Sailing with Siblings

Siblings PO2 Thomas Hertel and Capt Monica Phillips on HMCS Ottawa’s quarterdeck. Photo by Capt Jen Jackson, HMCS Ottawa PAO

Siblings PO2 Thomas Hertel and Capt Monica Phillips on HMCS Ottawa’s quarterdeck. Photo by Capt Jen Jackson, HMCS Ottawa PAO

Capt Jenn Jackson, HMCS Ottawa PAO ~

When Captain Monica Phillips received her posting to HMCS Ottawa she knew it was coming with an added experience.

For the first time in their more than 20-year careers, Capt Phillips and her brother Petty Officer Second Class Thomas “Turtle” Hertel were posted to the same unit.

“We had both been posted to the same geographical area before, but Ottawa is the first time we have served in the same unit, same ship,” said Capt Phillips.

“When I came aboard I had to advise the chain of command that Thomas was my brother – they were not even aware. To counter any conflict of interest, I ensure that I keep things transparent, including ensuring there is another person present whenever I need to discuss something with Thomas professionally,” she adds.

Many crew members are not aware of their connection because she goes by her married name.

“There is that moment of shock and surprise when they find out, and it is almost always a funny reaction,” said PO2 Hertel.

Capt Phillips, a Regular Force Physician Assistant who joined in 1998 as a Medical Technician, is the older sibling. But PO2 Hertel, a Marine Technician – Electrical, beat her to the military punch by joining the reserves as an infantry soldier right out of high school in 1992. He then transferred to the Regular Force in his current occupation in 2000. His experiences indirectly influenced his sister’s decision to join.

“I knew I wanted to study medicine, and the military seemed like a great opportunity to do it,” said Capt Phillips. “I thought about becoming a Medical Officer from the beginning, but Turtle complained so much about officers in general, I decided to experience being a member of the ranks first to get a better understanding of what non-commissioned members experience. When my trade of Physician Assistant became a commissioned trade in 2016, that goal was achieved, and I feel I am able to connect with all ranks because of the path I chose.”

For PO2 Hertel, his career in the Canadian Armed Forces took a different track.

“After serving in the Reserves as an infantry soldier and deploying to Bosnia, I decided I wanted to transfer to the Regular Force. I wanted to move into a trade that was more technical and it turned out the navy was a natural fit for that.”

Separated by four years, the siblings grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, but moved in different social crowds. Despite that, even as they each pursued their individual careers, they kept in touch, saying it was like picking up the conversation where it was left off.

“We work in completely different areas of the ship and belong to different messes, so it is rare that we interact when we are sailing,” said PO2 Hertel.

While Ottawa is deployed on Operations Neon and Projection, being posted to the same unit has had an unexpected advantage and a bit of an interesting quirk.

“Knowing both of us are deployed together on the ship has made this deployment easier for our father,” said Capt Phillips. “He takes comfort in knowing we have each other if we need it while we are here.”

One of the challenges is Capt Phillips is the only “Doc” on the ship, although there is also a Medical Technician.

“Prior to deployment, we had to have a mandatory Zika and STD brief. I will admit it can be a little awkward when the person doing the briefing is your big sister,” said PO2 Hertel.

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