Submariners fully integrated

Submariner LS Laura Allan checks some wiring aboard HMCS Victoria.

Submariner LS Laura Allan checks some wiring aboard HMCS Victoria.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Just three months after HMCS Victoria was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in December 2000, the ban on women becoming submariners was lifted.

The small living space had kept them out of the Oberon class submarines because of privacy concerns, but the change in submarines brought a change in mindset, and so the hatch was opened to both genders wanting their Dolphins.

Fast forward 16 years and one can find a handful of women, such as LS Laura Allan and PO2 Stephanie Wheaton, working in the 70 metre-long submarines.

As the only female Electrical Technician onboard submarines, LS Allan works in a cramped engine room in the aft of the sub, ensuring the two diesel generators, and two 240-cell lead acid batteries are operating in top condition. Her job requires her to be physically fit, which she has developed from competitive powerlifting in her free time. The 31-year-old submariner can deadlift 355 lbs and lives by the mantra “nothing is impossible.”

At the other end, in the control room, PO2 Wheaton, 34, supervises junior non-commissioned members in all external voice, radio teletype and data circuits, and provides real-time tactical information in support of operations to the command team, as the Senior Naval Communicator. Naval communicators are the IT department for the submarine and use hi-tech systems to encode and decode signals.

The women are two of 10 out of 275 submariners in the Canadian Submarine Force across Canada, but neither feels they are ground breakers for their gender.

“I don’t really see myself as a pioneer or someone for others to look up to. I am all about doing my job and doing it well,” says PO2 Wheaton.

“I don’t see myself like that either,” adds LS Allan. “I don’t want to be the person who gets promoted or is deemed successful because I am a woman. I want to be the person that people respect for the work I do in the workplace.”

Working underwater for extended periods is not for just anyone. It takes a certain mentality to work in close quarters with 50 members of the crew, in a space no bigger than the average house.

“It’s tight, cramped, and often hot and tense in the engine room, and you also need to deal with the constant smell of fuel, exhaust and body odor,” says LS Allan.

But despite all of that, she says the boat is home to her, and her crewmates are like family.

“I enjoy being a submariner, and have a lot of respect for the people I work with. I have never had an issue being onboard with any one of them.”

Her path to the navy was not a clear one in her early life. Building boats at age 16, she developed an interest in electrical work and the challenges it brought. After earning her high school diploma, she began her electrician’s apprenticeship. During her apprenticeship, she investigated the Royal Canadian Navy and the possibilities of a career as an electrical technician. She joined in 2009, doing her basic training at Saint-Jean before returning to the West Coast.

“I never really saw myself in the military, but when I was learning how to become an electrician I thought it might be a way to see the world and travel,” says LS Allan.

For PO2 Wheaton, the drive and determination to wear the uniform began at age 20. Her first ship was HMCS Montreal as a junior naval communicator. The thought of submarine service percolated for a few years as she eyed the Victoria-Class submarines in Halifax’s HMC Dockyard.

In 2007 she became the fifth female submariner in the country.

“Nobody ever said to me you shouldn’t be here or made me feel unwelcome,” says PO2 Wheaton. “I was more into proving to myself that I could be a valuable member of the team and get the job done.”

LS Allan is single and spends much of her spare time training for powerlifting competitions. PO2 Wheaton is married to a sailor and has one child, with another on the way.

“I have accepted the fact that some of my career goals are briefly being put on hold, I am looking forward to being back next year and fulfilling my duties aboard Victoria,”
she says.

Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.