HMAS Albatross hosts the inaugural Women in Naval Aviation camp

Sixteen young women from around the country have experienced life in the Fleet Air Arm.

The inaugural Women in Naval Aviation camp has been held at HMAS Albatross.

The young women from across Australia and the local area converged on the Nowra naval base for the three-day camp introducing them to the career opportunities available in the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) and life in the Royal Australian Navy.

HMAS Albatross, the Defence Work Experience Program (DWEP) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) joined forces to present the camp.  

The hands-on program included an exciting range of activities such as weapon and parade training, winching and sea survival skills, leadership, teamwork and physical training and work placement at 725 Squadron, home of the MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ naval combat helicopter.

At the final feedback session many of the participants said one of the aspects of the program that they most enjoyed was the opportunity to meet women already working in the Defence Force.

A number of local girls, including Charlotte Phillips from St John’s High School at Nowra and Ulladulla’s Nikki Dark, Meg Buchanan and Britany Peters took part in the camp.

Charlott, a year 10 student, said her favourite thing was the early morning PT.

“Afterwards you felt really good about yourself,” she said.

“I also really enjoyed joining up as a group and getting to know everyone, the new friendships and feeling of being in it together really made a difference.”

Meg Buchanan said the camp had been really informative.

“I really don’t know what I want to do yet but we’ve been given a real insight, visiting all the squadrons and going into the hangars and getting close to the helicopters,” she said.

“The camaraderie has been awesome.  Making new friends has been the best bit about it.”

Jaskiran Mai, a year 11 student from Hurlstone Agricultural High School in Sydney is deliberating between pursuing a career as a pilot or intelligence officer and said the camp had definitely helped her narrow down her choices.

“It was really useful for me to interact with the pilots, to learn about their careers and just get a feel for how people of my age and background fit into the Australian Defence Force,”  she said.

One of the pilots the girls spent time with was Lieutenant Kate Munari of 808 Squadron.

“I hosted the girls when they came to visit 808 Squadron and gave them a brief of the capabilities of the MRH90 helicopter and the squadron’s role, including talking about the current involvement in an HADR response in Vanuatu,” she said.

“I then took them down to the hangar and showed them around the aircraft and they sat in it and asked all sorts of questions about it. I was really impressed by the range of questions and their level of enthusiasm.”

Lt Munari also participated in a pilot Q and A session with the girls. Scheduled for 30 minutes the session lasted for almost two hours.

“It was an opportunity for the girls to ask any of the questions they had, and they had quite a few,” Lt Munari said.

“They wanted to know about everything from my personal experiences in the military, to recruiting questions, to pilot’s course questions, to just pilot related questions.

“I think the camp is a great initiative and I hope they got a more in depth understanding of what it is to be a pilot or aviation warfare officer (AvWO)  and indeed some of the other careers in the navy.

“Also I hope they got to see that aircrew are just normal people with high levels of motivation and their dream of becoming a pilot is achievable, and they have a much better understanding of what life in the Fleet Air Arm is all about so they can make well informed career choices.

“I always enjoy chatting to the youth and seeing their enthusiasm towards a career path that I am involved in.

“I also like to help people achieve their goals and hope that sharing my experiences and tips it has helped them. I enjoy sharing the ‘real’ side of navy aviation.”

She said she would have loved to have done something similar to the camp at their age.

“The access these girls got to the base, and the aviation community will give them so much more information to enable them to make a very educated decision regarding joining the military in navy aviation,” she said.

“And it will give them an extra bit of motivation during the long recruitment and pilot’s/AvWO courses.”

Albatross camp mentors Lieutenant Commander Joanne Mackintosh, Leading Seaman ATV Christie Thomson and Able Seaman Alanah Whitburn were on hand throughout the event, guiding and assisting the participants through the intensive three days which started with a 5.45am fitness session and ended with lights out at 10pm.

Officer in charge, Leading Seaman Jan Gilmour said while the camp had definitely met its goal of providing the young women with exposure to  career options and the leadership and teamwork required for a career in aviation there were other outcomes that couldn’t be measured or predicted in an administrative instruction.

”I loved seeing the transformation. For many of the young women there was definitely a moment when it all clicked and came together, a moment when they thought ‘I can do this job’ particularly when they were inspired by the female mentors,” she said.

Program support officer with the DEWP, Georgie de Cure, said when developing the program the primary goal of the Women in Naval Aviation Camp was to increase female participation rates in naval aviation.

“We are definitely on track to achieving this,” she said.

“The camp was an absolute success, the girls were engaged right from the start.

“It was really awesome to see them come in with a vague idea of maybe getting into aviation to leaving with specific jobs in mind.

“Or there were ones who thought they wanted to do something specific but the camp persuaded them to try something that suited them better.

“They enjoyed the hands on activities, getting their hands dirty and experiencing exactly what they might be doing in the future.

“The interactions with the staff were one of the most valuable aspects for the girls, just seeing women in positions that they want to see themselves in in the future, the people who have done it before and hearing about their great careers in the navy was just invaluable.”