Royal Canadian Navy names first woman to position of base chief petty officer

·3 min read
Alena Mondelli has served almost 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. (CBC - image credit)
Alena Mondelli has served almost 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. (CBC - image credit)

For the first time in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy, a woman has been appointed to the position of base chief petty officer.

Alena Mondelli accepted her new role at a change-of-appointment ceremony Thursday morning at CFB Halifax.

"I have broken many layers of glass in the RCN for women non-commissioned members," Mondelli said in her speech at the ceremony. "It really wasn't my intention to break glass, I just did the best with what I had."

Mondelli said the position comes after years of fighting to be where she is today.

"It's been very different experience [for me] than most of my male colleagues," she said. "There's been a lot of hard work and having to be better than everyone else just to get the job done. But it's also been very satisfying and very validating."

Department of National Defence
Department of National Defence

The base chief petty officer acts as the base commander's primary adviser on all matters pertaining to non-commissioned Canadian Armed Forces members. Mondelli will also be the base's chief disciplinarian and is responsible for the morale and welfare of all members at CFB Halifax, the country's largest military base by population.

"For many years I didn't want the label 'first woman' or 'first female,'" Mondelli said. "I felt that it put the focus on my gender and not my performance."

Mondelli has spent nearly 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. She was promoted to petty officer second class in 2002 and worked for many years as a naval communicator. She has worked at military bases in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Halifax. She has also worked on several Canadian military ships throughout her career.

She takes over her new role from outgoing Base Chief Petty Officer Kent Gregory, who broke barriers himself when he took over the position at CFB Halifax three years ago.

"As I see it, being the first openly gay base chief petty officer within the Royal Canadian Navy, nothing could further demonstrate the navy's commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace," said Gregory, as he addressed the small crowd gathered for the ceremony.

Gregory told CBC News that it's bittersweet to leave, but he plans on becoming an ordained minister.

"I am proud to be handing over my duties and responsibilities to the first woman base chief petty officer in Royal Canadian Navy history."

A lot of work ahead 'to regain trust'

Mondelli is taking on this new role amid ongoing investigations into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military and said it's a very emotional time for members.

"We have a very strong values base within our Canadian Armed Forces, [if] we believe in that and then we work to that and be authentic in how we lead, I think that will be our road to success to regain trust and to help build up what we need to to go forward," she said.

Capt. Sean Williams was appointed as CFB Halifax's base commander last year.

"We have a real challenge ahead of us and recognize that and we're working really hard to work through that and improve our institution," Williams said during the ceremony.

"Having someone like her, with the background that she has is really an incredible opportunity for her to be a role model to our soldiers, sailors and aviators, but also a really great opportunity for people to have that perspective available to us for advice and council and I think we really stand to benefit from her being in this prestigious position."

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