Beating Colonel Rabuka, Fijian coup leader, at golf is one of many highlights of the forty year long career of Lieutenant Gavin ‘Russ’ Benham.
Lieutenant Benham was presented a Federation Star, recognising the forty year milestone, by Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett in a small ceremony at Headquarters Defence Force Recruiting, Canberra, among co-workers, friends and with his wife Danielle by his side.
Lieutenant Benham joined the Navy as a junior recruit, Underwater Controller (UC), in 1974 at the age of fifteen.
At his young age, he wasn’t really aware of any issues relating to poor public opinion on Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War.
“I don’t think we truly understood the enormity of what we were getting into,” he said.
“To us it was all fun and games - we were proud to be joining the Navy.
“It was all a big adventure, and forty years later it still is.”
After his initial training at HMAS Watson Lieutenant Benham was posted to the Destroyer Escort, HMAS Stuart, and three years later found himself at HMAS Penguin as a boat driver for the clearance divers.
During this posting he was selected for commissioning crew for Australia’s latest acquisition, and the first of the new class of Guided Missile Frigate, HMAS Adelaide. He spent two years in the United States bringing the ship online for eventual delivery to Australia.
Lieutenant spent the next eight years off and on Adelaide, joining as a Leading Seaman and finally leaving as a Chief Petty Officer after various promotion courses and converting from a UC rate to Combat Systems Operator.
Lieutenant Benham also served in HMA Ships Sydney and Hobart where he was eventually promoted to Warrant Officer, and was posted to what he said was one of his best postings ever - officer in charge of the Combat Systems Faculty, HMAS Watson.
“This was by far my most challenging yet at the same time rewarding posting,” he said.
“It came with an enormous amount of responsibility with personnel, equipment and finances - but it was a great position."
Lieutenant Benham also had overseas posting with the United Nations in Mogadishu, Somalia, with the Commander Task Group for the second Gulf War and with the police at the Solomon Islands, where he said the fishing, diving and weather was fantastic.
“I was at the Solomon Islands until just before the Fijian Coup,” he said.
“Sitiveni Rabuka was at that time the Commonwealth Special Envoy to the south-west Pacific, a well-educated and very nice gentleman, but I did clean him up on the golf course.”
In presenting the Federation Star Vice Admiral Barrett acknowledged that there were a lot of people present at the ceremony who were not yet forty, while Lieutenant Benham had spent that amount of time in the Navy.
“It gives me great personal delight to be able to present this recognition of service today, as we have served together many times in the past,” he said.
“This is one man who I know personally - he has not just put forty years in, but he has worked tirelessly in the Navy for those forty years.
“Although I haven’t seen all forty of them myself, I have seen quite a few of them.”
Lieutenant Benham said the secret to a long and successful career was to enjoy every posting.
“You have to make the most of them - there is no such thing as a bad posting, it’s what you make of it,” he said.
“The ADF (Australian Defence Force) is a fantastic career - it’s good pay with great conditions.
“For young people joining the world is open to them, as opposed to when I joined we were not given that direction - today senior sailors and young officers are well versed in providing good information to the sailors.”
After receiving his commission Lieutenant Benham was posted to Defence Force Recruiting-Brisbane and currently holds the position of Senior Careers Counsellor - he intends to remain in the Navy until compulsory retirement age.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20143060.