HMAS Choules is used to accommodating over 300 embarked forces, but recently she embarked a different kind of force. On 13 October members from the Royal Australian Navy’s New Entry Officers’ Course 53 crossed the gangway and began calling Choules home as they commenced their Sea Training Deployment, a three week training cruise to teach the junior officers about life at sea as a junior sailor.
In total 90 New Entry Officers and training staff joined the ship at Fleet Base East, Sydney, and shortly after set sail on what would be, for most, their first time at sea. The majority of the cohort are preparing to enter the fleet as Midshipmen, with a few degree qualified Sub Lieutenants and a Lieutenant across a range of primary qualifications from Maritime Warfare Officer to Legal Officer.
Trainees are exposed to all of the ship’s departments and roles to gain an understanding of whole ship evolutions. This aims to assist the trainees to understand and appreciate the work done by junior and senior sailors, prior to entering the fleet as commissioned officers.
Midshipman Marcus Walker, from the Yarra Valley in Victoria, described the training cruise as an important opportunity.
“Almost all of our training so far has been with other officers or training staff so it’s important to know and meet the fleet and see what’s expected,” he said.
“It’s also good to relax with junior sailors and get to know people on a personal level not just in a professional relationship.”
The New Entry Officers’ Course is twenty weeks of officer training at the Royal Australian Naval College at HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay, on the New South Wales south coast.
The course can prove intense for most; however Choules can also provide her challenges. Weighing in at 16,000 tonnes, she is 176 metres long and is capable of carrying up to 700 troops in an overload capacity as well as 23 Main Battle Tanks, 150 Light Trucks, Landing Craft and various Navy and Army helicopters including the MRH-90 and Army’s Black Hawk. Moving around her 13 decks has also provided a continuation of the trainees’ physical training programme.
Within the course are a number of ex-junior sailors who have recently commissioned including Midshipman Shannen Rowe. Midshipman Rowe is from the Gilles Plains in South Australia and commissioned after three and a half years as an Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator in HMAS Sydney. As an ex-sailor her take on the Sea Training Deployment is somewhat unique to the rest of her team.
“I already have a lot of the knowledge of being a junior sailor but to jump on an amphibious ship and see how things work is great,” she said.
“It’s also a great opportunity to see how the other departments and their juniors work, where I’ve only been in a specific section of the executive department.
“Overall an invaluable experience onboard.”
Choules is currently building up for a busy end to the year, so the junior officers have also proved that many hands do make light work, according to Chief Petty Officer Naval Police Coxswain Andrew Richardson.
“The trainees have proved very helpful in preparing Choules for the next few months with a positive input into capability,” he said.
“They have helped the ship’s company across a range of whole ship evolutions including training where they were used as role players; they have been a very positive addition.”
HMAS Choules is also currently home to thirteen Midshipmen who graduated from the previous New Entry Officers’ Course only four months ago and are continuing on their professional development. From here, the members of Course 53 will return to Creswell for five more weeks of officer training before graduating on 3 December 2015.