August 17, 2018 – Lieutenant Lewis “Lamb” Chaloner, a United States Navy helicopter commander with the “Blue Hawks” HSM-78 squadron, looks at home among the jets and noise on an American carrier.
It’s a long way from his home town of Waiuku and the difference in scale is hard to imagine – the crew of a supercarrier alone, at more than 6000, is more than double that of the small Auckland town.
In 2005, after finishing at Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland, aged 19, he won a scholarship to play soccer at Furman University in South Carolina. While he graduated with a Political Science degree in 2009, his sporting career was curtailed by persistent injuries.
However, his political studies sparked an interest in the military.
“I had seen what I considered at the time to be defining moments of my generation happening overseas, with major ongoing conflicts.”
He had met Claudia, a native of West Virginia, at university and the pair initially decided to make a life in New Zealand, with Lieutenant Chaloner looking at joining the New Zealand Army while Claudia studied as a chiropractor.
“But we would have struggled to pay for Claudia’s graduate education and her American university debts. I also wanted to deploy and experience that side of the military, and thought I could do that quicker and go to more places with the American military.”
So after marrying in Auckland, the pair returned to the United States, where Lieutenant Chaloner enlisted in the US Navy as a medic. He was accepted into officer training in 2012 and followed that with flight school in 2013.
Now he flies MH60-R Seahawks with Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78, based in San Diego.
“Being a helicopter pilot is great. We’re working in an always-changing and challenging environment. The flight deck of a carrier is one of the most exciting and dangerous places in the world to work. You’ll never forget your first day on the flight deck during flight operations, with jets shaking your chest as they land and take off.”
As exciting as aircraft carriers are, landing on the back of a destroyer in bad seas on a dark night was what separated real helicopter pilots from the rest, he said.
He recently worked alongside New Zealanders as the Helicopter Element Coordinator during Exercise Rim of the Pacific in Hawaii, attached to Royal New Zealand Navy Captain Blair Gerritsen and his Sea Combat Command team on HMAS Adelaide.
“It was great being able to work alongside Kiwis again,” he said. “There is a strong contrast in cultures and it was great to operate within a new framework.
“It was an eye-opener to see a different side, while working for a Kiwi and alongside Kiwis, Aussies, Canadians, Singaporeans, and Americans inside an Australian ship. It is a part of my career I will likely remember and cherish for years to come.”
While his parents still live in New Zealand, Lieutenant Chaloner and Claudia have not been back since they married but hope to return next year for a visit.
And the significance of his “Lamb” callsign?
“Depends who you ask. It either stands for “Legally Arranged Marriage Bloke, where my mates are making fun of me and saying I got married for a Green Card, or it’s a sheep joke. I really should come up with a better story.”