Defence International Policy Officer Caitlyn Lane recently traded her desk job for hands on international engagement aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s largest warship.
In her role with the International Policy Division (IPDIV), Ms Lane deployed aboard HMAS Adelaide from late May to early July for Indo-Pacific Endeavour (IPE), a key regional engagement activity with Australia’s neighbours in the South Pacific.
More than 1,230 ADF personnel were deployed on the first phase of the activity aboard HMA Ships Adelaide and Melbourne, which visited Fiji and Tonga, and HMA Ships Success and Toowoomba, which visited Vanuatu and Samoa.
Ms Lane has provided strategic policy advice to Commander Joint Task Group, Captain Jim Hutton using the knowledge she built early in her career working in IPDIV’s Pacific Islands & Maritime Security Directorate.
“Most IPDIV desk officers are responsible for one or two primary defence relationships; few get the chance to look at a whole region, let alone one as complex and interesting as our own,” she said
The consistently evolving situation in the South Pacific meant Ms Lane’s advice was often sought at short notice and without immediate support available from the broader Defence team based in Canberra.
“Onboard the ship we were often working late, on weekends and in different time zones – so the isolation was a bit of an adjustment.
Although she had indirect exposure to the Navy through her father’s 20-year career as sailor, Ms Lane found adjusting to life at sea to be a new challenge.
HMAS Adelaide often spent days at sea with no land in sight and dependent on the people aboard to work hard, including Ms Lane.
“Living and working at sea for five weeks has been a strange but wonderful experience,” she said
“You’re geographically - and often technologically - isolated, but I was constantly impressed by the Joint Task Group staff’s resilience in the face of those challenges - everyone just gets on with the job.
Captain Hutton said Ms Lane’s contribution to Indo-Pacific Endeavour was integral to the mission’s success.
“When I was appointed as Commander of the Joint Task Group, my first question was, do I get a Policy Advisor? In my experience, they are an essential part of ensuring that the military effect sits in line with political and policy intent, so having Caitlyn to guide me was vital,” he said.
“I took her on my command reconnaissance of Fiji and Tonga and her advice and knowledge helped shape the conversations I had with key leaders in the military and security forces and with the other government departments that would enable our activities in country.
“Caitlyn also helped me prepare for media events so that I was well-versed in the messaging and had a good understanding of the political and economic background to the situations we were facing,” Captain Hutton said.
In exchange for her hard work, Ms Lane has many fond memories from her time deployed on a warship.
“One of the coolest things I got to do was fly from HMAS Adelaide to HMAS Melbourne in an MRH-90 helicopter,” she said.
“It was the first time I’d ever been in a helicopter and I got to do it in the middle of the South Pacific. We even flew over a pod of whales!
“One of the most professionally satisfying moments of IPE was a seminar we held in Tonga for young women and girls called ‘Women at Work’.
“It was genuinely humbling to hear about some of the incredible things women in the ADF are achieving every day – it left everyone feeling inspired.”