Former Head Navy Capability, Rear Admiral Mark Campbell, wanted to avoid too much fuss and formality around his retirement, but there were a few significant people and places he particularly wanted to revisit prior to leaving the Royal Australian Navy after 36 years service.
HMAS Albatross was definitely on this list. Rear Admiral Campbell has a close association with the home of Fleet Air Arm having notched up 3,500 flying hours as an anti-submarine tactical coordinator in Sea King and Seahawk helicopters.
He has also flown the S2-G Tracker, UH-1B Iroquois, Wessex 31B, Bell 206B-1 and AS350B Squirrel aircraft, was Commanding Officer of 816 Squadron between 1999 -2000 and has maintained this connection to naval aviation through various positions including Head of Helicopter Systems Division and as Head of Navy Capability.
“It’s good to be back," Rear Admiral Campbell said when he flew in for a farewell trip.
“It’s an area I love, I was posted here several times and left finally in 2006.
"I’ve slipped up through Nerriga throughout the years to attend various meetings but haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would have liked.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the Shoalhaven, I’ve had a lot of good times here, I played a lot of sport including squash, tennis, cricket and soccer in the local community and, it’s the same wherever you are, it’s the people who are important and I have a lot of good friends here," he said.
Rear Admiral Campbell’s farewell visit included a flight in a classic Seahawk over some familiar sites.
“I was able to reacquaint myself with a lot of my past.
"During the 1980s I spent a lot of time doing search and rescue exercises in the National Park so I was seeing a lot of the area from the air that I hadn’t seen for a long time.”
While Rear Admiral Campbell was on familiar territory, the multitude of construction sites throughout the base indicate the significant changes to infrastructure and engineering services.
“The Naval Air Station I joined in 1979 was pretty much a Korean war vintage effort and now it’s developing into the modern capable facility that Australia needs," Rear Admiral Campbell said.
Having overseen the introduction of the Romeo helicopter into service Rear Admiral Campbell said he is pleased to see his vision for Australian naval aviation being realised.
“It’s a vision I shared with Vice Admiral Barrett and Rear Admiral Dalton many years ago, for the Navy to have two really well supported aircraft, one training and one operational, and to produce professional aircrew who are extremely proficient in hunting submarines, very effective in the region, and known world wide for being the finest submarine hunters there are, I think we’re well on our way to achieving that.”
When asked what the young Mark Campbell of 36 years ago would say if told he would one day retire at the rank of Rear Admiral and Head of Navy Capability, he said he would have been “completely gobsmacked”.
“He would not have believed it for one minute.
"At that stage my ambition was to command a Squadron at the Lieutenant Commander level, and then leave because I figured that was all there was to do.
"Well, I had another 25 years after that and its been a hell of a ride and one I’d happily do it all over again.”