Lieutenant Brock West, left, accepts the Symbol of Command of HMNZS Taupo from outgoing Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander John McQueen, in front of Maritime Component Commander Commodore Jim Gilmour.
15 March 2017
A sailor who started his career as a chef has just become the Royal New Zealand Navy’s newest Commanding Officer.
Lieutenant Brock West, who grew up in Waikanae, took command this month of HMNZS Taupo, one of the Navy’s four inshore patrol vessels.
West, 28, accompanied by his 10-month-old daughter Aria and wife Olivia, formally assumed command at the Change of Command ceremony in Devonport Naval Base.
He joined the Navy in 2006, aged 17, out of Paraparaumu College, saying he had always loved the sea and thought it would be a good career. “I had done a bit of sailing, diving, swimming, and I had always wanted to be a chef,” he said. “A Navy recruiter came to visit our school when I was in fifth form, and I applied then.”
While he was told he could join at the start of his sixth form year he held off until he had finished the year, just in case. “I haven’t looked back.”
In 2011 he was named Sailor of the Year, for his work during the evacuation of the MV Rena, after it had gone aground on Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty in October. He was part of the team from inshore patrol vessel HMNZS Rotoiti that helped evacuate 21 crew members from the Rena.
“An amazing sight,” he said. “A lot of wind and a reasonable swell. The containers were creaking, we were so small below them.” A Rena crew member fell five metres while climbing down the ladder to the Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs), landing on and injuring the bowman on the RHIB next to West’s. West, who had medical training, took charge, jumping to the other boat to provide first aid and taking over as bowman.
After being named Sailor of the Year he was told he should consider becoming an officer. The following year, he began officer training and graduated in 2013.
“It’s gone really well,” he said. “I spent two years on frigate HMNZS Te Kaha as a seaman officer, with courses in between, and finished a command course in February. Then I got a phone call asking if I would like to take command of Taupo.”
He jumped at the chance. “No hesitation. I’m really excited.”
If he was back at Paraparaumu College, talking to a class of students, he would tell them to think seriously about a career in the New Zealand Defence Force. “If you’re thinking about it, just give it a go, for a short time or a long time. There’s so much to offer, so many jobs.”
As for his previous role of chef, he misses it, but gets his fix by doing most of the cooking at home.