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Equestrian rises from Wren to Commander during a 45-year career

Equestrian rises from Wren to Commander during a 45-year career
21 March 2023
FORTY-five years’ service to the Navy and nation are over for stalwart of the Royal Naval Reserve Commander Suzanne Clark.

She leaves the Royal Naval Reserve at HMS Pegasus at the end of a career as a Regular and Reservist totalling 44 years 296 days, 30 of those years in the RNR Air Branch.

Suzanne joined the Royal Naval Reserve at HMS Scotia, Rosyth in 1978, before deciding on a full-time career in 1981 as a Wren (Radar).

Rising through the ranks, she went on to become a commissioned Third Officer and left the Royal Navy as a Lieutenant Air Traffic Controller due to the unsociable hours she and her husband, also an air traffic controller, and they both worked unsociable hours.

It was an honour to lead the platoon during the passing out parade despite not marching for over 20 years and had no idea what to do with a sword – WRNs officers did not carry swords when I was at Dartmouth – but as always this offered opportunity to ‘wing it’… which is what the Air Branch is always good at.

Royal Naval Reserve Commander Suzanne Clark

“It was obvious back in the ‘dark ages’ that remaining in the Service would be incompatible with a young family,” Suzanne explained. “Two watchkeepers requiring childcare well into the early mornings would stretch today’s childcare, let alone in the early ‘90s!”

After leaving the Regular Navy, she joined the RNR Air Branch in March of 1992 and worked part-time for several years at RNAS Portland and RNAS Yeovilton, continuing her career as an Air Traffic Controller, covering for full-time personnel who were on courses, annual leave, and sick leave. She also spent many an hour as a trainer for revalidating and ab-initio Air Traffic Controllers, generally working two to three days a week.

Suzanne said, “I was always destined to re-join the RNR, this time the RNR Air Branch, when I left full time Service.

When her children were older, she took a Job as a Duty Flying Supervisor at Yeovilton as a civil servant (in uniform) before being assigned to the RN’s Battle Staff (now COMUKSTRKFOR).

Although sometimes out of her comfort zone, Suzanne found it an exciting time, working in a variety of operations rooms in bunkers, tents and a mix of establishments both in the UK and abroad.

And she also served as a divisional officer for one of the RNR confirmation courses at HMS Raleigh.

“It was an honour to lead the platoon during the passing out parade despite not marching for over 20 years and had no idea what to do with a sword – WRNs officers did not carry swords when I was at Dartmouth – but as always this offered opportunity to ‘wing it’… which is what the Air Branch is always good at,” Suzanne said.

Promotion to commander to be operational support’s senior staff officer gave her the chance to work more with Maritime Reserves HQ and other Reserve organisations.

Alongside her working life in the RNR, Suzanne has made the most of the Navy’s sporting opportunities, such as skiing with the RNR Air Branch Team.

She’s particularly made her mark in the saddle: a member of the Royal Navy Equestrian Team, for more than 20 years.

Competing for the RN at a variety of competitions in dressage, show jumping and eventing, culminating in being part of the dressage team which won the RN Sports Team of the Year in 2021.

That was the same year team also won the Inter-Services Loriner dressage leg of the competition, while Suzanne won the Royal Navy Equestrian Association’s Kemble Plate Trophy for her achievements in dressage.

“I have been very lucky with my horse, whose previous job was going fast over fixed fences, so dressage has been a big change for him,” she said.

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