A FAMILIAR face is back at the helm at HMAS Albatross.
Captain Simon Bateman is the new commanding officer at the base, taking over from Captain Gordon Andrew who has been posted to Canberra.
It is the fifth time the former aviator has been stationed at Nowra.
He says he is enjoying being back on familiar territory where he first learnt to fly on the Squirrel helicopters with 723 Squadron in 1989.
During his career he has undertaken exchanges in New Zealand and the US, been the commanding officer of the 805 Squadron for the troubled Seasprite program, flown Seahawks with 816 Squadron and was commander of operational air worthiness and standards at Albatross.
He was also flight commander on HMAS Newcastle in 2001 involved in border protection around the time of the Tampa crisis and then undertook two tours of the Arabian Gulf.
A former chief of staff at fleet headquarters, for the past three years he has been based in Canberra as director of navy communications and co-ordination, managing the media for the navy, undertaking ministerial liaison and co-ordinating navy events.
Despite working in Canberra his family has lived in Gerringong since 2005.
“It’s great to be back among so many familiar faces and also during such an exciting time for the base with a huge amount of working being undertaken,” he said.
“Knowing the base and its personnel has its advantages.
“There are 1300 people on the base. I don’t command many of them the way the base is broken up, but I can influence all of them.
“We play an important role in the local
community – we employ nearly 2000 people at the base, in the redevelopment plans it talks about the base generating $360 million into the local community.
“We are part of the fabric of the local area.”
He said the construction of the $130 million facility for the new MH-60R Seahawk Romeo helicopters was a major undertaking.
“The first of those 24 new helicopters will be back here late October, early November,” he said.
“The major challenge is ensuring everything is ready for the Romeos when they arrive back here.
“I think the most important milestone is to ensure we have the simulators in place and up and running, so when they come back they can continue training, maybe even while the other buildings are being built around them.
“But it is not just the building; it is also about getting the 100 people back from Jacksonville and making it as smooth a transition as possible.”
There is the possibility the Helicopter Training School will be based at HMAS Albatross, with the decision due next year.
Captain Bateman said other work was also being carried out at Albatross as part of a whole base redevelopment plan.
“A lot of the work is not really visible, the majority of it is underground – rejuvenating stuff that has been here 60-70 years – the sewerage, water and power is getting upgraded.
“Just to upgrade the power the across the airfield for the new squadron facilities from six kilovolts to 33 kilovolts is a massive job.
“It’s a great time to be back at Albatross.”