Father’s push leads to naval career

Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), ABIS Steven Thomson (photographer)

Location(s): Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America

Leading Seaman Combat Systems Operator Alex Zourkas on console in HMAS Canberra's Operations Room while enroute to Hawaii to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 16. (photo: ABIS Steven Thomson)
Leading Seaman Combat Systems Operator Alex Zourkas on console in HMAS Canberra's Operations Room while enroute to Hawaii to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 16.

A combat systems operator in one of the Australian Navy’s largest ships has his frustrated father to thank for his current experiences in Hawaii.
Growing up in the shadows of HMAS Cerberus, in Mornington, Victoria, Alex Zourkas confessed he didn’t enjoy school very much.
He was then more focussed on playing football and hanging out with his mates, much to his father’s despair.
“One day my Dad and I had an argument about school,” he said.
“I can recall Dad saying, ‘well your friends won’t pay the mortgage’.
“So I started a job search and the Navy came up straight away.
“I joined at the age of 17, and looking back, it was the best decision I ever made,” he added.
Now eight years later, Leading Seaman Combat Systems Operator Zourkas is part of the Australian Task Group deployed to Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in amphibious ship, HMAS Canberra.
The exercise is not his first challenge, by any measure. Within six months of completing category training, he deployed to the Middle East region in Anzac class frigate, HMAS Stuart, conducting counter terrorism and counter piracy patrols in the Arabian Sea and north Indian Ocean.
“I marched out of category training on 24 April 2009, and exactly a year later I was already returning from the Gulf,” he said.
“Deploying on operations – and seeing a different part of the world – was a privilege so early in my career.”
Once reluctant to use his mental aptitude, his attention is now honed on complex radar and data link systems to protect the 1,000 personnel in Canberra.
“As a combat systems operator we deal with the radars, and make sure the ship knows what’s going on in the outside world,” he said.
“We track unknown aircraft and surface ships, maintain constant communication and liaison between ships at sea as well as many other auxiliary tasks.”
RIMPAC is the world’s largest maritime warfare exercise, held in and around the islands of Hawaii. Embarked in amphibious hub Canberra, Leading Seaman Zourkas’s role is to monitor the surface and air picture to allow a large contingent of troops and vehicles to land safely on the beaches.
“It will be a busy time in the operations room,” he said.
“We chat to the boats carrying personnel and equipment and say, ‘yes come’, and ‘yes go’, but it’s up to the Landing Force Commander, the conduit between the beach and the Amphibious Task Group commander to give the order.”
The Australian Defence Force has participated in Exercise RIMPAC since its inception in 1971, but 2016 is the first year in which the Australian Defence Force will contribute an entire Amphibious Task Group, with frigates HMA Ships Warramunga and Ballarat, helicopter carrier and amphibious platform, HMAS Canberra, as well as troops and vehicles from Army’s 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.
“When we sail in a Task Group, we link our radar picture to the radar picture in other ships, so we can see further than we might normally be able to see on our own,” Leading Seaman Zourkas said.
“I’m looking forward to doing my job under some of the most demanding of conditions, learning a lot and testing myself,” he said.