By Clark Pierce

Focusing on what unites Aussies and Yanks in the Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing community, officers and Sailors from both navies gathered Jan. 24 at NAS Jacksonville Hangar 1122 to commemorate the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) 725 Squadron In Service Date (ISD) milestone.

"Historically, Australia has enjoyed a close relationship with America since World War II in the Pacific. Through innumerable campaigns, a mutual friendship developed between allies that continues today," said Head of Australian Defense Staff (Washington) Rear Adm. Steve  Gilmore.

"Now, as America rebalances its naval assets around the globe, this close relationship will continue to be critical - and what we're accomplishing here in Jacksonville with the MH-60R program is an important part of that relationship."

Achievement of the ISD followed a comprehensive range of activities undertaken over the past 14 months by the joint RAN and the U.S. Navy Foreign Military Sales team to deliver 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters by 2016. Since the formal acceptance of its first two MH-60R Seahawks in December 2013, RAN 725 Squadron conducted its acceptance program aboard NAS Jacksonville to ensure the aircraft were ready to commence service - with everything well ahead of schedule.

Gilmore added, "The Royal Australian Navy is in a period of regeneration and our new Romeo helicopters will deploy with guided-missile destroyers supported by the evolutionary Aegis combat system. Their capabilities in both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare create a very lethal combination."

"Whilst the RAN men and women serving in Jacksonville return home by the end of this year, the professional relationships and friendships that were formed create a legacy that will last for the next 20 years of Romeo operations," he said.

"Australia is proud to be the first U.S. ally to purchase and operate the same version MH-60R that is flown by USN squadrons. We appreciate your welcoming us into your rotary wing community at NAS Jacksonville and NS Mayport. Indeed, you are now a part of RAN history. Thank you."

RAN 725 Squadron Commanding Officer Cmdr. David Frost said the term ISD best translates as, "we are ready!" He added that the ISD event is also the squadron's way of saying "thank you" to all the commands and individuals that have contributed to the success of the acquisition project. In particular, he mentioned HSM-40 at NS Mayport and the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit Jax for developing and implementing the training systems.

Frost told reporters that RAN has flown an early version of the anti-submarine warfare Seahawk for more than 24 years, "So even though we understand the Seahawk platform - the MH-60R variant is a whole new ballgame. The Romeo integrates many mission systems, sensors and weapons that are new to us, including the anti-surface warfare capability. Except for a kangaroo on the tail, we'll be operating the Seahawk that's identical to the USN squadrons in the helicopter maritime strike wing. When this acquisition is complete, RAN will operate 24 Romeos - seven for our training squadron (725) and 17 for our operational squadron (816) that will deploy at sea on board RAN surface combatants."

Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet, told the audience, "The Royal Australian Navy and the U.S. Navy are kinsmen of the sea. They are our brethren.  Our relationship is the strongest it has ever been.  Our two navies have fought beside each other in numerous conflicts and today we celebrate another important collaboration - the induction of the MH-60R here at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.  This project represents the continuing evolution in our partnership and I am excited to say it can only lead to continued cooperation in the future."  

"By training with our counterparts, like the Royal Australian Navy, the U.S. and our partner nations learn from each other, sharing the best practices and proving collective reliability for addressing common challenges," Harris continued. "In a larger sense, these opportunities for exchange of ideas not only allow us the chance to learn best practices and challenges, but also allows us to unite around the common goals of securing our waters and providing for peace in our regions."

Frost also expressed his appreciation for the families of 725 Squadron officers and Sailors who moved from the coast of New South Wales to the shores of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.

"To our families, thank you for supporting us and working to be part of this great community," he said.

Frost concluded, "The USN uses the term 'shipmates' whilst the RAN, in true Aussie fashion, abbreviates it to 'mates.' For us, this is a very strong word - bringing with it a commitment that you will always be there for each other, will watch each other's back, and share a bond that will stand the test of time. You never forget your mates, you remember when you met them and you look forward to when you meet them again. I am very proud to call our USN hosts . . . mates."