Accidental sailor on right course
Chief Petty Officer Caraline Enniss. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Despite a distinguished 14-year career in the Royal Australian Navy, the senior service was not Chief Petty Officer Caraline Enniss' first choice.

Her idea of a career in defence can be traced partly to thoughts of travel and broadening her experiences beyond the horizons of Tasmania's north-west coast, where she was born.

Initially, she aimed at joining the air force. In late high school she chose her subjects accordingly. "After completing Year 12, I went to recruiting - and ended up in the navy as a communicator," CPO Enniss said. The 32-year-old Warnbro resident is still slightly bemused by how it all came about.

In the scheme of things, the RAAF's loss was the RAN's gain.

She was promoted to the rank of chief petty officer after just 12 years of service on the briny - a notable achievement.

"Among family and friends, no one thought that I would last," she said, reflecting on her recruit training at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria.

"So, 14 years later, I guess I'm doing all right. I had a goal."

After a three-month basic induction as a communications information systems operator recruit, almost a year of specialist communications training followed - everything from learning to type, morse code, semaphore, flashing lights, radio and the basic information technology of the day.

"Anything that is used in communication at sea - flags, light, voice," she said.

Before joining the RAN, CPO Enniss admits she drifted from interest to interest. However, all that has changed.

Years of the RAN's culture of education, discipline and self- discipline have given her a strong focus and context. Beyond a mere job, it is a vocation.

"And it's a love for it, I guess. It's a different lifestyle," she said.

"And it is not even just a life- style. It is home, it is life, it is family - so many different things. It is so different to being just a normal average Joe, I guess."

After seven months at HMAS Harman in the ACT, Seaman Enniss' first sea posting was to HMAS Stuart in August 2002.

Stuart was part of Operation Resolute, which looked after border protection and Australia's offshore maritime interests in its economic zone.

Able Seaman Enniss was part of the ship's boarding party. "We were dealing with fishing boats mainly back then," she recalled.

"We did have to do a few boardings. I remember going on one boat and there was no one onboard. That was when they had mother ships. They would hear that someone was coming and they'd sometimes abandon their boats."

In 2004, AB Enniss' maritime horizons expanded considerably.

As part of the crew on HMAS Stuart, she sailed for the first of her two stints in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Catalyst.

Operation Catalyst was the ADF's contribution to the US-led multinational force assisting to stabilise Iraq and its dangerous environs. The main task was protecting major oil rigs in the Gulf from terrorist sabotage.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment occurred when a dhow - a traditional Arab sailing vessel - blew up as a party from the USS Firebolt boarded it. "There was also small arms fire from a vessel going towards one of the oil terminals," CPO Enniss recalled.

"Guns on the terminal blew the speed boat up as well. We went to action stations when all that happened. And went and helped get the guys out of the water, the wounded and those killed in action."

CPO Enniss cites her time in 2008 with Sea Training Group in Darwin - she had been promoted to petty officer - as another of her career highlights so far.

"The work involved crew training, and assessing minor war vessels - patrol boats, survey vessels, that sort of thing," she said.

"It was really enjoyable, it was different, always busy and very challenging. You are dealing with so many different people and personalities. Nothing was routine."

The West Australian

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