Choules gives Navy’s newest officers experience at sea

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Loretta Houlahan (author), MIDN Nathan Rose (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Choules (L100), New Entry Officers’ Course (NEOC)

Midshipmen Bethlyn Aknonero and Benjamin Montgomery on the bridge of HMAS Choules. (photo: LEUT McDonald)
Midshipmen Bethlyn Aknonero and Benjamin Montgomery on the bridge of HMAS Choules.

Royal Australian Navy landing ship, HMAS Choules recently gave some junior officers their first taste of life at sea, hosting initial trainees from the Royal Australian Naval College.

For many of the 87 participants of New Entry Officers’ Course 55, normally based at HMAS Creswell on the New South Wales South Coast, it was their first time on board an Australian warship.

The sea training deployment is a crucial milestone in the course training program and Midshipman Ramon Sarmiento from Brisbane said the experience was rewarding.

“By getting hands-on experience across the different departments, I developed a real appreciation for the work performed on HMAS Choules,” he said.

“Experiencing sea state seven on the bridge of Choules was quite memorable. It was quite rough, and some my classmates fell ill.

“However I loved every minute of it, and it was pleasing to know I’ve got my sea legs,” Midshipman Sarmiento said.

Also onboard Choules for the sea training deployment was Midshipman Leroy Wama from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

In Australia to complete the course, Midshipman Wama said he was grateful for his time onboard.

“Back home we see Australian Navy warships on television being deployed to places like Fiji and Vanuatu for humanitarian assistance,” he said.

“On Choules, I got to experience what goes on behind the scenes, and it has been a real privilege to be part of the Australian team for this training.”

The second member of the Papua New Guinea contingent was Midshipman Beth Aknonero, who is also the second female officer appointed to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

She said she was inspired to join the Navy after watching Sea Patrol in her village as a young girl.

“I watched Sea Patrol every Wednesday night,” she said.

“I loved Lieutenant Kate McGregor and seeing that a woman was capable of being in charge and performing that role.

“I enjoyed all the action scenes and being in the Navy was all I’ve ever wanted to do since then.

“I have learned so much on this sea training deployment.

“My favourite part was getting a ride in a Seahawk helicopter, taking off and landing on Choules flight deck was breathtaking,” Midshipman Aknonero said.

For Midshipman Benjamin Montgomery, life onboard a warship is nothing new.

Having previously served on HMA Ships Newcastle, Tobruk and Canberra as a sailor, Midshipman Montgomery is undergoing officer training to become a Training Systems Officer.

Despite his extensive experience, Midshipman Montgomery said the deployment had been unique.

“My wife Virginia gave birth to our baby girl Piper recently,” he said.

“The hardest part of this training phase was being away from my daughter, but I’m passionate about my job and the Australian Navy.

“I also want to be a good role model for Piper and to be someone she can look up to, which makes all the hard work worthwhile,” Midshipman Montgomery said.

Members of the New Entry Officers’ Course 55 graduated on 1 December and will pursue a broad range of careers in areas ranging from maritime warfare, engineering, logistics, medicine, nursing to law.