Tag Archives: Royal Navy

Why does Pride still matter in 2016?

This article was written for the charity Human Rights at Sea in preparation for the Pride season this year. Since it was written the horrendous attacks on the LGBT community in Orlando took place- a very real reminder that there is still a long way to come in terms of acceptance.

The UK has come a long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of equal rights for the LGBT+ community. There have been some huge steps towards equality with the equalising of the age of consent to 16 years old in 2001, transgender people being able to legally change their gender in 2005 and the introduction of equal marriage in 2014. The UK is now one of the most liberal countries with respect to equal rights for LGBT+ people. However, with that comes the question: Do we still need to have Pride events? Surely, everything we’ve been campaigning for over the last few decades has been achieved so why does Pride still matter?RFA personnel and Head of Service at London Pride 2015

This photographs shows the RFA contingent with the Head of Service, Commodore Rob Dorey, before marching with the Naval Service at London Pride 2015.

 

The answer is remarkably simple. If people feel that they can’t be themselves in either their personal or professional lives, then there is still a need to campaign for change. Despite all the partying, rainbows and frivolity, Pride events are integral to driving through change and increasing acceptance of LGBT+ people. It’s about being able to stand up and say ‘I am who I am and I am proud of it’. From a personal point of view, wearing full uniform and marching through London with the Naval Service was a real stand out moment in my life and something that would have been impossible prior to the lifting of the ban on homosexuals in the Armed Forces in 2000. As a member of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, I am included in the Royal Navy’s COMPASS network despite being a civilian. The RFA is a unique organisation that sits in-between the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy: neither one thing nor the other. My experiences of being ‘out’ in the RFA and Naval Service are well documented and have been very positive but how reflective of the Merchant Navy are those experiences? Given that I’m a female and I sail with the RFA, you could argue that they’re not at all representative of the Merchant Navy.

 

History tells us that gay men have always been at sea, the stereotyped view of the gay sailor is almost ingrained in our culture but what is it like to be a gay man in the Merchant Navy in 2016? I spoke with a man in his mid-thirties who sails with a multi-national crew doing worldwide voyages. His experiences have been wildly different to mine. He is gay and wishes to remain anonymous. Despite being out to close friends and family, he doesn’t feel he can be out at work and crucially he’s never met another gay shipmate. There is the chance that he may well have sailed with many other gay people but the fear of not being accepted, may have meant his colleagues also weren’t able to come out.  He feels that knowing there was someone else on board, or even in the company, who was gay may help him to be more open about his sexuality. Simple but important things like his employer having robust LGBT+ policies would also make it easier for him to be open and himself at work. Luckily he hasn’t had any cause to have to consult the non-existent policies but that doesn’t detract from the need for a company to show that they treat everyone equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

The need for positive role models in the maritime industry is clear and whilst there is still a reluctance for people to bring their whole self to work, Pride events are still important. I look forward to the day when my colleagues in the Merchant Navy will wear their uniforms with pride and march through the streets without fearing that their working lives will suffer because of their gender or who they fall in love with.

RFA BRNC Dartmouth Course

When I first tell people that I work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) the first thing people ask is “Don’t you mean the RAF?”. After explaining what I do, I’m then asked “I thought you said you weren’t in the Royal Navy, so why were you at Dartmouth and what did you do?”  It’s a good question and it’s one that I am only able to answer now that I’ve been there and come out the other side. There was very little information available as to what to expect, and those seemingly in the know muttered things about ‘learning how to use a knife and fork’. It was of course much, much more than that and most people weren’t expecting the course to be anything like it was.  I write this post in the hope that it will provide future intakes with some useful information. 

I’m going to start at the end: the photograph below shows my Passing Out Parade at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth back in November 2013 and it marked the end of an 8 week course that all new Officer entrants to the RFA have to do. It’s a condition of employment to attend this course whether you’re already a qualified Officer, starting a Cadetship or an RFA rating becoming an Officer. It’s worth noting that where relevant, your employment with the RFA starts the day you report at BRNC.

RFA BRNC Passing Out Parade

In a very busy 8 weeks the RFA course at BRNC covers: Leadership; Communication; Teamwork; Roles of the RFA & RN; History of the RFA; Seamanship; Etiquette; Ceremonial Training (Drill); Meteorology & Fitness. All very worthwhile and useful stuff but the bigger question is how all this fits together…

EDIT: THIS COURSE HAS NOW CHANGED. THE LEADERSHIP ELEMENT IS NOW MOSTLY BASED ON THE RIVER. THE RFA COURSE IS A CONSTANTLY CHANGING BEAST.

Week 1 You arrive at BRNC on a Saturday wearing a suit and get an introduction to BRNC and both the RN & RFA. Your uniform will be in your cabin waiting for you. From now on, you will refer to BRNC as a ship and apply all appropriate naval terms (get your hands on a copy of ‘Jackspeak’, it’ll come in handy). The RFA course starts two weeks into the first phase  of the RN Commissioning course, a phase of 10 weeks known as ‘Militarisation’, you will spend a lot of time with your RN counterparts – talk to them, you have things to learn from them and vice versa. You’ll get talks from various high ranking Officers both RN and RFA, fill in loads of paperwork and you’ll start lectures delivered by Royal Marines from the Royal Naval Leadership Academy. It is crucial that you listen to the lectures and lessons from the Leadership Academy and then DO EXACTLY AS YOU’RE TOLD. There is also the fitness tests… you will be required to complete the Royal Navy Fitness Test (RNFT), which is a 1.5 mile run. Whilst you don’t have to pass it to complete the RFA course, you will find yourself resitting it every weekend until you do. You’ll also get the delights of the swimming test, again you don’t have to pass it but resitting is a tad inconvenient. 

Week 2 After applying EXACTLY WHAT YOU’VE BEEN TOLD from the lessons by the Marines you will be heading off with your RN colleagues to complete the Basic Leadership Development package or BLD– Carried out at Okehampton Battle Camp in Dartmoor. You will be staying in an Army training camp and being taught basic infantry skills such as living in the field, why things are seen, rations and making a shelter. Be under no illusions, it will be everything you’ve ever imagined about Army – 20 man rooms, basic shower facilities, wearing combat uniform, and being outside in whatever the weather has to throw at you. Yes, you didn’t join the Army and sure, you’ll be cold but this is how the military ‘does’ leadership. It makes you cold and uncomfortable and then asks you to make decisions, solve problems and lead your team. And yes, I am well aware that the RFA are civilians and I am sure you will hear some grumbling about being cold, wet, hungry, miserable and not ‘signing up for this’. Just remember that you did sign up for this, you joined a very specialised organisation that works shoulder to shoulder with the RN. The RFA cadets have it easier compared to the RN – we don’t carry full bergens, webbing or a weapon. BLD ends with two days ‘bivvying’ in the grounds of BRNC, getting very little sleep and completing two days of practical leadership tasks.

Week 3 Is mostly about basic boat handling in motor whalers and lectures covering all facets of the Royal Navy operations including Royal Marines, Logistics and Maritime ops. Finally, you’ll get to do some boaty type things, and it’s a very welcome break from BLD the week before.

Week 4 Sees your newly acquired boating skills developed as you learn manoeuvres in a bigger boat, expanding on the basics taught in the previous week. You’ll also get a series of Strategic Studies lectures which cover naval history and the Falklands campaign including lessons learnt and the RFAs role in it. In English lessons you’ll cover basic grammar rules and learn how to present to your peers, culminating in a 5 minute presentation to the group on a defence subject. There’s also a series of lectures out the RFA itself covering:manning levels; career progression and the appointing system.

Week 5 More time on the River Dart, (I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun) with an introduction to big ship seamanship.  anchoring, buoy jumping and a mock light line transfer Replenishment at Sea (RAS). RFA Specific seamanship is also taught to highlight the differences between the two organisations. There’s also a  RIB acquaint and clay pigeon shooting.

Week 6 This is pretty heavy academic week with further Strategic Studies, meteorology and Ship Technology lessons and you have to pass a test about the RFA.

Week 7 sees you return to Dartmoor to complete the the Assessed Basic Leadership Exercise (ABLE) which involves a march carrying your bags followed by 3 nights on Dartmoor where you’ll have to lead 2 practical leadership tasks per student. Again, just do exactly as you’ve been told before – if the Marines tell you to sleep in trainers and socks, then that is what you should do. This is the big one of the RFA course and this is the assessment of you as a leader and a team member. It is hard and you will be tired but you’ll also feel a massive sense of pride when you finish it. You will be completing ABLE alongside your RN colleagues, talk to them, help where you can – however hard you’re finding it, they’re probably finding it worse. RFA cadets carry daysacks but RN ones carry full kit at all times including webbing and a weapon. RN cadets regulary get ‘beastings’ from the Marines but because we’re civvies, we don’t. Believe me when I say that having to stand and watch your colleagues get a beasting is a humbling experience. You should feel justifiably proud to have completed ABLE.

Week 8 The time has flown by and every morning this week will see you doing doing ceremonial training practise for the Pass out Parade on Thursday. There is also a Maritime leadership exercise involving up to 3 boats being deployed on the river building stuff you learned in week 3. It may be the last week but there’s still time to work on team building and leadership - you’ll spend a morning dangling from ropes on the high ropes course.

And suddenly you’re on the parade square at BRNC in front of your family and friends having successfully completed the RFA Initial Officer’s course. It’s a proud moment and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are my top tips for the RFA at BRNC Course:

  • Bring suitable clothing, you’ll spend all your evenings in ‘dog robbers’ – think chinos, tie & blazers (minus tie for the girls though).
  • Be prepared to be eating your meals in a very grand hall, wearing smart clothes
  • Work on your fitness. Passing the RNFT in week one will keep your stress levels down.
  • You will be issued some Army combat boots before you start the course – make sure you break them in. You will be thankful for it on BLD.
  • Take a kettle and brew making facilities.
  • You will have your own cabin but take things to make it feel more like home. Photographs, duvet covers etc
  • Invest in decent waterproof black gloves. You won’t be able to use them for BLD but you will be very grateful for them on ABLE.
  • Same for a headtorch with a red filter!
  • Same for dry bags! (Think canoeing)
  • Compression shorts are an excellent choice of underwear for long days on the moors (reduces/eliminates chafing).
  • Buy the most expensive iron you can afford.
  • When you buy sandwich bags (it’s on the kit list) get the ones that press to close not the zip ones. You will need more than you think you will.
  • You don’t need to spend money on a fountain pen, you don’t really need one…
  • Don’t bother with denim, it’s the devil’s cloth.
  • Do exactly what you’re told to do and nothing more/less.

There are things that I’ve not detailed here but I don’t want to completely ruin the surprise: Good luck and enjoy!

RFA Cadetships: The application process

For those of you who are interested in joining the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the application process is as follows:

1. Call RFA hotline to determine eligibility to apply: 08456 040520, 0900 to 2100 Monday to Sunday except Bank Holidays.

2. Receive application pack, fill it in and post it off.

3. If your application passes a paper sift, you’ll be invited to take the Royal Navy Recruit Test (RT) at an Armed Forces Careers Office (AFCO) near you. You sit the test, leave and the AFCO will pass on your score to RFA recruiting, you do not find out this score.

4. If RT is passed you will be invited down to Portsmouth for a sift interview with RFA recruiting where they will assess your suitability for a cadetship and whether to put you forward for the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB).

5. AIB. Three days of Officer Selection to look forward too and it as at this point you will have a fitness test. Be prepared to sit the bleep test, which is scored by age and gender. Whilst there is no pass mark for the RFA, you are assessed on effort – it’s not too much of a challenge to work on your fitness before going to AIB… You will be told whether you have passed or failed the AIB at the end of the three days but if you pass it doesn’t mean you have been successful in getting a cadetship. It’s a very good sign but you’re not there just yet.

6. Conditional offer of a job from the RFA subject to a few things namely: getting an MCA ENG1 medical with no limitations; a security check; innoculations and getting a discharge book.

7. Once all the paperwork is in and clearance given, the RFA will make you a formal offer and send you your contract. It’s a condition of employment that you attend a two month course at BRNC Dartmouth. These currently run twice a year in September and May.

Presuming you make it that far and once BRNC is a mere memory, you will start the civilian phase of your training at Fleetwood Nautical College.

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RFA Cadetships: Training

As many of you know I’ve recently fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by joining the military, except that I haven’t really because I’ve joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) which is a civilian manned MOD owned fleet. It’s pretty warry for a civilian job, we go to war zones, wear uniform and have big guns but we’re still civvies at the end of the day. The RFA is a unique organisation that lies somewhere between the Merchant fleet and the Royal Navy, because of this my training will consist of both civilian and military courses. Most people I’ve spoken too are pretty confused as to what I’ll be doing over the next few years so I thought a blog post would be useful.

I’ve joined the RFA as a Deck Officer Cadet and I’ll be training to become an ‘Officer of the Watch’ meaning I’ll be responsible for the safety of the crew and the ship for each of the four hour periods I’m in charge on the bridge. I’ll be trained to use advanced satellite navigation systems, how to assess weather conditions, to conduct Replenishments at Sea (RAS), moor the ship and how to load cargo.

The first stage of my cadetship was a two month course at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth, developing leadership, communication and teamwork skills – these two months warrants a whole blog post all of its own! The next stage for me will be to join cadets from other parts of the Merchant Navy (MN) at one of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) accredited training establishments to begin a three-year course. I’ll be studying for a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Nautical Science because I’ve got a few UCAS points in addition to the required GCSE results (I’ll write another post on entry/selection to the RFA). Those without the required UCAS points work towards a Higher National Diploma (HND). Both routes also lead to the Certificate of Competency: Officer of the Watch qualification allowing you to work on a MN ship. The three year course is split into five phases interspersing time at college with time at sea, ensuring plenty of time onboard ship shadowing qualified officers to build skill and knowledge. The course culminates in a gruelling MCA Oral examination and after successfully sitting that, I’ll be qualified and wearing the rank of Third Officer.

My Royal Navy training will also be fitted in as and when is appropriate, as a Deck Cadet (and hopefully a qualified Officer) I will have to do quite a few RN courses as we work so closely with the Navy. It’s certainly going to be an interesting few years and I’m looking forward to it: I’m being paid a decent salary to get a degree, an MCA qualification and to see the world. I’m pretty happy with that.

I should also add that the RFA (and other Merchant Navy companies) offer cadetships in Marine Engineering and Systems Engineering, but why would you want to study them? Everyone knows that Deck is the best department…