British Lions reunite onboard Newcastle
5 September 2013
A Royal Navy Officer recently ‘hitched a ride’ across the Red Sea onboard HMAS Newcastle, while trying to make his way home to England.
The unsuspecting Brit got a real surprise when he was greeted on the flight deck of the Australian ship by a long-term friend and former RN colleague who had laterally transferred to the Royal Australian Navy some five years earlier.
Lieutenant Commander Mickey Rooney had been granted ‘early leavers’ from Her Majesties Ship Kent to return home to his family. Like Newcastle, Kent was in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) conducting counter terrorism patrols as part of the Combined Maritime Forces.
Due to an operational tasking, Kent was unable to get Lieutenant Commander Rooney to Djibouti for his flight home. So, Newcastle and the French Navy ship FS Somme made arrangements to help the British Weapons Electrical Engineering Officer get back to England.
The plan was for Kent’s Merlin helicopter to transfer Lieutenant Commander Rooney to Newcastle where he would spend the night.
The next day, he would be transferred from Newcastle to FS Somme after the two ships completed a replenishment operation. FS Somme would then use her helicopter to get him to Djibouti.
When the enormous 13-tonne Merlin helicopter landed on Newcastle’s flight deck, Lieutenant Commander Rooney hardly expected to see a familiar face among the Australian crew. But, the man there to greet him was none other than his old friend and naval academy classmate Lieutenant Commander Roy Casson, Newcastle’s Marine Engineering Officer (MEO).
The reunion came as a surprise to both of them.
“I thought it was quite freaky actually, because I was actually talking about him onboard Kent yesterday. I had no idea that he was onboard Newcastle!” Lieutenant Commander Rooney said.
The two officers had served together on several occasions before Lieutenant Commander Casson, a Manchester native, laterally transferred from the RN to the RAN in 2009.
“We haven’t seen each other since, in fact we have had five kids between us since the last time we saw each other,” Lieutenant Commander Rooney said.
“In the RN, we were classmates at the Britannia Royal Naval College - Dartmouth in 1998 and then we went to university together to do our engineering degrees too. After that, we served in HMS Monmouth together – he was the Deputy WEEO [Weapons Electrical Engineering Officer] , and I was the Deputy MEO!” Lieutenant Commander Casson said.
Lieutenant Commander Rooney was pleased to start his long journey home by catching up with an old friend.
“I am literally doing a global pebble-dash to get home, transiting from Kent through the Australian warship Newcastle, the French Replenishment ship Somme, Djibouti, Riyadh, Paris, Heathrow, and finally home to South Oxfordshire. This reunion was a great surprise,” he said.
Lieutenant Commander Casson was also glad to have his countryman onboard, with the third rugby test between the British and Irish Lions and the Wallabies coinciding with his visit.
“It was great to have an ally onboard when the Lions destroyed the Wallabies,” Lieutenant Commander Casson said.
“I wish he could stay for the Ashes as well!” he said.
To add to Lieutenant Commander Rooney’s adventurous journey home, he was winched onto FS Somme from Newcastle’s S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter during a dusk Fuelling Replenishment at Sea.
“We’ll definitely be keeping in touch,” he said.
Newcastle is in the MEAO assigned to Operation SLIPPER - the Australian Defence Force contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement.
Newcastle’s current deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.