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Royal Navy captains talk of pride at commanding training establishments

The Royal Navy has four women commanding its four training establishments for the first time in its history. Picture: Keith Woodland
22 July 2022
Four captains in the Royal Navy have spoken of their pride at being able to inspire recruits and trainees who are at the start of their military careers.

Captains Suzi Nielsen, Catherine Jordan, Sarah Oakley, and Jo Deakin are marking their time in command of the navy’s four training establishments by ensuring all personnel, regardless of their background, are prepared for life in the Senior Service. 

In a historic moment for the Royal Navy, this is the first time HMS Raleigh, Britannia Royal Naval College, HMS Sultan, and HMS Collingwood have all been commanded by women.

And although this landmark moment is an achievement for the captains, they see it as being the norm for the navy’s future. 

Captain Jordan, commanding officer of HMS Collingwood, in Fareham, said: “The good thing about us all being in this position now, is that there’s a high probability it will happen again.”

“It’s a beautiful coincidence in that it’s a moment in time but not the moment in time,” added Captain Deakin, commanding officer of Gosport’s HMS Sultan. 

“It’s a nice thing to recognise but there’s so much more to celebrate in terms of opportunity and what’s going on for recruits going through training now.”

The captains said when they joined in the 1990s and early 2000s they never saw themselves being in these positions, not because of their gender but because they were unsure what the future held. 

And reflecting on their careers, they said they were encouraged to always achieve what they could.

Captain Jordan added: “When I was going through flying training with the Fleet Air Arm there weren’t many women at that stage but there was never a thought a woman couldn’t be where I am today.”

Captain Deakin, with her background in engineering, says her appointment as commander of the marine and air engineering school, was an exciting moment. 

“I am proud to be a senior engineer in this position,” she said.

“I am very passionate about my profession and what that means for people joining. The Royal Navy provides great STEM opportunities for the nation and that’s as much something to celebrate as much as any gender perspective.”

It’s a beautiful coincidence in that it’s a moment in time but not the moment in time

Captain Jo Deakin, commanding officer of HMS Sultan

And with more female recruits joining Raleigh and BRNC, the captains see the future of the Royal Navy being more diverse.

Captain Oakley, Captain of BRNC, said: “When I had the new entrants stood in front of me on the parade ground at Dartmouth at the beginning of May, we had approximately 25 per cent women in that cohort which is fantastic. 

“When we joined, it was probably about 10 per cent and changing the dynamics from 10 per cent to 25 per cent actually joining up is a really positive story.”
She added the focus is on retaining those individuals and ensuring they have the support they need through training – regardless of their gender. 

“Support is really important and even if we continue to build on this positive momentum of recruiting lots more females, we’re still going to be in the minority to an extent,” Captain Nielsen, commanding officer of Cornwall-based HMS Raleigh, said.

“So the work is how to empower those females? How do we make them feel more comfortable? How can they deliver in those situations that might feel a bit new? It’s about how can we better prepare them for the rigours that come with that responsibility and I think that’s where we are continuing to do a lot more.”

She added: “But it’s not just about being female. We had a lot of fantastic male role models as well. 

“We are those people now and with that comes a responsibility to inspire and to support and to make sure that whatever our experiences are are cascaded down so it becomes the norm.”

Reflecting on if women should be encouraged to join the Royal Navy, Captain Oakley said they should and it’s a career she would suggest to her nieces. 

“The navy has given me such amazing opportunities and if others could have even half the opportunities, I would be delighted for them,” she said.


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