Some of the ships under Captain Gerritsen’s command. In front is HMAS Adelaide, the lead ship. HMNZS Te Mana is at top right. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED
Masterton’s Captain Blair Gerritsen would describe himself as an enthusiastic mid-handicap golfer and part-time farmer.
But this month he takes command of a naval task group larger than the Royal New Zealand Navy fleet.
Gerristen will become New Zealand’s first sea combat commander in the world’s largest international maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), happening in Hawaii and southern California this month.
Using 10 combat ships from seven different countries – including a New Zealand frigate, HMNZS Te Mana – Gerritsen will have to ensure the defence of an expeditionary strike group during the exercise.
Gerritsen said the role came out of the blue.
“I thought my sea-going days were behind me, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to re-engage.”
He was tapped for the role in October last year, and had been to RIMPAC before, as maritime operation centre director in 2014.
Gerritsen appreciated RIMPAC’s scale, “it’s just unparalleled”.
“You can’t replicate this anywhere else. It’s quite an event and it takes a long time to plan.
“As soon as they finish, they start planning the next one in two years’ time.
“For a defence force of our size, we never get the opportunity to command this many ships in our own waters.”
RIMPAC has been held every two years since 1971, making Gerritsen’s command part of its 26th exercise.
The expeditionary strike group will be a force centred around five large amphibious ships.
Gerritsen will command its at-sea defence – fending off air, surface and sub-surface threats – while the group lands, moves between operating areas, and withdraws from the exercise.
Captain Gerritsen has commanded two Royal New Zealand Navy Ships before.
At RIMPAC, he will operate from HMAS Adelaide, the largest ship in the Royal Australian Navy.
He said within his staff of 30, there would be a range of countries represented.
“It’s a unique opportunity to bring these people together, learning off each other, building trust, and developing them into an effective team.”