CPO1 Alena Mondelli named Woman of Courage, receiving national award

Halifax Base Chief Petty Officer, CPO1 Alena Mondelli was recognized as a Woman of Courage and one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network. Photo by Joanie Veitch, Trident Staff

Joanie Veitch
Trident News

The award may have her name on it, but for Chief Petty Officer First Class (CPO1) Alena Mondelli, Base Chief at CFB Halifax, being named one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women is a win for all women who work as non-commissioned members (NCM) in the military.

“I’m an NCM. In the civilian world, officers are valued more for their leadership than NCMs are, at least that’s the perception. So it means a lot and it says a lot, especially for women NCMs. We are professionals within the profession of arms. And we are also leaders,” says CPO1 Mondelli. “I see this award as giving value to what we represent. [People think] Sailor First Class Bloggins, she’s not going to be able to relate to an Admiral or a Commodore. But she needs to see herself represented and see what she can aspire to. Representation matters.”

On Oct. 25, CPO1 Mondelli was recognized as a Woman of Courage by the Women’s Executive Network, which called her a “transformational and values-based leader” who “incorporates education and mentorship” in her leadership style. 

To celebrate her win, CPO1 Mondelli joined the other 2021 award recipients in a virtual two-day leadership summit and awards gala held Nov. 24 and 25.

Earlier this year, she made Royal Canadian Navy history when she became the first woman to serve as Base Chief Petty Officer. She is also the first woman in a hard-sea trade to have served every rank at sea, a distinction she earned as Coxswain in HMCS Toronto from July 2018 to August 2019.

Although she can’t say for sure what propelled her to join the military on Nov. 1, 1991, CPO1 Mondelli fondly remembers marching around the living room, as a young girl growing up in Toronto, with her grandfather, a Second World War veteran who had served in the Dutch army. 

“He would put on his helmet and listen to marches. From when I was young, I always said I wanted to join the army and be in the band. That must have been where I first formed the idea,” she recalls.

After joining the navy as a naval radio operator, she was posted to her first ship, HMCS Annapolis, in 1993. Since then she has served on a variety of warships, as well as various shore-based positions, including teaching the Osside Institute of the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.

“I wanted to teach NCMs. I was very vocal about that, and when that opportunity came up, I was there.” 

In her own career, education has been pivotal. Following a “really negative experience” while deployed in HMCS Protecteur, CPO1 Mondelli was thinking of leaving the navy. She decided to stay while working on her Masters degree in Leadership from Royal Roads University, which she completed in 2008.

“That was a turning point for me. I decided to use what I’d learned to be part of the change I wanted to see.”

“Be the change” is a well-known phrase, but for CPO1 Mondelli the words don’t mean much unless action follows. 

While well-documented and ongoing reports of harassment and sexual misconduct within the military have made the need for cultural change a priority for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a whole, as a woman leader in the CAF that discussion has at times been a very personal struggle for her.

“In my 30-year career, I’ve experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour. I’ve experienced the jokes, a lot of that was in my early career. But after a certain rank it became sexism, misogyny, and hate. What that looks like is malicious rumours; it’s defamation of character; it’s lying.”

In mid-November, CPO1 Mondelli added her claim to the sexual misconduct class action lawsuit to compensate current and former CAF members and Department of National Defence staff who experienced sexual misconduct while on the job.

From the time the settlement agreement was approved by the federal court in November 2019, until the claims period closed on Nov. 24, 2021, more than 18,000 claims were submitted.

“I was on the fence about it for a long time. I grew up in the navy in the early 90s. I know that in some way I contributed to that culture. I was fitting in. I was going along. I wanted to be part of the group. But when I submitted my claim and when I saw everything written out in front of me, I thought: ‘Yeah, I’ve had all of this done to me.’ It was eye opening. So for me, this is part of being a leader.”

Where words really matter, she says, is in having difficult, but needed, conversations; talking and listening to one another as the CAF moves through the process of change. “This will take time, but I’m okay with that because by taking our time, it means it will be done right. These are uncomfortable conversations but we’re having them. It’s why I’m still in.”

When she became Base Chief at CFB Halifax in July, CPO1 Mondelli knew she was stepping into a position with considerable influence. At the time she made a vow to herself.

“I decided that I would just be who I am, that I would be authentic and see what comes of that.”


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