Minutes after walking down the gangplank of Australian warship HMAS Toowoomba with his crewmates, Able Seaman Josh Nevermann worked his way through the cheering crowds lining the water’s edge and went down on one knee.
On the dock of HMAS Stirling naval base on Garden Island, the 24-year-old proposed to his girlfriend Katelan Gilmore, 23.
After six months away at sea, the young sailor said he couldn’t wait another second to ask the woman he loved to marry him.
“It was hard to keep it secret,” he said with a grin.
“She said, ‘Yes’.”
Yesterday, the Toowoomba and its 191 crew returned to WA after completing a six-month mission aimed at countering terrorism and piracy in the troubled waters of the Middle East.
Sophie Hirschausen, 5, jumped up and down in excitement, her mother Shannon, 34, holding her other daughters Sammi, 3, and one-year-old Isabelle as she held back tears.
Moments later, her husband Petty Officer Phil Hirschausen swept all his girls up into his arms and held them close.
During his time away, he had missed Isabelle’s first steps.
“Somebody’s got to do it, though,” he said of the mission.
The Toowoomba is the 31st Australian warship to deploy to the Middle East since the first Gulf War and is part of the multinational taskforce set up to ensure maritime security in the busy shipping lanes.
In March, the ship took part in an operation that dealt a blow to the illicit drugs trade between Afghanistan and East Africa that is believed to fund militants, seizing 500kg of heroin from a ship off Tanzania.
When the Toowoomba’s captain, Cdr Brendon Zilko, sauntered down the gangplank his mother Margaret Zilko, 73, was waiting to give him a kiss. Like all the crew, Cdr Zilko, 42, knows wearing a uniform and serving his country demands personal sacrifice. A few days after he sailed in December, his father Terry Zilko, 74, died.
“It’s difficult when you know you can’t get home because you have a mission to do,” Cdr Zilko said.
“Australia’s a great place. You’ve got to fight for its freedoms and way of life.”