- Editorial Staff
- RAN operations, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Stuart III, HMAS Darwin, HMAS Ballarat II
- December 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Commanding Officer of HMAS Stuart, Commander Brett Sonter, RAN, kindly agreed to be interviewed by our Editor and in this article he answers a series of questions which creates another important chapter in our ongoing naval history.
Can you briefly tell us something of your background, your schooling and how you joined the RAN?
I was born in Sydney in 1972, however I spent most of my childhood growing up in a town called Gorokan on the New South Wales Central Coast. I am the elder of two siblings, both my mother and father being school teachers. My younger sister has since gone on to become a school teacher herself. I completed secondary school at Gorokan High School prior to joining the Navy. As far as we know, the only Navy connection within the family is a great uncle on my mother’s side who was in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II. My interest in the Navy commenced after my father took me onboard visiting warships when they opened for visitors, primarily when berthed at the Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo Bay.
What about your naval education and training and time for family life?
My naval career commenced in 1990 when I entered the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, I undertook seaman officer training subsequently serving in numerous ships throughout the Fleet, and ultimately achieving my Bridge Watch keeping Certificate in June 1995 whilst serving in HMAS Darwin. After consolidating as an Officer of the Watch, I chose to pursue an initial career as a Navigation specialist initially serving as the Navigating Officer in HMA Ships Whyalla and Bendigo, and then Canberra after completing the Long Navigation Course where I was awarded the dux of the course. Towards the end of this period in 1998 I also began married life with Becki and we now have two children with the family residing in the ACT.
In 2001 more training was undertaken completing the Principal Warfare Officer course. I graduated with a further specialisation in Air Warfare and was awarded the Sydney/Emden Trophy for PWO Phase I training, the Saint Barbara Association Award for PWO Phase II (AWO) specialist training, and the Sword of Excellence for the dux of both PWO courses for that year.
Now with training largely completed what postings did you next receive?
My next posting was to HMAS Newcastle as the Navigating Officer during which time I completed my first deployment to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO). I was awarded the Commendation for Distinguished Service in the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours for my performance during this time. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 2003 I was posted to HMAS Stuart as the Navigating Officer. During this period the ship participated in the boarding of the North Korean flagged merchant vessel Pong Su. In July I completed the Advanced Navigation Course prior to taking up the posting as the Fleet Navigation Officer. The next 12 months was a busy time, the majority of which was spent at sea on varying ships throughout the fleet.
In November 2004, I joined HMAS Darwin as the Executive Officer. During this posting, the ship was deployed to the MEAO in support of Operation Catalyst, my second time operationally deployed to this area. Completing this posting in the mid year, I took the opportunity over the next six months to obtain a Master of Arts (Strategy and Policy) through the University of New South Wales campus at ADFA. In January 2007 I was one of the initial members posted to Headquarters Joint Operations Command. Promoted to Commander in June 2007 I was posted to the then Directorate of Naval Officers’ Postings as the Junior Officer Poster.
You have had a number of commands and been involved in Sea Swaps – can you tell us about them?
My first command was of HMAS Ballarat on 18 Jun 2010 and then, as a result of a sea swap a month later I took command of HMAS Stuart in July 2010. The highlight of my command time to date has been a further operational deployment to the MEAO in support of Operation Slipper. Stuart is now on passage to Fleet Base West where the ship’s company will undertake a further sea swap resulting in them becoming the ship’s company of HMAS Anzac. This took place on 5 September 2011 giving the busy captain three commands in less than two years.