Lt(N) Denise Dickson: An unexpected career

Navy News / February 8, 2021

Lieutenant (Lt(N)) Denise Dickson, Marine Systems Engineering Officer with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), began her military career almost by accident nearly two decades ago.

“To be honest, in 2003, I didn’t even know that Canada had a navy. I was introduced to the RCN at a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting event at my university. I knew I wanted to get involved. The trade I was interested in had everything I wanted: opportunities to work in an engineering environment, to travel and to have my education paid for.”

In the RCN, the primary role of a marine systems engineer is to provide technical expertise, advice and leadership in support of day-to-day naval operations and maintenance of marine systems in ships and submarines, modernization of the fleet, replacement of naval marine systems and equipment, and maintenance of the infrastructure needed to support naval operations and missions. 

For Lt(N) Dickson, colleagues and camaraderie make the RCN an unparalleled environment.

“I know we say that a lot, but it’s true. Where else could you meet Canadians from so many different backgrounds, and face so many different challenges together? You can meet professionals who have worked in the same organization for 20 or 30 years. They are amazing, and they have wonderful stories to tell.”

Lt(N) Dickson’s experiences in uniform have been both varied and surprising.

“My first time at sea on a warship is my most memorable experience. I was on my Naval Engineering Indoctrination course. We were supposed to leave Halifax for three weeks and go to St. John's and Corner Brook (in Newfoundland). Then we were reassigned to Operation CHABENAL. At the time, we didn’t know anything about it (the drug interception operation). We picked up some RCMP members, left Corner Brook and came back to Halifax two and a half months later. I learned about so much on that mission: the fight against drugs, arresting drug traffickers, and the importance of packing for three months even if the trip is only supposed to last a few weeks.”

Other memorable experiences include her time on board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Protecteur, an operational support ship with a long history that has since been decommissioned, to join Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 in the Gulf of Oman.

“When I was posted to HMCS Protecteur, its mission was to go around the world to support Canadian operations and those of our allies. HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Calgary left Victoria (in British Columbia), passing by the Panama Canal to meet up with HMCS Iroquois and CTF 150 in the Gulf of Oman to take our position and support our allies in the fight against terrorism and piracy,” Lt(N) Dickson says.

Their itinerary took them through the Suez Canal, which seemed to take forever, she says. Some crew members had to wear firefighting equipment at all times – in hot weather. 

“The firefighting equipment was worn nonstop for three full days while we took shifts. Let’s just say that when we came back, that equipment was the first to be dry-cleaned.”

According to Lt(N) Dickson, “there are so many opportunities in the RCN for professional growth. My experiences have given me the skills and confidence I need to manage considerable budgets and face the many challenges inherent to a Navy officer’s work.”