Leslie Maley and Judy Calvin are pictured aboard the HMCS St. John.
Trying not to fall off a Royal Canadian Navy warship as it maneuveres figure eights and crash stops may not be where one might expect to find Judy Calvin and Leslie Maley, but the two Niagara College professors not only embraced the opportunity, they had the time of their lives – and learned a lot in the process.
Calvin and Maley were among about 100 people from Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces who were invited to participate in a Women in the Canadian Forces event in Halifax, Nova Scotia from March 4 to 7. Hosted by the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group, the event aimed at celebrating women in the Canadian Forces, as well as educating and promoting awareness about the experience and opportunities it has to offer.
Their experience gave them an up-close look at the various elements of the Armed Forces that few have the opportunity to see – the Army, Navy and the Air Force. A tour of the HMCS St. John, a currently serving naval frigate, took them past the shores of Halifax Harbour and into the ocean, where the high speeds, cutting swerves and sudden jolts on deck as a result of military maneuvers had them struggling for balance. They witnessed a scene reminiscent of Titanic, where rushing waters flooded a room and the crew raced against the rising waters to plug the hole. At the Damage Control Centre, they were close enough to feel the penetrating heat as Seahawk helicopter burst into flames in a simulation exercise. They took turns struggling to grip onto the fire hose to douse the flames.
They toured the facilities, heard formal presentations, and had the opportunity to speak to them first-hand about what life in the Canadian Forces was like for women – including the sacrifices of leaving family behind when deployed, the loss of friends, the risks of facing real dangers.
“They didn’t undermine how difficult the job was and I was surprised at how transparent they were,” said Maley. “They really let us see what the risks are; they threw open the doors and let people look inside.”
What struck Calvin and Maley most however, was how empowering being a part of the Canadian Forces is, and the number of opportunities it presents to both men and women alike. Every position is open to women in the Canadian Forces with equal pay.
“I always thought that they handpick very strong capable women, but the more women you met onboard, you realize that it wasn’t a matter of handpicking,” said Maley. “The women who choose to do this are of a particular kind of character – very strong, committed military personnel who are very passionate about what they do.”
Among those they encountered were a young woman in her mid-20s who was very passionate about her navigation job on deck, a 48-year-old mother of two who just signed on to the Armed Forces and was excited about embarking on a new challenge, as well as a strong female captain who specifically wanted to work in the artillery.
They were surprised to find out about the strong supports women and men receive if they are deployed overseas, with childcare provisions for single parents. Many preconceptions they had about the Canadian Forces were also dispelled as they learned about opportunities to move within the Canadian Forces into various positions, the option to serve shorter terms, and the option of being deployed overseas or not.
Calvin and Maley not only enjoyed the experience, it opened their eyes to an exciting career opportunity where people have the chance to develop their potential and really make a difference. They both said they will encourage their students to investigate the option in the future.
“I think about how very empowering it is for women and how many opportunities there are for woman whether as a career option or for a short three years,” said Calvin. “Joining the Forces is a choice for women and I would encourage my female students to take a look and see if it’s something they’re interested in.”
As a Police Foundations professor, Maley said it could be particularly good option to many program graduates who, in their early 20s, are too young and lack the experience to be considered by most policing agencies – or any young graduates, for that matter, particularly those in technology, construction, and culinary programs who would like to use their skills.
“I have never been more proud at being a Canadian than seeing the people that serve, getting an opportunity to speak with them one-on-one and seeing that they’re real people,” said Maley. “Everyone was so proud and passionate about what they’re doing … I am still fighting the urge to join the reserves myself.”
Leslie Maley and Judy Calvin relive memories from their Halifax trip by reviewing photos, including the Seahawk fire displayed on the computer monitor.
Canadian Forces facts
· Women can enroll in all occupations in the Canadian Forces including combat arms, and serve in any environment;
· Today, all equipment must be suitable of a mixed-gender force;
· As of July 2010, the percentage of women in the Canadian Forces combined Regular Force and primary Reserve was at 15%;
· Women in the Navy comprise 19.2% of personnel.
· Women today serve on submarines, which didn’t accommodate women until 2001;
· Today, women comprise approximately 10% of personnel deployed on international operations. Gender is not a factor in selection for international deployment; and
· Gender issues are receiving heightened visibility in the Canadian Forces and initiatives are underway that will level the playing field by eliminating discriminating practices and attitudes.
– Points from Canada’s department of National Defence