Recruit school meets COVID-19 challenges

Navy’s Recruit School at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria has met the challenges of COVID-19, training 1448 new sailors since the pandemic began in March last year.

CAPTION: Graduating members of General Entry 389 Shipp Division throw their hats in the air at the end of their graduation parade at the Navy Recruit School at HMAS Cerberus, Victoria. Story by Lieutenant Ben Willee. Photo by Leading Seaman James McDougall.

When General Entry 389 Shipp Division graduated on May 27, it was the 12th intake to complete their training since COVID-19 struck.

This has been achieved in a high-risk environment, with more than 400 recruits living at the school in six-person cabins with bunk beds and shared bathrooms.

Adding to the challenge, a new intake of up to 150 recruits from all over the country arrived every four weeks.

But ceasing training and sending everyone home to work was not an option.

The Navy’s future depends on a supply of well-trained and motivated sailors to crew ships, submarines and aircraft, so staff at the school maintained quality training, while keeping everyone safe.

Reflecting on the 12 intakes affected by the pandemic, Commanding Officer Recruit School Commander Cindy Jenkins said training had been challenging.

“I understand we are one of the few navies in the world that didn’t pause or cease training during the pandemic,” Commander Jenkins said.

“That’s down to the incredible efforts of the staff here at Recruit School and that’s an achievement we should celebrate.”

The recruits faced a number of challenges, least of which was leaving their families to join the military.

Upon joining, all recruits are subject to cohort quarantine for 14 days, remaining separate from the rest of Recruit School, eating their meals from hotboxes and being largely confined to their accommodation.

At the height of the pandemic and during each subsequent lockdown, they had no leave, and many cohorts wore masks for the duration of their training.

And despite completing the requirements of their recruit training in the most trying of circumstances, families or friends could not attend their graduation parade to celebrate their achievement.

Many of the graduates then proceeded onto category training at Cerberus, still subject to many of the same restrictions while subject to the Victorian lockdown guidelines.

After a challenging year, many staff also volunteered to deploy over Christmas and New Year for Operation COVID-19 Assist.

Leading Seaman Edwin Rossiter, who was a recruit instructor last year and then deployed to Operation COVID-19 Assist in January, said it had been a challenging year.

“I feel all the staff came together and helped not only the recruits but each other to get through it,” Leading Seaman Rossiter said.

“We recognised the crucial role we played to allow the Navy to continue to recruit and train, this allowed us to focus on doing our bit for wider capability.

“We are all proud of how we achieved the outcomes required in a difficult environment, both professionally and personally.”





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