Editor’s Note: These are additional interviews by Lieutenant Commander Antony Underwood with the crew of the HMAS TOOWOMBA. The following interviews are with Lieutenant Jace Hutchison about boarding operations, Chief Petty Officer (Platform) Andrew ‘Bo’ Bowering’s success in using the deployment to improve his fitness and Electronic technician Able Seaman Samantha Whitfield about her role on the TOOWOOMBA. For photos please see pages 27—30 of the PDF of the hard copy.
Lieutenant Jace Hutchison was commander of a boarding party from HMAS TOOWOOMBA.
Married, with his wife Jodie and a son and daughter living in Perth, Jace and the whole of the ship’s company went through an exhaustive workup before they set a course for the Middle East.
Boarding duties are energetic, exciting and can be arduous. They demand high levels of physical fitness and there’s no doubt that Lieutenant Hutchison’s previous job as Executive Officer of WA-based Clearance Diving Team Four (AUSCDT4) would have laid a firm physical foundation for boarding work.
Boarding party work is demanding—be it of suspected illegal entry or fishing vessels in Australia’s territorial waters, merchant ships and container vessels in the Arabian Gulf or of craft suspected of piracy activities off Somalia. It requires discipline, lots of rehearsal of the drills involved, tact and agility of mind and body to adapt instantly to unusual or rapidly changing situations.
Boarding parties normally consist of nine to 16 members.
‘It depends on the particular type of boarding you are conducting and will depend on a number of considerations such as insertion method, boat or helo, the type and size of the target vessel to be boarded, and any perceived threat,’ Jace said.
The physical aspect of boarding makes it a discipline in which there’s always the possibility of injury.
‘No serious injuries occurred,’ Jace said of the counter-piracy deployment.
‘Occasionally we get the odd person injured during training. It’s usually not too serious and they are back to work pretty quickly. Minor scratches and bumps are more likely to occur due to the type of work we do.’
Jace said of TOOWOOMBA’s most recent deployment that one boarding in particular had resulted in the disruption of a potential pirate attack.
‘We confiscated weapons—six AK47 assault rifles, a G3 assault rifle and a rocket propelled grenade (RPG), gathered evidence and sent them back to Somalia,’ he said. ‘The RPG warheads were destroyed because of the unpredictable and unknown nature of the explosives.
‘For me, the best thing that happened during the deployment was the successful counter-piracy boarding. It was an interesting experience and it was great to be involved in a first for (the Royal Australian) Navy.’
Interview with Chief Petty Officer Platform Andrew ‘Bo’ Bowering
One of the great winners from TOOWOOMBA’s most recent deployment has been Chief Petty Officer Platform Andrew ‘Bo’ Bowering—and he’s won by being the ship’s biggest loser.
With his fourth deployment to the MEAO just completed, he would probably be described as a Gulf veteran. His background is as a high power sailor and, as regulator of the marine engineering department, he supervises two petty officers who manage their work centres.
‘My job rarely changes as the ship is always moving through the water, lights are always on and there are always more sailors that need training,’ he said. ‘This occurs no matter where we are or what deployment we are on.
‘The only way this affected me was in the operational workup prior to deploying because of the months of damage control training we did—my role at action stations is the assistant damage control officer.’
Andrew started the deployment weighing 111 kilograms and, at the final weigh-in towards the end of the deployment, weighed 86.8 kg—a loss of more than 20 per cent of his original bodyweight.
‘I have been overweight for many years and, between the physical training sailor Leading Seaman Nicole Gunthorpe and my cabin mate Chief Petty Officer Kelvin Harris, I have managed to lose in excess of 20kg,’ Andrew said.
‘I know I have done the actual work but these two gave me the encouragement to get out of bed at 0500 most mornings and spend 90 minutes on the flight-deck or in the cardio room with me.
‘I have also had the benefit of the cooks who have helped me with my diet—they do let me choose the meal but I am strongly encouraged to eat the healthy choice.’
Like many in ship’s company, Andrew misses his wife at home.
‘Lynn and I have been together for 18 years—all of my seagoing time in the Navy,’ he said.
‘This is my fourth trip to the Gulf and this has been the most interesting,’ he said. ‘The first was in the Red Sea and the next two in the North Arabian Gulf.
‘This trip working in the waters off the coast of Oman and in the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor has allowed me to see a part of the world I have not seen before.
‘It is made a lot easier with the weekly 20 minute phone calls home and the constant email service we now have to keep in contact with family and friends.
‘It is difficult to make up for time lost when at sea, but it is made as lot less painful and the returning home a little easier by having constant contact with family.’
Electronic technician Able Seaman Samantha Whitfield, originally of Brisbane, is the junior maintainer of the solid state continuous wave illumination transmitter, the combat system and the fire control radar.
‘My job entails all planned maintenance to be completed on time and to report any defects to my leading seaman,’ she said. ‘Jobs include replacing units within the systems and fault finding using equipment such as multimeters and oscilloscopes.
‘Daily jobs include changing out filters, checking displays on systems, performing tests on equipment, replacing anodes on the pump and washing down equipment.’
Sam has other duties too.
‘Greenies [electrical-technical sailors] are on a rotation to clean the café,’ she said, ‘and when we’re alongside, my job is to close up on the quarterdeck and heave in the lines and put turns on the bollards and vice-versa when we leave port.
‘I am also the communications talker on the bridge when we have a replenishment at sea [an evolution in which lines are established between ships and people, fuel and stores are passed between the vessels].
‘Everybody on board has a responsibility for damage control, or DC, and we participate in extra DC training during workups and when we attend the [RAN] School of Survivability and Ship Safety.
This was Sam’s second trip to the Gulf—she deployed previously in HMAS ANZAC.
‘I’m having a lot more fun on board TOOWOOMBA,’ she said. ‘I think it’s a combination of the people on board, the places we’ve seen, the routines, the SWIMEXs and, of course, Nikki is the best physical training [PT] instructor ever, which has made life onboard a whole lot more enjoyable with the great PT sessions, personal gym sessions we do together, whole ship sport events and sport while alongside.’
Sam’s favourite days on board were when the ship ran an ironman competition and a marathon competition.
‘Being amongst the team spirit and cheering everybody gives me a buzz,’ she said. ‘Finishing the day with a SWIMEX was great—I get such a thrill jumping off the ship, once I build up enough courage to take the step.’
Like many, Sam misses her boyfriend of four years, Scott, and her family most but also misses doing the chores at home—cleaning the house, gardening, cooking what she feels like eating, ‘…just running along the beach or to somewhere I haven’t planned instead of going round and round in circles.’
She says she enjoys seagoing because it allows her to see new places without having to pay air fares.