Family, friends, colleagues, instructors, senior officers and a class of slightly awed primary school children gathered at the Fleet Air Am Museum to applaud Navy’s latest aviators on 13 November.
Leading Seaman Adam Wade, Ian Gallop, Ivan Plavsic, Aaron Baker and Rhys Withers became Navy's newest qualified aircrewmen as they were presented with their wings by Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Vince Di Pietro.
The wings were presented in recognition of the dedication and application required to complete the intensive nine months Aircrewman Rotary Course but also symbolise the beginning of an exciting new stage in their naval careers.
Navy Aircrewmen are required to perform a huge variety of roles and the course covers a range of topics including combat survival, helicopter underwater escape training, meteorology, navigation, winching, aviation medicine, and search and rescue techniques.
“The whole course was an amazing experience,” Leading Seaman Wade said.
“After seven years in the Navy I wanted new challenges and the course certainly accomplished that. I found combat survival and the transition to the flying phase of the course really hard work but also immensely satisfying.”
Leading Seaman Gollop, having worked as a maintainer for six years, said the Aircrewman course offered him a new set of career goals.
“The course presented a lot of different challenges due to the diversity of subjects.” Leading Seaman Gollop said.
“For me the flying phase was definitely the most enjoyable and I think this was because we had to bring together all the things we had learnt throughout the course and applied them to reach the sortie's aim.”
For Queenslander, Leading Seaman Withers the graduation was the realisation of a long term ambition.
“It's a job that I have wanted for a long time. I remember seeing the Westpac Search & Rescue helicopter on the beaches and thinking it was just the best job.”
This ambition was shared and nurtured by Leading Seaman Withers' father Chris.
“I planted the idea of joining the Navy very early with both my sons,” Mr Withers said.
“The youngest one is currently an Aviation Technician in Wagga, and Rhys is graduating today. I couldn’t be prouder.”
“I’m with the Australian Federal Police and I wanted them to have a similar experience with a purposeful and fulfilling career and where I could also feel confident they would be looked after. “
Leading Seaman Withers' next career goal is to consolidate his new skills at 723 Squadron before he conducts his operational flying training at 725 Squadron in the new Seahawk Romeo as the operator of that exciting new capability’s sensors. His father is very confident of his success.
“Rhys has always been very motivated, he’s a really nice kid and I think he’ll make the Navy a long term career,” Mr Withers said.
The school children in the audience came from nearby Nowra Hill Primary School, as the ceremony was taking place at the time they usually met with the Albatross Chaplain Barry Porter for scripture. Chaplain Porter invited them to the graduation.
Teacher Mr Max Vucic said it was a great opportunity for the children.
“We’re definitely a Navy school and this experience will build on that connection. It’s also great for them to see a ceremonial occasion like this, and while the children are all very accustomed to seeing helicopters fly over the school, this will give them a valuable sense of the hard work it takes to operate one,” he said.
The children definitely understood the significance of the occasion.
“It’s about the men who got their wings because they worked really hard and did a great job and are now going to look after people,” said 10 year old Jade.
“The men are now going to do some really exciting things and must feel excellent," said another student.
Graduates Baker, Wade and Withers were also promoted as part of the ceremony whilst Leading Seaman Plavsic was named Dux of the course.
Additional imagery is available at: http://images.navy.gov.au/S20143527.