Broome-bred sailor closes the ‘gap’ on Navy Aviation

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), CPOIS Cameron Martin (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Albatross, NSW

Topic(s): 723 Squadron, Graduation, Navy Gap Year

Able Seaman Aircrewman Belinda Cole is presented the Rotary Course Aircrewman Dux Award by Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Don Dezentje CSM, RAN. (photo: CPOIS Cameron Martin)
Able Seaman Aircrewman Belinda Cole is presented the Rotary Course Aircrewman Dux Award by Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Don Dezentje CSM, RAN.

The Australian Defence Force Gap Year presents young Australians with the opportunity to experience military training, service and lifestyle through a year-long program which is ideal option for anyone interested in exploring a career in Defence and the options available.

On finishing high school, Able Seaman Belinda Cole says she was torn between a career in medicine or aviation.

“I found myself studying laboratory medicine at university, which I enjoyed, however, I took the year off to explore the Navy through the gap year program.

“I’d always been interested in joining the Defence Force and saw the gap year as an opportunity to gain insight to the different job roles before I committed to a particular role.

“Growing up in Broome, I didn’t get much opportunity to see the south coast of Australia and saw the gap year as a chance to travel and meet new people,” she said.

Talking about her gap year, she said it featured many highlights.

“I spent three weeks on board HMAS Canberra, we also went to Tasmania, and the base establishment tour took me to Navy bases all around Australia.

“It was through this tour of the establishments that we went to HMAS Albatross, which is where I first heard about the role of Aircrewman.

“And that was it, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

“So I committed to joining the Navy beyond the Gap Year program and commenced Aircrewman training at 723 Squadron in October 2019,” she said.

723 Squadron provides foundation skills to future Pilots, Aviation Warfare Officers (AvWO) and Aircrewman to perform their roles in the highly sophisticated combat helicopters operated by the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Army.

This training provided everything Able Seaman Cole was looking for.

“I’ve always wanted a career that’s a little different, that’s challenging but also fulfilling.

“Working in a close knit team is very appealing to me, as well as constantly learning new things. I am very appreciative of this opportunity,” she said.

Able Seaman Cole is Navy’s first Gap Year participant and direct entry aircrewman to graduate from 723 Squadron. Until now, the aircrewman branch was only open to in-service transfers from other categories.

Not only did she recently graduate as a qualified aircrewman, she also received the Rotary Course Aircrewman Dux Award.

Presented by Boeing Defence Australia, the award acknowledges the student who achieves the highest grading over both theory and practical exercises and demonstrated a high standard in Airmanship.

The skillsets covered in the course include basic operations, external loads, winching, unaided and aided night operations, aircrew operations, search and rescue and embarked operations.

Command Warrant Officer Gary Fuss, Officer in Charge of coordinating the Gap Year Program at HMAS Albatross, said Able Seaman Cole’s success was not a surprise.

“From day one, Able Seaman Cole was committed and confident and brimming with potential. You could see her determination, she went “This is what I want” and she went for it.”

Command Warrant Officer Fuss may not have been surprised, but Able Seaman Cole certainly was.

“When my name was called I was stunned, but I put in a lot of hard work throughout the course and I’m happy it paid off.”

“For anyone considering the Gap Year, I would say go for it.

“The people you meet and the experiences and opportunities you get aren’t things you can get anywhere else,” she said.

As to her next career goal, Able Seaman Cole said “I’m honestly not too sure, I’ll just take it as it comes.”

An approach which has definitely worked for her so far.