The West

Lt Nicholas Brown and the woman in the pretty pink dress shared a lingering kiss, their last for six long months.

The brutal lines of the waiting warship behind them were temporarily forgotten, the jaunty cadence of the marching band ignored as they held each other close on the crowded dock and said goodbye.

The 29-year-old Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilot pulled away and smiled at his wife of two years, 32-year-old photographer Elaine, who composed herself and put on a brave face.

“He looks very ... handsome in that uniform,” she said.

“It will be pretty hard, but I support him and I’m happy that he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Yesterday, Lt Brown was among 180 sailors to board HMAS Toowoomba, bound for a six-month mission in the Middle East.

His first deployment to sea after 10 years in the navy, Lt Brown said it was a bittersweet moment.

“It will be tough,” he said.

“But I love the flying. I love making a difference and doing a job that’s meaningful.”

Under the blazing Rockingham sun on the crowded dock at Garden Island naval base, other lovers embraced and wiped red eyes and held each other, locked in their private universe for a precious few minutes.

The Toowoomba’s departure yesterday marked the 30th time an Australian Navy warship has deployed to the Middle East in support of maritime security operations since September 2001.

In the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden — a maritime gauntlet bordered by Somalia and Yemen which acts as a trade route for 95 per cent of Europe’s and one-quarter of the world’s commercial shipping — the Toowoomba will be part of a multinational team on hand to respond to pirate attacks.

This year alone, the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre logged 71 piracy “incidents” in Somali waters, 13 hijackings and 212 hostages taken.

But combating pirates will account for only one part of the frigate’s six-month mission.

Much of it’s time will be spent on counter-terrorism operations under the American-led Taskforce 150, including covert surveillance and boarding suspect vessels, to help stop the flow of illicit narcotics and weapons intended to arm and fund terror groups.

Petty Officer Adam Baskett with his wife Kimberley and eight-month-old daughter Dakoda. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

As the speeches and formalities wound down, children clutched the hands of parents resplendent in white dress uniforms, blinking through tears at the imposing gun-metal grey frigate which would soon carry their mum or dad over the horizon to distant waters.

Petty Officer Adam Baskett, a mountain of a man, held his tiny eight-month-old daughter Dakoda to his face.

The 34-year-old veteran of four naval tours of duty closed his eyes and quietly asked her a question.

“Are you going to be walking when I get back?”

She smiled and gurgled in response.

“It’s the first time I’ve been away from her for more than two weeks since she was born,” he said.

Leading Seaman Alisha Mosley, 23, dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and held hands with her partner, Danny Haber, 30, who is also in the navy.

“We’ve only seen each other for 50 days this year,” LS Mosley said.

“I’ll been gone for five months, we see each other for a week when I get back and then he goes for five months.”

Seamen Jayo Stenz, 23, kissed his girlfriend Chantelle Hislop, 20, and hugged his mother and little sister.

The band played Advance Australia Fair, the sailors lined the deck of the warship and the Toowoomba pulled away from the dock.

“I’m very proud,” Ms Hislop said through the tears, “but I’m going to miss him.”

The West Australian

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