A Novacastrian's desire for big challenges and a little discipline have resulted in an international career with the Royal Australian Navy.
Petty Officer Electronics Technician Suzie Peterson is deployed aboard the Adelaide class guided missile frigate HMAS Melbourne, currently on patrol in the Middle East region.
Petty Officer Peterson main job is to manage the technicians who maintain and repair the warship’s crucial sensors such as the radars and sonars and the computerised combat systems.
These sensors are the eyes and ears for Melbourne as it searches for vessels smuggling narcotics that help fund international terrorism.
After completing her studies at Newcastle High School and St Phillips Christian College, Petty Officer Petersen joined the Navy in 2003.
Petty Officer Peterson said she went into Defence Recruiting and asked who pressed the buttons for a warship’s missiles.
“The recruiter smiled and told me it was the ship’s electronics technicians,” she said.
“My reply was great, sign me up.
“I am very happy with the trade I chose; it has turned out to be brilliant for me.
“The most interesting and enjoyable part of my job is in the risk management aspects of the engineering status for the combat systems, where I am required to convey information in a timely and effective manner.
“I need to ensure the Captain is fully aware of what capabilities are available for the warship and how we can maximise these if there is a diminished capability so we can complete our mission.”
In 2008 Petty Officer Peterson was sent to Virginia in the United States to do the maintenance course on the SPS-49 radar.
On her way home she took some leave to travel the world. Petty Officer Peterson said she thought it was the trip of a lifetime, but then she was posted to HMAS Sydney (a sister ship to Melbourne) and was one of the lucky crew who sailed around the world in 2009.
“Money couldn’t buy the experiences of that trip,” she said.
“Things like sailing through the Suez Canal, doing a cycling challenge on the flight-deck, pulling into Manhattan next to a US Navy aircraft carrier while New York City put a show on for us.
“We also visited the Bahamas and stayed in one of the world’s most expensive hotels for next-to-nothing because one of the crew made friends with the manager.
“It was an amazing year.”
Petty Officer Peterson spent five years on Sydney before transferring to Melbourne, which is now assigned to Operation MANITOU, the Australian contribution to the multinational Combined Maritime Forces in the Middle East.
PO Peterson said the trip is her first operational deployment, and an opportunity to serve with her best crew ever.
“The people and their professionalism is above and beyond anything I have seen,” PO Petersen said.
“It‘s fantastic to tell people I am a part of her crew.”
Melbourne is conducting maritime security operations with Combined Task Force 150 in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.
The Task Force undertakes patrols to intercept the trafficking of drugs that help fund international terrorism.
During Melbourne’s first patrol of 2015, the crew seized and disposed of 427kg of heroin found on a fishing dhow in the Arabian Sea.
Petty Officer Peterson said her other important role aboard Melbourne was as leader of the Standing Sea Fire and Emergency Party.
“We don’t have dedicated firefighters onboard, so the ship has a team of 12 sailors who each have a Damage Control responsibility on top of their regular jobs,” she said.
“If there is an incident on the ship we are specifically trained in the standard operating procedures of how to react and we conduct training every day while at sea to maintain those skills.
“I spent two years in the team as a junior sailor and I love Damage Control.
“Our reactions to an incident in the first few minutes can save a ship from sinking and save lives.”
When she returns to her current home in Cronulla Petty Officer Peterson will devote herself to fitness training with the Sutherland Shire Triathlon Club to be ready for racing in 2016.
The passionate triathlete has a hard time finding room to train on a frigate.
When asked about her future in Navy Petty Officer Peterson said she is an optimist.
“I think one day I would like to be Warrant Officer of the Navy,” she said.