Navy servicewoman Peta Binns talks life at sea

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Graduated communications class. Source: Peta Binns

In honour of ANZAC Day the Australian nation comes together to pay respects to and remember past and present servicemen and women who have fought for our country. It is important to remember the growth of female members in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), learn their impact and share their stories. 

Peta Binns is a 23-year old Communication and Information Systems Sailor in the Australian Navy and has been serving for a little over 4 years. In her very technical role, Peta explains the intricate details of her current occupation as a communicator at sea.

“I work with various radio systems (VHF, UHF & HF). Communications sailors utilise a radio circuit which we refer to as ‘Tactical’ to send and receive coded signals for manoeuvring ships in a group. This is used on a day to day basis between Navy ships entering and exiting harbours, conducting training or operations with foreign militaries. We also use it when we are conducting training for officers who are learning to drive the ships.

I also use visual signalling – Flashing light/Morse code and Signalling Flags to send manoeuvring signals and information between ships.

In addition to my core job, I am expected to be a member of our ‘Boarding Operations Team’. This entails various members of the crew being trained to conduct boarding’s onto vessels of interest or to assist vessels in distress. You have probably seen this on the news over the past few years.”

Peta was raised within a serving family who spent time across the three Australian services, a common trait that stems broadly throughout her family tree.

“In my immediate family of four, three of us have been or currently are defence. The two who are not currently defence are police and ambulance officers. In my broader family tree, it might be easier to count the ones who weren’t serving members…”

Peta and her brother after a 3 month trip to Asia. Source: Peta Binns

With serving in her blood and an influence to immediately join the workforce, Peta’s decision to join the ADF seemed to be a natural calling.

“I grew up in a family with several members serving across all three services. I always had the forces in the back of my mind as an option. But it actually just became apparent in year 12 that I didn’t have much interest in going to university and I wanted to get a full time job straight away” she said.

“I applied to the navy and within a few weeks had my interview. I was accepted and within a couple of months I was standing amongst 100 other people in recruit school ready for training”.

The ADF is primarily a male-dominated defence force as personnel statistics from the Department of Defence’s Annual report (1999-2000) show that women make up approximately 12.8% of the permanent ADF – which translates into 6,507 women compared to 44,248 men. 

Peta draws upon her years of experience in the Navy to outline why women need to be represented fairly.

“Everyone needs to feel equal, if you don’t have the same opportunities, you feel left out. And if people feel left out, they won’t work well with others. The best example I can give was one that was given to me as a recruit in training; ‘We are all one big machine. If the cogs don’t fit together and move in unison, the machine doesn’t work.’”

Peta and her partner on ANZAC Day 2017. Source: Peta Binns

Professional advice in such a serious environment is crucial and beneficial, especially for those thinking about serving. Addressing a younger generation Peta believes “everyone should give it a try”.

“You never know, you might love it. The Defence force is definitely not for everyone. I think you need to understand that it is a job that will require you to do things that you may not want to do, but they are apart of the work. The defence does have some awesome aspects” she said.

“I personally have travelled to several places, places I wouldn’t have gone to if I had booked my own holiday that’s for sure. Just remember it is a military and there are rules. So if you don’t like to follow orders, this may not be the job for you. But if you are someone who likes to be challenged, best to have a look at the recruiting website or get in contact with a recruitment officer”.

In her four years of service, Peta has learnt “something new everyday…life lessons” that have shaped her to be the servicewomen and individual she is today.

Peta at the back of a helicopter. Source: Peta Binns

“The first major lesson I learnt was about teamwork. For anything to happen in a smooth fashion in any military environment, teamwork is key. If the team doesn’t work together, you end up working against each other, and it becomes very difficult to reach your end goal.

The hardest lesson I found is about being away from your loved ones. No matter how long you are away, your family and friends will always be there for you when you get back. The lesson I learn from this is that communication is pertinent. Something as simple as sending an email every few days or a text can make your family realise you haven’t forgotten them. As busy as this job gets, you can’t forget the little things“.

When joining one of the three services in the ADF, it isn’t difficult to meet someone with the ANZAC spirit – they all have it! With ANZAC Day looming closer, Peta explains what it means and how important the day is for her.

“ANZAC Day is a day where we should remember those who have fallen for the good of our nation. It is not a day to celebrate, it is a day to think of those who gave up their lives and made sacrifices to ensure the safety of their families and our nation’s future.

ANZAC Day is very special to me; I hope that it continues to be commemorated for generations to come. I actually still get chills when I hear the last post played and the minute of silence that follows” she said.

“I really encourage anyone who hasn’t been to a dawn service to attend one. And for anyone who hasn’t already visited- I highly suggest a visit to the War memorial, they can provide you with any information you desire.

ANZAC Day is very special to a lot of people, if you don’t have a full understanding or appreciation of it, I recommend that you visit any RSL local to you and speak to veterans. They will more than likely share a story with you over a beer and ask you to join in with their activities. You should really get amongst the atmosphere”.

War Memorial. Source: Peta Binns

In a final recollection of her time at sea and talking from an overall perspective of her job, Peta draws upon the negatives and positives regarding her occupation and the places she has been able to visit around the world.

“The negatives of the job: Being away for months at a time can be difficult. If you are posted to a ship, your routine can be very fluid and change quickly. Your family learns to understand this and learns to plan accordingly. The other downside to this is not being able to plan ahead for events. I have missed many birthdays and engagements being away. Disappointing, but overly, it’s not so bad. If you are posted to a shore based unit, the routine is much more rigid” she said.

“The positives of the job: The coolest part about my job so far as been the travel. I have completed 3 months of a ‘Gulf Trip’ this took me to the Middle East. I visited Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, Seychelles and Diego Garcia. Places I never would have thought to go. More recently I went on a 4 month Asia trip. This took me to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. On these trips you get the opportunity to work with foreign Navies.

Another bonus is the people you work with. When you are apart of a crew, you become very close with people. You make friends and soon enough you know someone in every city around Australia.

Let me tell you, my days are so busy when I pull into a city I haven’t been in for a while, so many people to catch up with.

I have heaps of stories I could tell, but you would be reading forever…

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