Defence International Policy Officer, Caitlyn Lane, recently traded her desk job for hands on international engagements onboard the Royal Australian Navy's largest warship.
Ms Lane deployed with HMAS Adelaide from late May to early July for Indo-Pacific Endeavour, a key regional engagement activity with Australia's neighbours in the South Pacific.
More than 1,230 personnel were deployed on the first phase of the activity with HMA Ships Adelaide and Melbourne, visiting Fiji and Tonga, and HMA Ships Success and Toowoomba, visiting Vanuatu and Samoa.
Ms Lane's role involved providing strategic policy advice to Commander of the Indo-Pacific Endeavour Joint Task Group, Captain Jim Hutton, utilising the knowledge she built early in her career working in International Policy Division's Pacific Islands and Maritime Security Directorate.
"Most desk officers are responsible for one or two primary defence relationships; few get the chance to look at a whole region, let alone one as complex and interesting as our own," she said.
"Though I was no longer responsible for working with the South Pacific, when Indo-Pacific Endeavour came up, I knew that I had to apply."
The consistently evolving situation in the South Pacific meant Ms Lane's expertise was often sought at short notice and without immediate support available from the broader Defence team based in Canberra.
"International Policy Division is a really positive, highly collaborative work environment and when we're working on an issue, we're constantly consulting with one another," she said.
"On the ship we were often working late, on weekends and in different time zones – so the isolation was a bit of an adjustment.
"Being a team of one in an environment like this has certainly taught me to trust my judgement."
Although she had indirect exposure to the Navy through her father's 20 year career as sailor, Ms Lane found the unfamiliar and demanding work routine and adjusting to life at sea to be a new challenge.
HMAS Adelaide often spent days at sea with no land in sight and dependent on the people aboard to work hard, including Ms Lane.
"Living and working at sea for five weeks has been a strange and wonderful experience. You're geographically — and often technologically — isolated, but I was constantly impressed by the team's resilience in the face of those challenges.
"Rough weather, illness, connectivity issues, long days, being separated from family and friends – everyone just gets on with the job."
Captain Hutton said Ms Lane's contribution to Indo-Pacific Endeavour was integral to the mission's success.
"When I was appointed as Commander of the Joint Task Group, my first question was, do I get a Policy Adviser?" he said.
"In my experience, they are an essential part of ensuring that the military effect sits in line with political and policy intent, so having Caitlyn to guide me was vital.
"I took her on my command reconnaissance of Fiji and Tonga and her advice and knowledge helped shape the conversations I had with key leaders in the military and security forces and with the other government departments that would enable our activities in country.
"Caitlyn also helped me prepare for media events so that I was well versed in the messaging and had a good understanding of the political and economic background to the situations we were facing."
In exchange for her hard work, Ms Lane has many fond memories from her time deployed on a warship.
"One of the coolest things I got to do was fly from HMAS Adelaide to HMAS Melbourne in an MRH-90 [helicopter]," she said.
"It was the first time I'd ever been in a helicopter and I got to do it in the middle of the South Pacific. We even flew over a pod of whales!
"I'm usually afraid of flying, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.
"But one of the most professionally satisfying moments was a seminar we held in Tonga for young women and girls called 'Women at Work'.
“It was genuinely humbling to hear about some of the incredible things women in the Australian Defence Force are achieving every day – it left everyone feeling inspired.”
Ms Lane said taking part in Indo-Pacific Endeavour was a chance to relish the uniqueness of working in a joint civilian and military team in the field.
“Embrace the opportunity because it really is a once in a lifetime kind of experience. Ask lots of stupid questions – it’s the only way you learn and everyone is more than willing to teach.”