“Do you get sick when you fly?” “Do you get sick on ships?” “Do you ever see sharks?” “What does this button do?”
The crew of a Seahawk helicopter from Nowra's 816 Squadron faced a barrage of these questions on a recent visit to Wollondilly Public School.
Acting Principal Paul Martin said the visit was a definite highlight of the school calendar and that the students (and adults!) all enjoyed the experience of being hands-on with the Navy aircraft.
"This is such a great opportunity for our pupils. They’ve been very excited all morning, to hear the helicopter approaching, see it on the horizon and know it was going to land on their school oval, and now they all have the opportunity to talk to the crew and get up close to the helicopter - how fortunate are they?” he said.
Pilot of the aircraft, Lieutenant Matt Hudson, Training Officer, Lieutenant Geoff Winter and Aircrewman Petty Officer Ray Solomon had a challenge on their hands as, in addition to 370 Wollondilly Primary students, there were local preschoolers, students from the nearby Crescent School which caters for young people with intellectual/physical disabilities and some equally curious parents and teachers.
Lieutenant Hudson said that school visits were an extremely important part of his job in the Navy.
"Visiting the kids allows us to give back to the community, by giving the public a chance to see what we can do and what we are capable of, and they are also an excellent opportunity to show children some of the options out there for their future.
“I really enjoyed interacting with the students and it is also a great opportunity for them to direct questions directly to those of us who do the jobs for Navy.” Lieutenant Hudson said.
Lieutenant Winter said there were a few things he hoped the students gained from their visit.
“Apart from having a great morning out on the sports field away from the classroom, I'd like to hope that having a big noisy Seahawk helicopter come and land at the school, and being able to climb inside and talk to the crew, would maybe widen the horizons of some of these kids and perhaps spark the notion that there are some awesome things out there to achieve.”
“Another aspect I particularly enjoyed was that we were also able to give some one-on-one attention to the special-needs students who were able to come and see the aircraft,” Lieutenant Winter said.
Petty Officer Solomon, who has just returned from Exercise KAKADU where 816 Squadron was able to visit remote schools in the Northern Territory, said that, despite the vast distances involved, the schools have some important things in common.
“The smiles are just as big and the kids are just as inquisitive,” he said.
“I take my job for granted sometimes and it isn't until I land on a school oval and see the big smiles on the student’s faces, that I remind myself that what I do is pretty special. I know those kids will be telling their friends and family all about the day the Seahawk helicopter landed on their school oval for some time to come.
“It reminds me of how they have their whole future ahead of them and can achieve any career they want. I hope we inspire them to consider a career in aviation but to also pursue their dreams and study hard whilst at school," he said.
Two very inquisitive Wollondilly students were nine year olds Wil Backhouse and Josh Wake who were determined to make the most of their opportunity to find out as much as possible about life in the Navy. The boys challenged the crew with an increasingly risky series of scenarios and hypotheticals, many of which involved rescues at sea in shark infested waters.
“I particularly enjoy the quirky questions,” Lieutenant Winter said.
"One of the great things about visiting primary schools is that level of enthusiasm!”
The learning experience wasn’t limited to the school students, while avionics maintainer Seaman Ben Jones and mechanic Able Seaman Anna Cernaz were there to talk to the pupils about their roles at 816 Squadron, it was also their first flight in a Seahawk helicopter which provided them with a different perspective.
“It was an amazing experience to get to see the end result of all our work.” Seaman Jones said.
Able Seaman Cernaz agreed. “I couldn't wipe the smile off my face knowing that I have helped this aircraft get airborne. It really hits home when you get to experience the final product of your efforts.”
“I also hope I was able to give the students, especially the girls, an understanding that the Navy is about being at sea and that there are a huge range of other jobs that need to be done that support the ships away from home. Quite a few asked what I do and if I enjoy my job, I told them I love it!.”
Additional images are available at: http://images.navy.gov.au/S20142821.