No Greenhorns in Green Team

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), LSIS Kayla Hayes (photographer)

Location(s): Darwin, Northern Territory, Cairns, Queensland

Members of Sea Training Unit - Minor War Vessels at HMAS Coonawarra. (photo: ABIS Kayla Hayes)
Members of Sea Training Unit - Minor War Vessels at HMAS Coonawarra.

With more than 200 combined years of experience, the members of the Sea Training Unit – Minor War Vessels know a thing or two about ‘small boat’ operations.

This 18-person team, which operates from bases in Darwin and Cairns, is responsible for training and assessing the crews of all of the Royal Australian Navy’s minor war vessels, including its patrol boats, survey vessels and mine hunters. On top of that, the team of mostly Senior Sailors also runs mission readiness evaluations for the rotational tri-service transit security elements. 

Operations Officer, Chief Petty Officer Boatswain Shane Ridley has served in minor war vessels for more than 20 years, and says he’s motivated by a desire to help keep sailors and officers safe in one of the most unique workplaces on earth. 

“Between us, our team has experienced just about everything that might arise in the course of small boat operations,” Chief Petty Officer Ridley said. 

“Our mission is to hold crews to a high standard so that they can do the job they’re tasked to do and get home to their families at the end of it.”

“We are all very much motivated by a genuine desire to make sure everyone out there at sea is capable of not only doing their jobs, but of operating safely despite the challenging environments they work in.”

Over a period of three-weeks, the unit trains and assesses a crew on its ability to perform all the skills required to operate a minor war vessel safely at sea in an operational environment. This task requires a team with diverse qualifications. 

“When we go onboard a minor war vessel, we cover every aspect of its operations including seamanship, boarding, marine engineering, damage control, navigation, gunnery, force protection, catering and communications. For that, we need expertise in all of those areas,” Chief Petty Officer Ridley said.  

“The team is made up of 18 sea trainers and two support staff who are qualified across the broad range of jobs and skill-sets you’ll find at sea. We have Boatswains, Marine Technicians, Cooks and Communicators to name a few.

“This is a group of very professional senior sailors and officers who have spent years working in minor war vessels. 

"They are people who are at the top of their respective games, who have extensive knowledge and experience, and they all have a genuine desire to give back what they’ve learned for the benefit of the Fleet,” he said.

On any given week, the team is involved in the training and assessment of at least one sea-going unit. And, while getting through a Mission Readiness Evaluation generally means a lot of hard work for the crew involved, Chief Petty Officer Ridley believes that the process gives crews confidence when real situations arise. 

“We hold every crew to high standards during the evaluation phase because real situations require nothing less. 

"The crews we assess are operational for most of the year so they need to be highly capable and ready,” he said. 

“The important thing to remember is that we’re human - the Sea Training Unit isn’t something to fear. 

"We don’t put crews through challenging assessments for the fun of it and we are dedicated to making sure every crew achieves the standard. 

"We love it when people ask lots of questions; after all, training is a really big part of our mission.”