My first few months in the Navy

This article has photo gallery Published on MIDN Luke Spencer (author)

Topic(s): Naval College, Australian Defence Force Academy

MIDN Spencer cutting his 18th birthday cake prepared by Spanish chefs. (photo: Unknown)
MIDN Spencer cutting his 18th birthday cake prepared by Spanish chefs.

Since graduating the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) New Entry Officer Course (NEOC) at HMAS Creswell this year, myself and four other Midshipmen began the Naval Officer Year One Engineering Program (NOYO-EN).

During the six months between NEOC and the start of our time at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) we are loaned out to various units across Australia to gain experience in engineering. I was completely surprised when I was told that the scope of my experience would include a five week sea ride in ESPS Cantabria, the Spanish Armada's Combat Support Ship currently deployed to the RAN.

On our first day onboard Cantabria we were issued our life jackets, shown to our cabins and given a tour of the ship. After the tour we were briefed on the ship's program and were welcomed by the Commanding Officer Commander Jose Nieto. From the start we knew that we were going to be immersed in a completely different culture.

On the second day, we were assigned watches (like shifts) and started getting into the swing of the daily routine onboard. From the moment we learned to introduce ourselves in Spanish and ask for another’s name we were making friends.

It is quite easy on Cantabria as the crew is extremely hospitable. The importance of picking up some basic Spanish became increasingly apparent when the term ‘Hombre al Agua’ was announced over the pipes, this caused only a momentary look of confusion on the faces of some of the Australian contingent whilst Spanish sailors moved to their man overboard stations for a drill.

The majority of our time onboard Cantabria consists of keeping watches in the Machinery Control Room and attending engineering tutorials to learn as much as we can about engineering systems. Cantabria is a really modern ship with some of the same systems that will be fitted on our new Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) and the future Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWD), which I hope to be posted to when I finish ADFA.

One of the most exciting and involved evolutions we have taken part in is the Replenishment at Sea of HMA Ships Perth and Ballarat. The other Midshipmen and I had the opportunity to become communications personnel for Cantabria, relaying vital information to and from the ships in our company as they are refuelled. We have also been afforded opportunities to watch intricate seamanship skills from the upper decks as the fuelling line  passed from Cantabria to the decks of the two other ships at the same time. Other great opportunities for the Midshipmen and Sailors onboard have included riding in the RHIB as the ship conducts man overboard exercises.

Being at sea for a month doesn’t leave a lot of room for relaxation or recreational time but the occasional basketball game in the aircraft hangar - officers vs sailors or Australia vs Spain - provides some team bonding and a break from daily routine. On the start of the sea ride onboard Cantabria I  tried to avoid telling anyone of my 18th birthday and celebrate afterwards, but the Spanish and Australian crew would have none of this and surprised me with a birthday cake and many congratulations.

As I write this we are currently underway to participate in the huge joint US Navy/RAN exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2013 off North Queensland, which just another reason why I will not forget this experience in a hurry. This is why I joined the RAN. I joined to gain an education whilst serving my country and I look forward to contributing to international operations and exercises in the future.

This entire experience will put me in good stead for my studies at ADFA, not only for knowledge gained in engineering concepts but for the knowledge of what to expect upon finishing my studies.