Lt(N) Gillian Herlinger: Persevere and stick with it

Navy News / November 19, 2020

Lieutenant (Navy) (Lt(N)) Gillian Herlinger joined the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) at just 19 years old, because she had always been drawn to non-traditional jobs and activities, and because she had made a pact with a friend.

“A friend had been a Sea Cadet and told me that he had always thought of joining the Naval Reserve,” recalls Lt(N) Herlinger.

“We agreed to join the reserves together, but in the end, he kept procrastinating. So one day I just walked into the recruiting office without him. He never did join, and I ended up enjoying it so much that I transferred to Regular Force two years later.”

Lt(N) Herlinger has had a storied career over her 25 years of service in which she has served in many different roles.

“I originally joined as a sonar operator, but halfway through my career I applied for the University Training Program for Non-Commissioned Members (NCM) and was accepted to become a Naval Warfare Officer (NWO),” said Lt(N) Herlinger.

“I found NWO training and the subsequent quest for a bridge watchkeeping ticket very challenging. As an NCM and a university student, I had never failed anything in my career. There were times when I was certain I would never make it, but in the end, I did.”

However, Lt(N) Herlinger was not alone in achieving this success, as she had the support of her navigating officer aboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Vancouver, Lt(N) Amy Clements.

“She was someone for whom mentorship came so naturally she made it look effortless. She put so much work into helping me, as well as all the other sub-lieutenants.”

With time, Lt(N) Herlinger was able to overcome the challenges of her new role in the RCN because of the way the RCN approaches its training and education programs.

“One of the things about the Navy is that we believe that we can train almost anybody. If a candidate isn’t successful at something, or doesn’t have a natural aptitude they are encouraged to keep at it until they succeed,” she explained.

“Our training and qualification system is based on the understanding that failure is not an absolute, but rather something that makes us better and stronger. In the end I just persevered, studied hard and stuck with it.”

Among the highlights of her career is her last posting as a deck officer (DeckO) on HMCS Ottawa.

“I’m pretty sure that when it’s all said and done, and I’ve retired from the Navy, I’ll probably say that my favourite job was the one I just finished as DeckO on a deployed frigate. I really enjoyed my time as HMCS Ottawa’s DeckO.”

Additional highlights include all the places of the world Lt(N) Herlinger has been able to visit  with the RCN such as Australia, Chile, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Pago Pago, Singapore and Thailand, and the lifelong friendships she’s been able to foster over the years. She’s also been thankful to have had opportunity to play Canadian Armed Forces Women’s Hockey for most of her career.

“When I was nine years old, I desperately wanted to play hockey. So my parents took me to the local arena to find out how I could play. The program coordinator, a patronizing white-haired lady, looked down at me through her tortoiseshell glasses and said ‘I’m sorry, dear. Girls don’t play hockey. How about figure skating’,” recalled Lt(N) Herlinger.

“No child should ever be told that they aren’t allowed to do something or be something because they are female, or for any other discriminatory reason.”

When asked what she would say to someone considering joining the RCN, Lt(N) Herlinger had this to offer.

 “Go for it! This isn’t just a fantastic career, it’s an incredible life. I think today’s young people sometimes shy away from a military career because they see the military as some kind of old school authoritarian organization, which isn’t what young people today are about. Well, believe it or not, the military is not the way you’re imagining it. It’s a really, really good place for young people, especially those people who are having a hard time finding fulfilment in more traditional job settings.”