Navigating the waters of the Middle East

This article has photo gallery Published on LTCOL Phil Pyke (author), CPL Mark Doran (author and photographer)

Location(s): Bahrain

Royal Australian Navy officer Sub Lieutenant Robert McRae, of HMAS Darwin, prepares for a patrol in the Middle East region from the Naval Support Activity base in Manama, Bahrain, during Operation Manitou. (photo: Corporal Mark Doran)
Royal Australian Navy officer Sub Lieutenant Robert McRae, of HMAS Darwin, prepares for a patrol in the Middle East region from the Naval Support Activity base in Manama, Bahrain, during Operation Manitou.

A former Surf Life Saver is now part of an international counter-terrorism operation in the Middle East. Sub Lieutenant Robert McRae is an Officer of the Watch in the Royal Australian Navy frigate, HMAS Darwin.

He is one of the team responsible for the safe navigation of the Australian warship as it conducts its maritime security patrols.

Sub Lieutenant McRae said he enlisted in the Navy in 2013, after studying for his Bachelor of Business Management, majoring in sports and human resources management.

“I am the first member of my family to join the military and decided upon the Navy because the benefits and training are the best in the world,” he said.

“I just completed two-and-a-half years on the Junior Warfare Application Course at HMAS Watson.

“My training included sea-going postings in HMAS Tobruk and with the patrol boats based at HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin.

“It is exciting to come straight out of training and deploy on Operation MANITOU.”

Part of Darwin’s mission with Combined Task Force 150 in the Middle East is to restrict the trafficking of illegal narcotics and other contraband in the region.

“We are doing our best to help not just Australia, but the rest of the world,” he said.

“With the training we have received we will be successful and get the job done.”

Darwin
 is predominately tasked to support maritime security and counter-terrorism operations and additional duties in counter-piracy.

The  area of operations for Combined Task Force 150 spans more than two million square miles, covering the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman.

One highlight of the deployment so far has been when Darwin joined the French Carrier Strike Group Charles de Gaulle to provide escort, force protection support and combined training operations in the Gulf of Oman.

The Charles de Gaulle battle group is deployed to the Gulf to participate in operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq as part of US Naval Forces Central Command's Task Force 50.

Sub Lieutenant McRae said Darwin had an ‘awesome’ crew.

“Everyone welcomed me to the ship and someone is always there to lend a hand when needed,” he said.

“I have been learning new skills from the members of command right down to the junior sailors.

“I have made many good friends in the Navy and it’s fantastic to work with people who are like-minded.”

Operation MANITOU is the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to the Combined Maritime Forces, a 31-nation partnership focused on defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional cooperation and promoting a safe maritime environment.

Including this rotation, Darwin has deployed to the Middle East seven times between 1990 and 2016 as part of operations DAMASK, SLIPPER and MANITOU.