Middle East and he will take home plenty of proud memories.
“Bahrain is about as far as you can get from the Blue Mountains. It is hot, flat, dusty and dry, with little naturally forming vegetation,” Kent said.
“I miss the distinctive blue-green of home, the sound of the bell-birds and frankly the absence of the fine dust which gets into everything over here.
“As we were preparing to deploy, my family’s property at Yellow Rock was devastated by the October bushfires. Jamie’s uncle was also one of the many that suffered that day. Despite the devastation, I am pleased to hear that the area is recovering well, and I know we both look forward to being back there soon.
“Sadly, our return plans mean that it will be too late for this year’s canyoning season.”
Jamie also reflected on his deployment overseas in Bahrain and of his family back home.
“We have had lots of success during our time here, with CMF warships including HMA Ships Melbourne and Darwin successfully thwarting several piracy attacks and seizing almost 1,400kg of pure heroin, 2,600kg of hashish and 24kg of methamphetamine during operations in the Middle Eastern waters.
“Combined, these narcotics are estimated to have an Australian street value well in excess of $AUD2 billion. It has been very rewarding for us both to have been involved in these operations.”
In January, Jamie’s wife, Helen, gave birth to their first child, Flynn, and he managed to make it home less than 24 hours before Helen went into labour. The dash home provided him 10 days with Helen and Flynn before he had to return to Bahrain.
“We have a great team to work with over here but the time away from our families has been hard.
“We get to talk regularly but it is not the same as being there. Unfortunately that’s a fact of service life.”
Navy life has often had Kent and Jamie living in different cities but they have kept in regular contact with family and mutual friends always drawing them home to the mountains.
“It certainly is a small world when, 18 months after being Kent’s best man at his wedding, we find ourselves deployed together so far from home,” Jamie said.