Peering behind the green curtain

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Kelli Lunt (author), ABIS Jesse Rhynard (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Ballarat (F155), Unit Readiness Workups

LS Combat Systems Operator Dominic Buzzell, from Sea Training Group's Fleet Air Safety Cell, observes a simulated attack against HMAS Ballarat from inside the Operations Room during the Ship's Unit Readiness Evaluation. (photo: ABIS Jesse Rhynard)
LS Combat Systems Operator Dominic Buzzell, from Sea Training Group's Fleet Air Safety Cell, observes a simulated attack against HMAS Ballarat from inside the Operations Room during the Ship's Unit Readiness Evaluation.

Tough love, long hours and relentless travel may be what characterises a posting to the Sea Training Group (STG), but so too does passion, patience, adaptability and subject matter expertise, as was observed during HMAS Ballarat’s Unit Readiness Evaluation, from 29 to 30 July.

Members of the ‘Green Team’ (identified by the wearing of green brassards) spend the majority of their STG posting at sea and are tasked with the vital role of preparing ships’ companies in a variety of skills, often amid competing operational requirements, unpredictable weather and asset availability.

After a 0545 roll call, the STG’s Major Fleet Unit trainers and assessors boarded a bus at Fleet Headquarters and headed to Jervis Bay for the culmination of Ballarat’s unusually short three-week training package - designed to enable her crew to handle evolutions from boat handling to stores, and from conducting engine breakdowns to expending ammunition while fighting a simulated enemy in realistic training scenarios.

Captain Sea Training, Captain Heath Robertson said STG work with Fleet personnel to achieve set competencies determined by Commander Australian Fleet, designing programs and assessments specific to the asset and their future taskings.

“Sea Training Group provides the final layer in the RAN’s assurance process to ensure the Fleet is well prepared to fight and win at sea,” CAPT Robertson said.

“With most of the Fleet on or preparing for operations, Sea Training Group’s role of training and assessing the RAN’s men and women to collectively fight and operate their ships has never been more important.”

To be deemed ‘Unit Ready’, a ship enters a period of pre-workup training or ‘shake downs’ for which the ship conducts internal training. This is followed by a mariner skills evaluation (MSE) period and on completion is handed over to STG for Collective Training, placing the shared responsibility of training between the ship and STG.

It is fair to say that the STG personnel are experts in their respective fields – their experience, leadership and training style provides ships’ companies with a combination of training, mentoring and advising. STG personnel earn their brassards following a period of observations and assessment.

Represented by people with ranks ranging from Leading Seaman through to Captain, with over half being Senior Sailors and Warrant Officers, approximately 40 STG Assessors attended Ballarat’s URE. Assessors are a blend of STG trainers and Fleet personnel, who are able to provide a fresh set of eyes.

Captain Sea Training was the head assessor for Ballarat’s URE and was briefed on all aspects of the Ship’s status prior to the assessment period. After a quick boat transfer and an induction brief for new joiners, Ballarat’s assessment was underway. The evaluation continued throughout the night until late afternoon the next day.

For those who managed to grab a few hours of sleep, messing arrangements ranged from the odd spare rack to stretchers in the hangar. The Wardroom became STG headquarters and a constant stream of personnel rotated through, reporting the findings of serials conducted to document the ship’s collective training competency progression and achievements.

WO Michael O’Callaghan, the Fleet Warrant Officer Marine Technician (MT) for Fast Helicopter Frigates (FFH) was onboard Ballarat for the assessment only. He had been in his role for 18 months and saw the evaluation as an opportunity to gauge where the frigate sat in the Fleet.

“Generally I have no preconceived views of individuals onboard the Ship. I see it for what it is, on the day,” WO O’Callaghan said.

“After three weeks, they have the skills to pass the assessment. Perhaps not with as much polish as they would after five weeks, or by a Mission Readiness Evaluation standard. But, they’re good enough.”

WO Anthony Booby, the Fleet WOMT for Guided Missile Frigates (FFG) has been with STG for four years and said there was a certain level of passion required by the ship’s company and its trainers.

“Working in STG is good because I get to see different platforms and see different ways of getting the standard required,”

“STG needs to have a good working relationship with the ship’s company. Attitude plays a big part in the end result. If the ship doesn’t have the right attitude, then it can be an uphill battle to get them to the standard.”

After reports were compiled, CAPT Robertson briefed his team and ‘Finish Exercise’ (FINEX) was called. Ballarat’s Commanding Officer, Commander Matthew Doornbos and his executive staff were then briefed by CAPT Robertson, and a clear lower deck was held for the ship’s company to discuss their collective performance. For Ballarat, the results were generally positive, with the crew completing competencies in three weeks that most ships would normally attempt in a normal, five week work-up.

The satisfaction of seeing Ballarat achieve the necessary competencies became a distant memory for STG as they disembarked after sunset, bedding in hand, ready to join their next unit - HMAS Darwin.