U.S. Navy Sailors are no strangers to coasts around the world. However, few have had the opportunity to serve a tour on the west coast of Australia.
Under the Navy’s personnel exchange program, select U.S. Navy submariners are training and operating at Royal Australian Navy base HMAS Stirling, Australia, integrated into various RAN units and commands.
Australian Submarine Force Commander, RAN Capt. Doug Theobald, who works directly with U.S. exchange personnel at the Perth base, highlighted the program’s significant relationship to the historic U.S. and Australian partnership.
“The exchange program is fundamental to both our submarine forces,” Theobald said. “We’ve celebrated over a hundred years of mateship. That’s over a hundred years of the U.S. and Australia fighting side-by-side since 1918, and the submarine strategic force is one of the cornerstones to both our navies, especially in our region.”
As a region that encompasses about half the Earth’s surface, the Indo-Pacific presents a vast area of responsibility for ensuring stability and freedom of navigation.
While serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. has witnessed firsthand the necessity for a strong naval alliance with the Australian Defence Force.
“I observed the U.S. personnel at HMAS Stirling who understand interoperability with their Australian partners, as they’re looking at similar equipment on board Australian submarines as they would on U.S. submarines,” Culvahouse said. “Australia has one of the most modern militaries in the world, and they’re continuing to modernize. It’s fundamentally important to have a close, strong and capable ally in the region and one that’s respected by people in the region. Like us, they are determined to strengthen a network of other like-minded countries to step up in the region in the interest of freedom and prosperity for all.”
While the two navies continue to work together toward common goals and regularly conduct bilateral and multilateral exercises, the exchange program offers a dynamic and unique experience for participating Sailors.
For one U.S. exchange officer training at the Submarine Training and Systems Centre, Lt. Victoria Rand, the program has opened the door to another facet of submarine warfare.
“It’s helped me in understanding the differences between diesel-electric and nuclear-powered submarines and how they operate, which has been really beneficial in my training,” Rand said.
As a junior officer, Rand had trained and operated solely on nuclear-powered submarines with the U.S. Navy, serving two and half years aboard guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727), prior to taking part in the exchange program. While at Stirling, she has become familiar with the operation of the Australian diesel-electric Collins-class submarines.
“Like the old saying ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,’ I am literally doing that right now,” Rand said. “That is just the most professional development you could ever get, just seeing how another country in another nation and another class type, diesel versus nuclear, operates. It has definitely given me a lot of respect for what other countries and other navies do.”
Rand is also the first American female to participate in the exchange program at the base.
Along with the career benefits of working alongside their Aussie counterparts, some exchange participants get to take advantage of a rare family adventure.
Senior Chief Sonar Technician (Submarine) Kirk Wright, an exchange senior enlisted advisor, said his Australian mates helped make the transition to the coast incredibly easy for his family.
“I have my wife and my kids here to share every experience,” Wright said. “There’s a lot to see out here. I would say this has been a very rewarding duty station, partly because they’re here to support me and we’re able to kind of tackle this as a team.”
Through the program, service members have the opportunity to serve within military units of foreign allies through a one-for-one exchange of personnel. For the U.S. Sailors at Stirling, the special duty assignment has allowed them to gain hands-on experience submerged aboard RAN Collins-class submarines, as students at the Submarine Training and Systems Centre, and even in the Submarine Escape Training Facility – the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere.