For three HMAS Choules crew members, a recent deployment to support Vanuatu's 40th anniversary of independence celebrations was a chance to reflect on a significant event in their Navy careers.
Able Seaman Ben Ashman, Able Seaman Ethan Macnamara and Midshipman Mitchell Sutton were part of Choules' ship's company when she supported the evacuation of civilians from Ambae in 2017 following the eruption of Manaro volcano.
Choules and HMAS Huon, which was also part of the 2017 support operation, were both invited back by the Vanuatu Government to support the Republic's most important anniversary.
Able Seaman Macnamara was part of the flight-deck crew that was involved in boat transfers of stores and said it was rewarding to help another country.
“It's one thing doing humanitarian response in an exercise, but it’s another doing it for real and we found it a good motivator,” Able Seaman Macnamara said.
“I've always loved Vanuatu since I went there on holiday as a kid, so going back knowing that I was able to help feels great.”
It was rewarding – it’s up there with one of the best things I've done so far in my Navy career.
Able Seaman Ashman was part of the team on land that helped deliver food, water and medicine to the evacuated villagers.
“I got to see the communities and I know they were thankful for our support,” Able Seaman Ashman said.
“It was rewarding – it’s up there with one of the best things I've done so far in my Navy career.”
Midshipman Sutton, who is doing his phase three Maritime Warfare Officer training, was a communication information systems sailor back in 2017.
While he didn't step on land during the operation, he had the vital role of keeping the communications channels open.
“My role during Operation Vanuatu Assist was to support communications back to command so they could manage the humanitarian response to Vanuatu,” Midshipman Sutton said.
“While I'm training, I will be specialising in communications and information warfare and the experience in Vanuatu was a good framework for my ongoing specialisation.”
Choules' recent deployment also had a humanitarian focus. The ship's first task was to deliver Australian-funded equipment to assist Vanuatu's Tropical Cyclone Harold recovery efforts and COVID-19 preparedness.