Both the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer of a Navy ship have been recognised for their outstanding leadership during a deployment to the Middle East region in 2013-14.
Captain Brian Schlegel, now Captain Sea Training, received a Commendation for Distinguished Service for his duty as Commanding Officer of HMAS Melbourne on Operation SLIPPER, and his deputy, Balgownie’s Lieutenant Commander Andrew Hough received the same honour in the Australia Day Honours list.
For the Melbourne born Commanding Officer, leading HMAS Melbourne was in itself a great honour, but being recognised for his achievements was both humbling and unexpected.
“It took me some time to fully appreciate our successes. Operating in an area larger than Australia and working alongside our coalition partners it was important not to get ahead of ourselves. Whilst that never detracted from recognising that the Melbourne crew were doing outstanding work in incredibly challenging conditions it was important to stay level headed and focus on what was still ahead of us - not behind," Captain Schlegel said.
Captain Schlegel was naturally pleased with the mission but more recently had opportunity to reflect on what was achieved.
“For me, the two standout events which the Melbourne crew should be rightly proud of were the apprehension and subsequent landing of Somali pirates and a specific narcotic boarding that tested the very limits of the entire team.”
Second in command of the Adelaide class frigate, Lieutenant Commander Hough, played a critical role in the ship’s achievements, which included the interception of more than $1 billion in illegal drugs and nine suspected pirates.
“It is an honour to be recognised and I am extremely proud. This award reflects the achievements of the 232 men and women who served in Melbourne during our six months in the Middle East region,” Lieutenant Commander Hough said.
“Day to day my role was to keep Melbourne a happy and efficient ship, able to meet all of the operational tasks assigned to us as part of Joint Task Force 633, while keeping everyone fit and happy,” Lieutenant Commander Hough said.
As Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hough worked with the Heads of Department and Ship’s Warrant Officer to set the tone and culture for the ship.
“With around 90 per cent of the crew changing out since the previous deployment, I worked closely with the Commanding Officer, leading the ship through the training and workup process, which was extremely rewarding,” he said.
The deployment also provided a career highlight for Lieutenant Commander Hough, as he led the mission that intercepted suspected pirates off the Somali coast.
Later in the deployment, Melbourne apprehended and destroyed 23.8kg of methamphetamine, 543kg of heroin and 1.9 tonnes of hashish.
“It was extremely satisfying to see how the ship’s company worked as a team as we conducted boardings that often lasted into the small hours of the morning,” Lieutenant Commander Hough said.
“The operational work Navy does in the Middle East region on Operation SLIPPER and now MANITOU requires endurance and teamwork, and Melbourne had both in spades.”
Captain Schlegel assumed Command of Melbourne just six days prior to their deployment so developing an effective rapport with his team was essential to mission success.
“Having previously commanded sister ship HMAS Darwin, I needed to adjust to the new team and likewise it took time for the crew to understand my leadership style. We were still developing that rapport when the early counter piracy success brought us together in a very positive way. My job was to safely lead, manage and motivate everyone to achieve our mission, in an extremely fragile strategic environment - and a long way from home. I like to think we achieved that," he said.
“During the deployment I was fortunate to have outstanding Heads of Department and a fantastic crew. While this Australia Day honour is for me as an individual, it could not have been made possible without the team. Being personally recognised is in all honesty - very humbling”.
Lieutenant Commander Hough has now posted from Melbourne and is currently enjoying some leave with his wife Kate and spent the Australia Day weekend with family in Wollongong.
“It is always great to get back to Balgownie and have a surf at City Beach and go for a bike ride down Mount Keira,” Lieutenant Commander Hough said.
“When I return from leave, I will start a year studying with the Australian Command and Staff Course in Canberra and I aim to be selected for command of a warship in the near future.”