IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
I’m Leading Seaman Jake Cotter from Toronto, Ontario, a Naval Communicator serving on board HMCS Halifax.
And I’m Master Seaman Kareem Negm originally from Cairo, Egypt. I’m a Naval Communicator currently working as an instructor at the Canadian Forces Fleet School, Esquimalt.
NEGM: As Naval Communicators or Nav Comms, we’re right in the centre of the fast-paced action on the bridge and in the Communications Control Rooms of Canadian destroyers and frigates and in submarines.
COTTER: Nav Comms combine expertise in the latest computer and satellite messaging technologies with traditional naval communication skills, such as signalling by flaghoist, flashing Morse code by lights and over-the-air voice operations.
The communicator on the bridge is just one part of the job. When you’re up there, you’re handling the voice circuits with the other ships, which means that you’re on the radio with them, passing the orders, from your officer of the watch out through the circuit to the communicator on the other ship who passes it to their officer of the watch. When stuff happens, you don’t have the time to sit back and look up in the book and try to figure out what’s the right thing to do. You have to know what the correct signal is, right now, especially if something emergency happens – there’s a man overboard at sea or there’s a fire on board or there’s something – there’s simply isn’t time to look it up. You’re just picking up the radio and calling it.
The environment in the CCR, the communications control room, is different. This is where we work the radios. It’s also where we do most of the IT – the information technology stuff on board, so there’s always something going on in here and it’s very technical. And sometimes you’re here for 7 hours and it feels like 7 minutes.
NEGM: In this day in age, the emphasis has been more on the new communication methods, so a lot of IT, a lot of computers, a lot of new technologies that enable us to communicate better, communicate faster.
COTTER: I like to say that as Nav Comms, we’ve got the coolest tools in the sandbox. Combine that with the Navy lifestyle and the world travel and this is one great job.
COTTER: Everything that comes through the ship comes through you. Whether it’s the satellites or the radios or the flashing light, if anyone’s talking – you’re there.
I love the IT aspect as well. The fact that we are the first ones to access all the new technologies that come along yet we still maintain those traditional naval signaling methods like signal flags and flashing lights. On any given day, you can go from Morse code to satellites -- and that’s really cool.
With our communications and IT expertise, we easily backfill into Army deployments, for example, in Afghanistan and anywhere else they need us. There are also opportunities for specialty training in everything from advanced computer networking technologies, to cryptographic equipment, to SCUBA diving.
NEGM: It’s not necessarily that you’re living an adventure every single day of being in the Navy, but you’re definitely in situations that a lot of people in their regular day-to-day jobs don’t find. For instance, it’s not every day that you get to be part of a boarding party and get to search a dhow. It’s not every day that you get to dive on a warship looking for a mine, for instance.
NEGM: To serve as a Naval Communicator, you don’t have to be a computer geek or radiohead going in. After your basic military and naval training, you’ll head out to Esquimalt, B.C., for the training you’ll need in radio theory and computer skills and how they fit into the Navy mission.
COTTER: The Naval Communications Course covers everything from Communications and IT Security to fleet manoeuvring at sea.
You also have to know how to do Officer-of-the-watch manoeuvres and ship manoeuvring aboard and flaghoist, and Morse code and you also have to be comfortable with computers, so you’re always learning new stuff.
COTTER: When you leave Fleet School, you’ll be assigned to a ship stationed in either Esquimalt or Halifax. The first posting as a Naval Communicator lasts two to three years. It’s your first taste of life at sea.
NEGM: You’d go through a one-in-two watch system, so you’d work 7 hours, and then you have 7 hours to yourself which you’d sleep, do laundry, watch movies, send emails home and then you’d go back to work for 5 hours and then have another 5 hours off.
COTTER: On board a warship, Nav Comms don’t just spend all their time wearing a headset. You’re also part of the ship’s damage-control organization and like all sailors, we do our share in cleanup teams. You may also be assigned to take part in search and rescue situations, force protection, boarding operations and mid-ocean replenishment operations.
When you sail, even as a brand new ordinary seaman, you can find your ship going to the Persian Gulf, you can find your ship going to a NATO which means you’re going to all sorts of ports all over the world and now increasingly, what most people are finding is that they’re going out and they’re going on a ship that’s going on anti-piracy patrols. So right after you just finished your course, suddenly you’re out there and you’re saving lives.
COTTER: Every so often, I’ll be on the bridge at sea doing firings where they’re firing off the main gun and I’m thinking to myself, Wow, I actually get to be here and I’m actually being a part of this and it seems so amazing.
NEGM: Within my first few years, I did two Gulf deployments: one to the Persian Gulf and then the other one to the Gulf of Aiden and all the stops along the way which included most of Asia and Middle Eastern countries as well. I’ve also been to Hawaii and, of course, down south to California, so definitely the travel is there.
COTTER: The only thing that I really regret is that I, after I got out of school, I spent so much time sort of kicking around from one nothing job to another. If I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time – not to mention the fact that the money is excellent.
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES