Navy couple shares family, command of same ship

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Navy News / December 4, 2017

By Darlene Blakeley

They have made history as a navy couple commanding the same warship, but to Lieutenant-Commanders Chris and Victoria Devita, balancing their busy careers in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) with a happy family life remains their prime objective.

Victoria commanded Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Glace Bay for two years from 2013 to 2015, and her husband Chris took command of the same ship in early August. They were recently told by navy historians that this is the first time married partners have commanded the same warship.

The couple lives in Bedford, N.S., with their two children, Kassandra and Alexander. They are a typical busy navy family and do not find it unusual, or even significant, that they can command a warship in counter-drug operations at sea on one day, and be watching their children dance or play soccer on the next.

In fact, Victoria was at sea for more than half of the 24 months she spent as Glace Bay’s Commanding Officer, taking part in the full range of naval operations from fisheries patrols to international exercises to tracking vessels of interest. When she took over the ship her children were nine and 11 years old.

“At that age, both kids understood the significance of the jobs that Chris and I hold and were supportive in my taking of command,” Victoria says.

She adds that in order to be successful at balancing work and family priorities, several support networks are needed, including military, extended family and community.

“First, our career managers understood the significance of our situation,” she explains. “With this understanding, both the Regular Force career manager and the Reserve career manager tried their best to have only one of us at sea at a time, but this was not always possible.”

For example, when Victoria was the Executive Officer in HMCS Goose Bay, Chris was sent to sea as the Weapons Officer in HMCS Charlottetown. This caused significant issues for the family when Charlottetown was deployed to Libya and Goose Bay was tasked with fisheries patrols and other shorter missions.

“In order to make this work, we had to engage a second support network – family,” she explains. “Neither Chris nor I are from the Maritimes and as such, our extended family lives in Ontario, Saskatchewan and (at the time) Switzerland. However, we were absolutely fortunate that they pulled together and came to take care of our children during times when I needed to sail while Chris was still deployed. Without this support, we would never have been able to succeed.”  

She says their third support network is a combination of their church, community and friends. “While I was in command, Chris had the misfortune of breaking his arm and was, for a short time, unable to do simple things like get groceries or drive the kids to their various activities. Our friends and neighbours offered their help to get things done so that I could remain at sea to complete my mission.”

Like most military couples, Chris and Victoria have come up with ways to cope with the demands of both work and family. They decided early in their relationship that they would try to leave work at work, and not talk about their jobs while at home.

“When I am at home with the kids, I try to focus on what is important to them, ensuring that they feel valued and know that they are loved. Additionally, I manage my time at work in an effort to reduce working after hours whenever possible. This underscores the fact that family time is just as important to me as getting another email out. This philosophy works best with supervisors who have the same viewpoint.”

Victoria says that the Canadian Armed Forces are getting much better at balancing family and work requirements. In fact, this year’s new defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, provides unprecedented support to military members and their families.

“There is definitely a move towards better management of personnel as a whole than in the past, and this has worked out very well for us,” Victoria says.

Victoria couldn’t be prouder of the fact that her husband has taken command of Glace Bay, and jokingly told him “not to scratch my paint.”

As for Chris, getting to command Glace Bay has been “fantastic.” It was his first East Coast ship as a young officer and he sailed in every officer position with the exception of Commanding Officer before switching from the Naval Reserve to the Regular Force navy.

“The fact that my wife once commanded Glace Bay too has made it really feel like coming home,” he says. “A few members of the ship’s company have mentioned to me that it has been a neat experience to ‘sail with both mom and dad’, which has made it fun, but of course you wonder – am I as good as her? I would be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that her shoes are big ones to fill.”

Chris knows that any relationship, no matter what the line of work, can have challenges, but he says that for the most part, they have overcome those challenges through hard work and careful planning. 

“The key is communication, both between Victoria and I, and our extended family, but also with the chain of command. Sometimes what may look like a big problem can be managed fairly easily if everyone has a good attitude, open mind and a bit of flexibility,” he says.

He also thinks that being in the same line of work has its advantages because they can share experiences and offer each other a unique brand of advice and support. 

“While our career tracks have been different, the types of problems and solutions we have worked through have been similar. This has helped from a career point of view, but also on the family side of things too. If one is away the other assumes the role of primary caregiver for the kids.” 

Chris feels it’s important that their children see how they work together to succeed at both work and home. “As they get older they are able to better understand what’s happening and of course are better able to communicate needs and help too. In the end, if you want something bad enough and are willing to work for it, and have a family or team that supports you, it can happen.”

In the meantime, on the bridge of HMCS Glace Bay, Chris is trying hard not to scratch the paint.