With a mixture of uncertainty, anxiousness and excitement, Navy Public Affairs Officer Lieutenant John Thompson stepped onboard the Anzac class frigate HMAS Arunta in Melbourne last month for the final phase of his Reserve Entry Officer Course.
The course is the pre-requisite consolidated training programme that turns civilian professionals into naval officers. It is an intensive multi-faceted course that includes both external studies and classes at the Naval College HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay.
"We enter as specialist legal, medical, engineering, nursing or psychology officers, or, like me, a media specialist and emerge as a proud serving member of the Australian Defence Force," said Lieutenant Thompson.
"During my first fortnight at Creswell I was introduced to the Navy and imbued with its history and purpose as well as learning about how the organisation works.
"Later I completed training in ship damage control, small weapons handling and survival at sea but nothing can truly prepare you for life on board a warship until you experience it first hand, even if it was for just two weeks," he said.
Like all new officers undergoing at-sea training, Lieutenant Thompson was required to work in every department of the ship - from cleaning the heads to assisting the 'chefos' in the galley.
Lieutenant Thompson also had the opportunity to observe at first hand Arunta's weapons capability when the frigate completed a 5-inch gun firing exercise off the coast.
"I watched from the operations room and was impressed with the calm professional manner by which the crew ran through pre-firing drills and also at the subsequent accuracy of the firings," he said.
"The noise was very loud even from where I was located near the bridge and then later, when I was able to observe the gun at work from within the gun container and magazine where I was part of the load and unload team."
He was also impressed by the precision and seamanship involved when Arunta joined up with HMAS Sirius for replenishments (refuelling) at sea - commonly known as a 'RAS'.
"I couldn't help but marvel at the skills of the bridge teams in bringing the moving ships parallel and keeping them close throughout the RAS, particularly when the seas were rough," he said.
From the east coast of Australia, Arunta traversed a less-than-calm Bass Strait to an unexpected but welcomed port visit to Adelaide.
"On leaving we teamed up with HMAS Newcastle for an exercise against our 'enemies' HMAS Sirius and the New Zealand frigate HMNZ Te Kaha.
"Despite attempts to 'sink' us, Sirius and Te Kaha ended up being out manoeuvred and outgunned!" Lieutenant Thompson said.
It was then onto Albany via the Great Australian Bight where Arunta took part in the commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first Anzac convoy in 1914.
His at-sea training completed, Lieutenant Thompson has packed away his uniform and returned to his civilian role with the NSW Police Force - at least for now.
"I enjoyed being at sea and working with the Boatswains, Writers, Stokers, electricians aka 'Greenies', Chefos and everyone else on board," he said.
"I would like to thank Arunta's Commanding Officer, Commander David Tietzel and the whole ship's company for their warm welcome and their generosity of time and their patience in showing me the ropes," he said.
There was one special moment while underway where Lieutenant Thompson was able share in one of the revered traditions at sea - a sailor's last farewell.
"I felt privileged to witness my fellow trainee, Chaplain Miles Fagan, conduct a poignant and emotional ‘scattering of the ashes’ ceremony in the middle of the Southern Ocean.
"It made me realise that when you join the Royal Australian Navy, you are not just joining a family, you are continuing a tradition going back hundreds of years, " he said.