A Seahawk helicopter Flight Commander had an unexpected reunion with two former trainee United States naval aviators while exercising on the high seas.
It was just another busy day for the aviation detachment on-board HMAS Ballarat when helicopters from the Indian, Japanese and the United States navies queued for cross-decking evolutions on the frigate’s flight deck during the second phase of Exercise MALABAR 2020.
An MH-60R Seahawk helicopter from USN Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron HSM-35 ‘Magicians’, detached on-board United States Ship Sterett, was next to land on Ballarat.
Flight Commander and pilot from 816 Squadron Flight 3, Lieutenant Commander Matt Schroder, on Ballarat said he was on a naval exchange program at HSM-41, Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego from 2016 to 2018, and had a feeling that he may ‘bump’ into former trainees from that squadron.
“I instructed pilot trainees to fly the multi-mission helicopter at HSM-41, the United States Navy’s west coast MH-60R training squadron,” Lieutenant Commander Schroder said.
“As HSM-35 is also based at North Island, I thought it likely that I would know one of the two pilots. I called them on the radio and asked them if there was anyone on-board that went through HSM-41 during my time there.
“It turned out that in 2018 I trained both of the pilots - Lieutenants Jared Jackson and Brenden Peterson.
“It’s awesome to catch up unexpectedly with students I’ve taught in the USN, now on operations, landing on our ship.
“We share the same aircraft, procedures and tactics, so our Seahawks can operate seamlessly together during exercises and cooperative deployments.”
All cross deck activities during this evolution were undertaken with appropriate COVID-19 safety measures in place, including no contact between the ship and helicopter crews.
Lieutenant Peterson said that it was an awesome feeling “to re-introduce ourselves to an old instructor”.
“Aviation has a long training pipeline, and sooner or later you expect to run into someone who taught you how to fly; I just never would have expected to run into one while flying between foreign navies’ ships,” Lieutenant Peterson said.
“It really emphasised how small the world is that military members share.
“I just hope he wasn’t judging my landings too harshly.”
Lieutenant Jackson said that reconnecting with Lieutenant Commander Schroder was a unique and enlightening experience.
“It was awesome to reconnect with someone, who I assumed I would never see again, halfway around the world. It also brought into perspective how far I had come in my career,” Lieutenant Jackson said.
“The last time I had seen him, I was a student who barely knew how to fly the MH-60R. Now I am landing on an Australian ship in the Indian Ocean as an Aircraft Commander on my seventh month of this deployment. It was eye-opening.”
Exercise MALABAR 2020, which finished recently, was a milestone opportunity to enhance Australia’s maritime capabilities and build interoperability with our closest regional partners: India, Japan and the United States.
Participation in Exercise MALABAR 2020 demonstrates Australia’s enduring commitment to contribute to the security, stability and prosperity of the region and increases the capability and interoperability of the Australian Defence Force.