“PERMISSION TO CLOSE GRANTED” signalled the start of a unique experience for HMAS Ballarat (CMDR Jonathan Earley) during a short notice PASSEX with the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group on 13 Jun 12 while transiting from Japan to Guam.
|The Royal Australian Navy Anzac-class frigate, HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155) steams alongside the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) while in formation with the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73).
Source: Australian Department of Defence
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The PASSEX was planned at short notice after Commander Task Force 70, RDML Haley, invited Ballarat to meet up at sea on completion of their port visit to White Beach, Okinawa. The PASSEX consisted of Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres and AIO/Communication Exercises with USS Cowpens (CG-63) and personnel exchanges and helicopter operations with USS George Washington (CVN-73).
A key highlight for many onboard Ballarat was the unique opportunity to be stationed 300 yards on the port beam of George Washington to observe a full launch and recovery cycle on the carrier. The full range of aircraft were witnessed in action including FA18F Super Hornets, E2C Hawkeyes, SH60F Seahawks and the large C2 logistics transport aircraft launching and and landing every few minutes.
Three members of ship’s company were also lucky enough to be selected for a cross deck onto George Washington. Flown to the CVN by SH-60F Seahawk, the crew members were hosted by COMDESRON 15, CAPT John L. Shultz and his team. They were given an extensive tour of the ship including the combat direction centre, bridge and were fortunate to be allowed to observe flight operations on the flight deck itself. For one lucky member of Ballarat’s ship’s company, ABEW Bianca Hall said it was a highlight of her deployment so far:
“It was a great chance to see an aircraft carrier in full flight up close from the flight deck” ABEW Hall said.
“I was very lucky to be chosen. The Americans were very friendly and always took the time to explain how things worked on the carrier and they let me take as many photos as I wanted. The only disappointment was I didn’t have more time to explore this amazing ship.”
Three members of George Washington’s crew also had the opportunity to spend a little time in Ballarat during the PASSEX. Lieutenants Lydia Maggio and Sarah Nash, both Nuclear Reactor Engineers in ‘G-Dub’ (as she is known to her crew) were not only excited to see Ballarat but also to get out of their engineering spaces!
“This is the first time I have seen sunlight in two weeks” Lt Maggio said, “As Nuclear Engineers we generally keep to the one section of the ship and it is many decks down from the flight deck.” Both officers were provided with a full tour of Ballarat and had the chance to spend some time in the wardroom, including lunch.
“The food on Ballarat was fantastic, the variety and quality is a lot different than the meals provided on board G-Dub” Lt Maggio said
The PASSEX finished once all personnel were returned to their respective ships. Although it was only a short PASSEX, it was definitely a highlight for Ballarat’s crew who were able to observe George Washington up close doing what she does best. The George Washington (CVN 73) is a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier that commissioned on the 4th of July 1992. She displaces over 100,000 tons, has a crew of over 6,000 and can carry over 90 fixed wing and rotary aircraft. Based out of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan she is part of the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
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