For four members of the Nowra-based 816 Squadron, deploying to sea as part of the flight embarked in the upgraded Anzac class frigate HMAS Perth will forever be a career highlight.
For three of the aircraft maintainers, this deployment is their first experience at sea, while for Chief Petty Officer Aviation Technician - Aircraft (CPOATA) Michael Wratten, it is his first time as Flight Senior Maintenance Supervisor, responsible for leading the aircraft maintenance team.
Able Seaman Aviation Technician – Aircraft (ABATA) Steven Cuthbert and Able Seamen Aviation Technicians – Avionics (ABATV) Patrick Davis and Barry Cruikshank had to complete more than two years’ training before being considered for a seagoing deployment.
All three eagerly volunteered for the chance, but competition was tough. They had to be qualified as fully fledged tradespersons, meet individual readiness requirements and complete seagoing prerequisite training courses.
They were selected from around 15 volunteers as the best qualified, most prepared and highest performing technicians.
“I felt nervous and excited about the chance to come to sea.
“It’s different working and eating while the ship is moving but you get used to it. I haven’t been seasick yet.
“It was also impressive to see the aircraft landing on the deck while the ship was moving around,” Able Seaman Cruikshank said.
“We get trained for everything we need to know to live at sea during recruit training, but we just have to try to remember all the things we learned about communal living such as evening rounds and daily cleaning station duties,” Able Seaman Davis said.
Able Seaman Cuthbert agreed that adjusting to communal living has been one of the early lessons learned from the trip.
“It’s not hard, it’s just very different from what we’re used to ashore,” he said.
As well as maintaining their S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter, these first-timers have been involved in whole-ship activities such as underway replenishments, when Perth receives fuel and stores from a replenishment ship.
For 18-year naval veteran Chief Petty Officer Michael Wratten, leading a Seahawk helicopter maintenance crew at sea is the natural next step in his career progression.
“Leadership at sea is more difficult than ashore, as I have to balance the needs of the flight with the rest of the ship.
“Every department impacts on the others, so it’s a 24 hour-a-day job working with people to coordinate what we’re doing so the whole team works,” Chief Wratten said.
As if earning their stripes at sea was not special enough, doing it while Perth is in a busy exercise environment has been an added bonus.
“I’ve served 18 years in the Navy, but I’ve never been in an exercise like this.
“Seeing the live gun firing, what’s happening in the operations room and how we’re working with other ships has been a real eye opener,” Chief Wratten said.
The training detachment returns to 816 Squadron at the Naval Air Station, HMAS Albatross in August.