With Christmas and the New Year behind them, Royal Australian Navy personnel deployed as part of Combined Task Force 150 have been straight into a year of deterring and disrupting terrorism related activity on the high seas in the Middle East Region.
The 31 personnel working under Operation MANITOU as part of the Canadian-led headquarters are undertaking a unique headquarters staffing model; they comprise seven Australian members and 17 from the Royal Canadian Navy, two from the Royal Canadian Air Force, three from the Canadian Army and two civilians from the Canadian public service.
Taskforce Commander, Canadian Commodore Brian Santarpia, said the integration between the different elements and especially the two nations was a fantastic construct that reflected the strong relationship between the two defence forces.
“Both Canada and Australia have regularly contributed to Combined Maritime Forces, and being here as often as we are, and as we share the same mission objectives the logical step was to be here at the same time, working together and in turn learn from each other’s experiences,” he said.
“Right from the beginning we have been planning and working in this integrated construct; my deputy and chief of staff is Australian Navy Captain, Nick Stoker, and his team have been with us through all phases of planning and training, including two weeks in Ottawa, Ontario, and another week and a half in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“I think there is real synergy and strength in continuing with this model. As each command tenure only lasts about four months, the integration between nations helps to capitalise on all the respective nation’s experience, and in turn maintain continuity making the hand over process between command rotations more efficient.”
Captain Stoker said deploying personnel on Operation MANITOU was an important contribution to Australia’s commitment to a secure and stable Middle East.
“Filling key leadership positions like my present role and contributing ships and personnel reflects the Government of Australia’s commitment,” he said.
“Australia has other permanent positions in the broader Combined Maritime Forces much like the Canadians, fulfilling important roles contributing to maritime stability and security in the region.”
“Currently HMAS Success is in the area of operations playing an integral logistics and replenishment role within Task Force 53, whilst also making a significant contribution to our taskforce.”
Captain Stoker said there were many challenges associated with achieving the mission, primarily covering the vast area of operations which encompasses more than two millions square nautical miles.
“The sheer size of our area of operations presents a challenge to the reconnaissance aircraft and ships tasked to conduct maritime security operations.”
“We overcome this through good coordination and cooperation between the 30 nations working side by side to achieve the mission – this ensures we get the right assets and people into the right place at the right time.”
“We are very proud to be working with their Canadian counterparts, representing our country in what is a very important mission. We have a group of highly motivated and professional people working here who are making a difference in terms of keeping the waterways secure.”
Lieutenant Michelle Rayner is responsible for logistics support for operational units at sea as well as personnel administration and finance within the headquarters.
“I do this not only for the Australians here but I support my Canadian supervisor and his Sergeant with their roles, as well as administer the central registry and assist with managing finance,” she said.
“In support of all ships and crews at sea, one of my roles is to support refuelling at sea – as such, we are in constant contact with the tanker task force to organise fuel and supplies for them to ensure the taskforce ships remain topped-up.
“I also assist our Canadian task force public affairs officer with Australian related articles and imagery to ensure our regional partners and those back home are kept informed of what we are achieving over here. All of this keeps me quite busy – I get to wear many different hats, which also keeps my job interesting.”
“We have been deployed so far for just under two months, and I find the work very rewarding," she said.
But even the pace of work has some respite, with the interoperability crossing boundaries into off watch time.
"It certainly is a great experience integrating with the Canadians, learning from each other both in and outside the headquarters environment - we’re even teaching them to play cricket,” she said.