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Christopher Starling - Maleny

A Sunshine Coast man has taken his love of flying to a new level in the Middle East with the Royal Australian Navy.

Kenyan-born Chris Starling grew up in Maleny, Queensland, on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, where his parents Sue and David still live.

Later he studied for an aviation degree in Bundaberg to fulfil his dreams of a career in the sky.

He didn't consider the military as a career path until he finished his studies.

With a change of mind he joined Navy's Fleet Air Arm in 2008 as a Maritime Aviation Warfare Officer, responsible for the tactical employment of weapons and sensor systems fitted to Navy's S-70B Sea Hawk helicopters.

Lieutenant (LEUT) Chris Starling is now serving as a Sea Hawk crewman onboard the Adelaide-class frigate HMAS Melbourne, and the ship is currently assigned to the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), patrolling the waters of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf to intercept the trafficking of drugs and restrict the funds for international terrorism.

In his job LEUT Starling is required to plan each mission with the ship's Principal Warfare Officers (PWOs).

He then coordinates the tactics to be used during the flight.

While the helicopter is airborne he ensures the pilot and sensor operator gather the required information to be passed to the PWOs in the ship's Operations Room for analysis.

LEUT Starling said the crew's main task was to locate suspicious vessels or inspect vessels of interest.

"Even if it is a targeted search, we operate over a large body of water, which means we can be flying long sorties of up to three hours twice-a-day to maybe find one fishing dhow," he said.

"Once a suspicious vessel is located it is reported to the PWOs who make a decision on the next course of action in consultation with the Commanding Officer."

If the decision is made to board and search the vessel, Melbourne will make her approach and launch a boarding party.

The Sea Hawk then uses its machine gun to provide extra cover for Melbourne's sailors.

LEUT Starling said the helicopter's sensor operator uses a high-magnification imaging system to watch the actions of people aboard the suspicious vessel.

"Once the teams are aboard we will stay airborne to make sure nothing goes wrong until they report the vessel is a low threat," he said.

LEUT Starling said Melbourne's crew had done a fantastic job patrolling the Middle East Region as part of Operation Manitou, the operational name for Australia's contribution to the CMF.

"We've already had a couple of wins and on our first patrol we recovered and disposed of 427kg of heroin," he said.

"That's heroin that will not hit our streets and affect people's sons and daughters or mums and dads.

"It also stops those funds being funnelled into various terrorist groups, which could also cause more harm to innocent people."

LEUT Starling said the deployment is his first, allowing him to use his career training operationally.

"It wasn't until we found our first shipment of narcotics that I really understood the impact Navy is having in the region," he said.

"It gives me a great sense of achievement and all the training we have done has culminated into a positive result for the maritime security operations conducted in the region."

LEUT Starling said like most people at sea it was hard for him to be away from his family and friends for such a long time.

"I have not seen a lot of my wife Phoebe in the past five years, but I try to speak to her on the satellite phone when I can, and we do have Wi-Fi onboard," he said.

"She always gives me a lot of support and sends me care packages to boost my morale."