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Meet first female chief engineer of a major warship: Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Monika Quillan

Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Monika Quillan is a pioneer in every sense of the word. Her 25-year career in the Royal Canadian Navy is a record of firsts for women in the Marine Engineering trade.

Quillan’s journey to become the first female to enter the Marine Engineering Technology Training Program began when she migrated to Canada from Poland at the age of 12. In her new homeland, she excelled in sciences and math, a talent that led her to join the Marine Engineering Technology Training Program in 1990.

“It was my first exposure to engineering programs available and an option that inspired me to join. I realized that this would give me the opportunity to serve and still graduate as a Marine Technologist. Having a year under my belt, with pretty good grades, it was a good choice for the forces and I was accepted to the program,” said Quillan.

Her admittance into the program paved the way for the feats she was going to achieve in her trade, namely, Quillan became the first female to be employed as a chief engineer of a major warship. Over the course of her career, she’s been deployed countless times, served on numerous naval vessels and stationed both on the west and east coast.

Through the progression in her career, she also became the first female to acquire the Marine Engineer Artificer Certification 4 accreditation, a challenging feat to accomplish.

Though the certification involved rigorous training and testing, Quillan says one of the most significant challenges of her careers has been balancing work with raising a family, especially since her husband is also a serving member of the CAF.

“At the beginning of my career it was raising young children and having a military spouse, who was deployed many times, now being away from my children as they are moving through their milestones and becoming young adults, the challenge is the balancing of career commitments and family life.  But I have an extremely supporting husband who understands and has been there for me every step of the way, which makes it easy to transit from home to deployment.  My family is healthy and happy, so it allows me to concentrate more on my job here and the welfare of my department.  For that I am truly thankful,” noted the mother of two.

In her 25 years in the RCN, one of Quillan’s most cherished memories is her first deployment on HMCS Iroquois on a NATO mission in 1999, a deployment where she made lasting friendships. Her current deployment as chief engineer on HMCS ATHABASKAN is also something that will remain with her.

“I love my department, and I love the people in it.  Maintaining a 43-year-old propulsion plant has been a constant challenge, but the lessons I have learned here, I will be able to apply throughout the rest of my career, and hopefully pass on.  At the moment, this department is my family on daily basis when we are at sea.  Our department is truly interesting and fun,  there is never a dull moment, there is never a lack of conversation or laughter.  It’s full of unique individuals, who come from various backgrounds and pasts with plenty to bring to the plate,” said Quillan.

Quillan acknowledges that being the first female chief engineer in the Navy is a big milestone in the CAF, and she hopes “I didn’t disappoint anyone.” But for Quillan it was never about the glory, at the end of the day, she’s just doing her job.

“On a personal level, I am just doing the job I was trained for.  I actually don’t real put much thought to it.  I really don’t like to stand out.  Most of my time in the military I just wanted to blend in,” noted Quillan.

Quillan’s secret receipt to success is a simple one, and one she recommends to other women in the CAF.

“Stay true to yourself, stay loyal to your command, and always look out for the welfare of your sailors/troops, observe other leaders that you admire, and learn from them, sounds pretty motherly, but hey it worked for me,” said Quillan.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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