RCN sailor shares experience on exchange program in Chile

Navy News / February 27, 2017

By Acting Sub-Lieutenant Jennifer Grant

I recently completed a three-month deployment to Chile with the REGULUS program as a maritime surface/subsurface officer (MARS) in training. During the deployment, I served on two Chilean patrol vessels: Aspirante Isaza and Marinero Fuentealba

The REGULUS program promotes collaboration with allied navies while facilitating a sailor’s transference of learned competencies to operational environments in which missions will be accomplished. In Chile, under the expert guidance of a commandant, training plans employed not only the more traditional strategies of reading and self study, but also a combination of other modes: audiovisual materials, hands-on learning and mentorship/social networking. 

Integrating and working closely with crew was easy. They were professional and fun to work with, perceptive to the fact that I planned for each watch and saw each one as an opportunity to survey, critique and improve my performance. It caused them to reflect on barriers revolving around Chile’s cultural acceptance of new female recruits and created openings for dialogue associated with thoughtful reflection. These discussions were conducted much like a duet, where both I and my mentors spoke about teaching and learning successes, problems and avenues for further development in MARS work, our navies and countries’ societal climate.

Finding out from these discussions that Chilean women had not yet made big inroads in the navy, unlike Canadian women (it was not until 2007 that they were allowed to serve in ships), it was no surprise that I was one of only three females amidst Aspirante Isaza’s crew of 30. Similarly, I found that I was one of two females onboard Marinero Fuentealba. In fact, I was the only female officer amongst its complement of approximately 60 personnel. 

Mentorship devoted to assisting new MARS officers is transformative. Because I was completely engaged in the operational environment, the peer-to-peer interactions periodically found me sandwiched between the crews’ excitement, stress, fear, or anger at unfolding events, and commands. In this context, I was motivated to not let such pressures dictate the rhythm of my watch. Resiliency was necessary.

Confronted by behaviors, gestures and language I didn’t understand, and a heightened sensory awareness, I actively listened while maintaining positive expectations of each watch participant, thereby motivating them. Additionally, being conscious of my solid preparation, I was able to use my interpersonal skills to cast success in light of what we could accomplish together. But I was also conscious of my weaknesses and unafraid to request assistance. With the cooperation of those around me, we buffered adversity together. Indeed, my capacities in decision-making and problem-solving, leadership, planning, conflict exploration, and the blending of institutional cultures was increased, but only because I was immersed in the environment.

I’ve learned that I could read/watch/study all I want about MARS, but still not get the true taste of the job until I was really doing it, when it counts. Nothing compares to having really thrown myself into it. Yes, while I lived in Chile, much of my world changed. Things I thought “just were” no longer applied. Not everybody thought like me, or did things the way I learned them. Even rules or social practices I thought were blatantly obvious were turned upside down.

But, everything that happened, good or not-so-good, was part of the experience of serving in a foreign country – they opened my mind a little more, making me a more well-rounded officer with a global perspective. The advantages of participating in this REGULUS assignment far outweigh the disadvantages. I won’t forget the experience or my new-found friends.