British Lions reunite onboard HMAS Newcastle

Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), POIS Ollie Garside (photographer)

Topic(s): Operation SLIPPER, HMAS Newcastle (F06)

HMS Kent's Merlin helicopter on the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle during a ship transfer activity in the Middle East Area of Operations. (photo: POIS Ollie Garside)
HMS Kent's Merlin helicopter on the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle during a ship transfer activity in the Middle East Area of Operations.

A Royal Navy Officer recently ‘hitched a ride’ across the Red Sea onboard HMAS Newcastle, while trying to make his way home to England. The unsuspecting Brit got a real surprise when he was greeted on the flight deck of the Australian ship by a long term friend and former RN colleague who had laterally transferred to the Royal Australian Navy some five years earlier.

Lieutenant Commander Mickey Rooney had been granted ‘early leavers’ from Her Majesties Ship Kent to return home to his family. Like Newcastle, Kent was in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) conducting counter terrorism patrols as part of the Combined Maritime Forces.

Due to an operational tasking, Kent was unable to get LCDR Rooney to Djibouti for his flight home. So, Newcastle and the French Navy ship FS Somme made arrangements to help the British Weapons Electrical Engineering Officer get back to England.

The plan was for Kent’s Merlin helicopter to transfer LCDR Rooney to Newcastle where he would spend the night. The next day, he would be transferred from Newcastle to FS Somme after the two ships completed a replenishment operation. FS Somme would then use her helicopter to get him to Djibouti.

When the enormous 13-tonne Merlin helicopter landed on Newcastle’s flight deck, LCDR Rooney hardly expected to see a familiar face among the Australian crew. But, the man there to greet him was none other than his old friend and naval academy classmate LCDR Roy Casson, Newcastle’s Marine Engineering Officer (MEO).

Lieutenant Commander Roy Casson with Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Mickey Rooney.

Lieutenant Commander Roy Casson with Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Mickey Rooney.

The reunion came as a surprise to both of them.

“I thought it was quite freaky actually, because I was actually talking about him onboard Kent yesterday. I had no idea that he was onboard Newcastle!” LCDR Rooney said.

The two officers had served together on several occasions before LCDR Casson, a Manchester native, laterally transferred from the RN to the RAN in 2009.

“We haven’t seen each other since, in fact we have had five kids between us since the last time we saw each other,” LCDR Rooney said.

“In the RN, we were classmates at the Britannia Royal Naval College - Dartmouth in 1998 and then we went to university together to do our engineering degrees too. After that, we served in HMS Monmouth together - he was the Deputy WEEO, and I was the Deputy MEO!” LCDR Casson said.

LCDR Rooney was pleased to start his long journey home by catching up with an old friend.

“I am literally doing a global pebble-dash to get home, transiting from Kent through the Australian warship Newcastle, the French Replenishment ship Somme, Djibouti, Riyadh, Paris, Heathrow, and finally home to South Oxfordshire. This reunion was a great surprise,” he said.

LCDR Casson was also glad to have his countryman onboard, with the third rugby test between the British and Irish Lions and the Wallabies coinciding with his visit.

“It was great to have an ally onboard when the Lions destroyed the Wallabies,” LCDR Casson said.

“I wish he could stay for the Ashes as well!” he said.

To add to LCDR Rooney’s adventurous journey home, he was winched onto FS Somme from Newcastle’s S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter during a dusk Fuelling Replenishment at Sea.

“We’ll definitely be keeping in touch,” he said.

Newcastle is in the MEAO assigned to Operation SLIPPER - the Australian Defence Force contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement.

Newcastle’s current deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20130669.