Petty Officer 1st Class Monika Quillan

Sailor Profile / December 2, 2013

When Petty Officer 1st Class Monika Quillan joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) 21 years ago, she had no idea that she would set in motion a number of firsts for women in her trade.

PO1 Quillan immigrated from Poland to Brantford, Ont., at the age of 12 and joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) immediately following high school. She was the first female to enter the Marine Engineering Technology Training Program and would soon pave the way to even greater success.

“I enrolled with no concept of the trade I had chosen,” says PO1 Quillan. “I was guided by a CF recruiter, who said that my strengths in math and physics made me a good fit for engineering.”

Since joining, PO1 Quillan has started a family, sailed from both the east and west coasts aboard four naval vessels, deployed on two NATO missions, and continued to advance in her trade. Most recently PO1 Quillan achieved the final and most challenging step in her career progression, reaching another milestone for both herself and the RCN: she became the first female to acquire the Marine Engineer Artificer Certification 4 (CERT 4) accreditation.

Throughout her career, PO1 Quillan has remained modest in her achievements. “It certainly is significant,” she says. “But, if I had to look at my peers, I’ve done what they’ve done. There have been others before, I just happen to be the first female.”

The certification involves a one-year rigorous process of testing and training, after which a presentation must be made to a final board. As such, the confidence and support of her supervisors was essential to PO1 Quillan’s success. “I received a lot of guidance,” she explains. “No-one wants to send you to school to fail. The CERT 4 is the most intense part of the trade and you have to prove yourself to a lot of people.”

As the Marine Systems Engineering Regulating Petty Officer in HMCS Athabaskan, PO1 Quillan is an integral member of the Engineering department. Her areas of responsibility include overseeing the main propulsion, auxiliary and ancillary machinery, as well as supervising personnel. She is only one of three females in her department.

PO1 Quillan’s work does not stop on board ship. Her primary duty is mother to her 10 and 15-year-old sons. Both PO1 Quillan and her husband are members of the CAF, which makes balancing home with work a bigger challenge.

“The military is very accommodating,” explains PO1 Quillan. “They provide maternal leave and many other benefits that allow flexibility. It is challenging when you get deployed, but I have an encouraging husband who understands what I’m going through as a CAF member, so we work around it.”

For PO1 Quillan, a strong support system, perseverance and optimism have allowed her to maintain a successful work-life balance. “If you are open to hard work and possibilities, the doors will open despite the rough seas you may encounter,” she says. “Everyone faces obstacles; you just have to find a way to overcome them.”