From Schoolmates to Shipmates in Australia’s Largest Naval Exercise

From Schoolmates to Shipmates in Australia’s Largest Naval Exercise

Seventeen years after being schoolmates, two Devonport natives have found themselves together again, this time as shipmates in the guided missile frigate HMAS Darwin.

Leading Seaman Stores Naval (LSSN) Belinda Mathews and Deputy Supply Officer, Lieutenant Andrew Willett both attended Devonport’s St Brendan-Shaw College, graduating from Year 10 in 1994 and Year 12 in 1995 respectively.

After leaving school, their lives followed very different paths before converging again as members of the Supply Department in Darwin.

Belinda completed a gardening apprenticeship and worked for an agricultural research company before meeting her fiancé and taking a range of jobs while moving to support his naval service.

“I got sick of doing dead-end jobs so I thought, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’.

“Now I’m enjoying the travel and the variety of challenges I confront each day,” Leading Seaman Mathews said.

Andrew joined the Navy a year after leaving St Brendan-Shaw College, completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in history and management at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

Andrew initially joined to be a seaman officer, but soon transferred to the supply category where he found his niche.

Lieutenant Willett deployed to logistics jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan before serving as Deputy Supply Officer in the amphibious ship HMAS Kanimbla until her decommissioning. He then took up the same position in Darwin in December 2011.

“I enjoy doing logistics and every day at sea as a supply officer is a new challenge, there are never two days the same.

“There’s also more to being a supply officer in the Australian Defence Force than just the Navy – we can work with the other two services quite easily,” Lieutenant Willett said.

Both Lieutenant Willett and LSSN Mathews enjoy getting back to Devonport, Andrew to visit his mother and younger sister and Belinda to visit her sister and mother-in-law to be.

HMAS Darwin has been participating in Exercise KAKADU, Australia’s premier maritime exercise, which was conducted in the waters and airspace off the city of Darwin, Northern Territory from 29 August to 14 September. The biennial exercise has drawn together 17 nations as participants and observers for exercises, graduated training activities and weapons practice aimed at developing interoperability—the ability of foreign navies to work together—in maritime operations in a regional multilateral environment.

The Royal Australian Navy is represented by Anzac Class frigates HMA Ships Perth and Warramunga,Adelaide Class frigate HMAS Darwin and its embarked S-70B-2 Seahawkhelicopter and Mine Hunter Coastals HMA Ships Gascoyne and Huon.

Royal Australian Air Force AP3C maritime patrol, F/A-18 Hornet and Hawk Lead-in-Fighter Aircraft are also taking part.

Naval Today Staff, September 18, 2012; Image: Australian Navy