Exchanging platforms, unique and similar

SLt Kassandra O’Rourke meets her New Zealand counterpart, SLt Caitlin Wiseman, who spent a few days sailing with HMCS Ottawa.

SLt Kassandra O’Rourke (left) meets her New Zealand counterpart, SLt Caitlin Wiseman, who spent a few days sailing with HMCS Ottawa.

SLt Kassandra O’Rourke, HMCS Ottawa ~

I had the privilege of spending a few days on board the New Zealand frigate Te Kaha during the recent Pacific Guardian Exercise, a multi-national event with the goal of improving cooperation and interoperability between navies.

The four-day exercise off the South East Coast of Japan was led by Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific and included HMCS Ottawa, HMCS Winnipeg, JS Inazuma and HMNZS Te Kaha.

The Royal New Zealand Navy is incredibly professional and knows how to balance the hard work associated with life at sea. The ship’s motto is ‘He Ponanga Kaha’ or ‘Service with Strength.’

I was picked up and transported over to their flight deck by their Sea Sprite helicopter. Once I arrived on board I was shown to the wardroom and to my cabin where I shared a room with one other female bridgewatchkeeper.

I started noticing early on how similar our navies were to each other.

The bridge equipment is almost identical to our own. One big difference I found interesting was that, although their ship is only slightly smaller than ours, they sail with 50 fewer personnel than we do.

Their bridge watchkeepers must also attain three separate tickets to get qualified in comparison to our one. They will be fully qualified upon achieving their final ticket, whereas we must stand a Naval Officer Professional Qualification board in order to be promoted to Lieutenant (Navy).

That first afternoon, I participated in a boxing fitness class. At first I was unaware of how the class was going to be broken down. I saw the crew putting on the boxing gloves that were littered all over the flight deck, so I ­followed suit. An unexpected steering gear breakdown drill pulled the instructor away to different duties. Suddenly a voice recording came over the work out speakers with a countdown starting at 10. With about five seconds left to go, I frantically looked around for direction. I saw a whiteboard with the instructions, “You know what to do” written on it. I did not know what to do.

It dawned on me this might be some kind of extreme session where we box the person closest to us and only one of us is left standing in the end. I saw people warming up by throwing jabs and tossing upper cuts into the air. My adrenaline was spiked at this point and I was ready for anything.

Luckily one of their crew members jogged up to me at the last second with padded gloves and asked if I needed a partner. It was a normal work out. That was a relief; although, it would have made for an epic story.

The Principle Warfare Officers, who have a very similar job to our Operations Room Officers, took me under their wing. I spent a lot time in their Operations Room. I sat right next to each of them with a headset on so that I could see and hear everything that was going on. I learned a lot about warfare – both anti-air and anti-submarine.

During my second day, the ship had internal training where they went to action stations for a battle problem. A few of the positions had different duties than what I am used to seeing, but in the end it looks like we all approach damage control with the same kind of tactics; fires and floods are everyone’s enemy at sea.

After a busy morning, the ship paused and gathered in their respective messes to support their national rugby team. We watched 15 minutes of highlights before getting back to work.

That afternoon I observed Officer of the Watch manoeuvres and was quite impressed with their skill. They used a few different techniques that I think will come in handy the next time I have the opportunity.

My favourite thing that I learned on their ship was their Navy Creed. It goes as follows:

“I am a sailor of the Royal New Zealand Navy
Te Taua Moana o Aotearoa
I represent the proud heritage of those who have gone before me
I serve to protect our people and our whanau with integrity and mana
I will follow those above me and lead those below me
I embody the Navy’s Core Values – Courage, Commitment, Comradeship
And will challenge those who do not
He heramana ahau, I am a sailor.”

Overall, the crew was very welcoming. I learned a lot about their navy and their country and I would like to work with them again in the future.

As it is, I may get that chance sooner than later as Te Kaha is scheduled to arrive in Victoria for a refit and upgrades on their frigates within the next year or so.

Exchanges like this are a great opportunity for sailors to see the bigger picture and interact with our allies while bringing back lessons and perspective from other professional mariners.

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