NAVAL WARFARE OFFICER
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
I’m Lieutenant Navy Jeffrey Anderson from Victoria, B.C. I’m a Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface Officer serving as the Navigating Officer on HMCS Vancouver.
And I’m Lieutenant Navy Michelle Muir from Moncton, New Brunswick. I’m a Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface Officer on board HMCS Montreal.
MUIR: Maritime Surface and Sub-Surface, or MARS Officers, sail all over the world in support of Canada’s naval priorities. Whether it’s anti-piracy deployments off the coast of Africa, sovereignty patrols in Canadian waters or multi-national manoeuvres in the North Atlantic, we are responsible for the command, control and coordination of Maritime Military Operations.
ANDERSON: As a MARS Officer, you’re tasked with all the components of the day-to-day running of the ship or submarine.
MUIR: You can choose to specialise in navigation. You could become an underwater or above water warfare director, an information management director. You could also become a dive officer, so there’s a lot of different options and that’s one of the things that’s great about this career is all the different directions it can take you in.
ANDERSON: It’s living in the moment, thinking on your feet, having the confidence to make decisions about where you’re going, your weapons systems and the other ships and aircraft in the area.
I think I had a strong aptitude towards being a Navigating Officer. I really enjoyed being up on the bridge, I enjoyed all the planning and all the administration that went along with it and it just seemed to be the right fit for me.
MUIR: I don’t think that anything in the civilian world could compare to the excitement and the challenges involved in being a MARS Officer on board a HMCS ship.
MUIR: Being a MARS officer is being a member of a high-performance team controlling where the ship goes, liaising with other ships and other navies and making really important decisions, whether it’s firing weapons, manoeuvring with other ships or hosting a reception in a foreign port with two or three hundred VIPs to promote Canada’s naval objectives.
We had been sent down to the Gulf of Aden once the piracy attacks started getting more frequent and we had a call from a vessel in distress that was being attacked and we steamed at our full speed to get there and basically thwarted the pirate attack. And that was probably one of the highlights of my career so far.
ANDERSON: It takes a lot of hard work with hours of training and a lot of very specialized knowledge, but becoming a MARS Officer is a huge step on the ladder to commanding your own ship some day.
MUIR: To me, what’s amazing is the constant variety of the things you have to do. You’re doing math in your head all the time, maintaining spatial awareness, knowing that there’s another ship two miles away and understanding what’s going to happen.
ANDERSON: You know, there’s a lot of hard work that’s involved with it too, but you really do get to go and see some neat places and do some neat things. The best part of the job is probably going somewhere in tight waters really fast and then shooting the gun at the same time.
MUIR: The pressure is real and you learn from your mistakes and the rewards are awesome.
ANDERSON: Your training to become a MARS Officer involves some of the most varied, intense and challenging courses you’ll find in the Canadian Forces.
MUIR: After your Basic Officer Training, you’ll spend your first year at the Naval Officer Training Centre in Esquimalt, B.C. There are three basic parts to the course: in the classroom, in the simulator and aboard ship.
ANDERSON: You’ll learn seamanship, relative motion, emergency procedures, crew safety, combat operations. You’ll get all of the theory and some practical application under your belt before you get posted to your first vessel.
MUIR: You’ll spend the next two years attached to your first operational ship. That includes your at-sea time, three months at the Naval Operations School in Halifax and your specialized training in navigation, weapons systems, submarine operations and shipboard IT and communications.
ANDERSON: As a junior MARS Officer, you’re going around and trying to do your on-the-job training rec progression, so in order to be a MARS Officer, you really need to know what everybody on the ship does, so that you know who your subject-matter experts are and who your references are and who you can go to for help.
MUIR: It takes about six to eight months to get your Officer of the Day qualification where the captain trusts you to look after his ship alongside the dock. Then, after Naval Ops school in Halifax, you come back aboard to earn your Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate at sea.
When we’re officer of the watch, basically, we have a watch and we’re the captain’s representative on the bridge, so we’re responsible for the ship’s safety, we’re responsible for navigation. We’re responsible for conning which is the actual driving of the ship and we’re responsible for a bridge team. We have to respond to emergencies, we have to respond to them quickly and efficiently to get the ship moving. There’s no feeling like when the captain gives you your bridge watchkeeping certificate and says “Okay, you have the watch”. That’s you know, a pinnacle in your career, that’s one of the most exciting moments – when you have charge over this 5,000+ ton warship and 200+ crew that are onboard.
ANDERSON : I really enjoy going to sea. I really enjoy being with all my friends and my co-workers here on the ship.
MUIR : In the four short years that I’ve been in, I’ve travelled all around the world, I’ve made lasting friendships with people from all over the country and internationally. I’ve fought piracy on the coast of Somalia, I’ve been involved in search and rescue operations. I mean, it’s just amazing what I’ve been able to do.
ANDERSON: I mean, who else is driving around? We’re like the Corvette on the ocean compared to the semi-trucks that are the tankers, right? We’re driving around in the Corvette and our Corvette’s got guns! There’s a lot of really neat things to be done in the Navy, there’s lots of really great opportunities for you to excel in your area of expertise.
MUIR: And I never could have imagined the path that this career would have brought me down, the exciting things that I’ve done and I look back to 5 years ago and I don’t even feel like I’m the same person. It’s just a totally different world for me and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
MARITIME SURFACE AND SUB-SURFACE OFFICER
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES