It was just another busy day for the aviation detachment on board HMAS Ballarat when helicopters from the Indian Navy, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force and the United States Navy queued for cross-decking evolutions on the frigate’s flight deck during the second phase of Exercise Malabar. 

An MH-60R Seahawk from United States Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron HSM-35 Magicians, took off from the United States Ship Sterett and landed on Ballarat.

Flight commander and pilot from 816 Squadron Flight 3 Lieutenant Commander Matt Schroder said he was on a naval exchange program at HSM-41, Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego from 2016 to 2018, and had a gut feeling that he may bump into former trainees from that squadron.

“HSM-41 is the United States Navy’s west-coast MH-60R training squadron where I instructed pilot trainees to fly the multi-mission helicopter,” Lieutenant Commander Schroder said.

“As HSM-35 is also based at North Island, I thought it likely that I would know one of the two pilots. I called them on the radio and asked them if there was anyone on board that went through HSM-41 during my time there. 

“It turned out that in 2018 I trained both of the pilots - Lieutenants Jared Jackson and Brenden Peterson.

“It’s awesome to catch up unexpectedly with students I’ve taught in the United States Navy, now on operations, landing on our ship.

“We share the same aircraft, procedures and tactics, so our Seahawks can operate seamlessly together during exercises and cooperative deployments.” 

All cross-deck activities during this evolution were undertaken with appropriate COVID-19 safety measures, including no contact between the ship and helicopter crews. 

Lieutenant Peterson said it was an amazing feeling to re-introduce themselves to an old instructor.

“Aviation has a long-training pipeline and sooner or later you expect to run into someone who taught you how to fly. I just never would have expected to run into one while flying between foreign navies' ships,” Lieutenant Peterson said.

“It really emphasised how small the world is that military members share.

“I just hope he wasn't judging my landings too harshly.”

Lieutenant Jackson said reconnecting with Lieutenant Commander Schroder was a unique and enlightening experience. 

“It was awesome to reconnect with someone, who I assumed I would never see again, halfway around the world. It also brought into perspective how far I had come in my career,” Lieutenant Jackson said.

“The last time I saw him, I was a student who barely knew how to fly the MH-60R. Now I am landing on an Australian ship in the Indian Ocean as an aircraft commander on my seventh month of this deployment. It was eye-opening.” 

Exercise Malabar, which finished recently, was a milestone opportunity to enhance Australia's maritime capabilities and build interoperability with close regional partners: India, Japan and the United States.

Participation in the exercise demonstrates Australia's enduring commitment to contribute to the security, stability and prosperity of the region and increases the capability and interoperability of the ADF.