By Gabriella Learn
Her uniform was bulky and she hadn’t broken in her new combat boots.
Her stomach was still turning from last night’s sea sickness when she entered the Communications Control Room and sat down beside her fellow Naval Communicators. She would be there for the next seven hours of her shift. Her doctor on ship would later give her a Gravol shot to help with the nausea and send her back to her bunk.
Able Seaman Hunter Johnson, 21, has been a Junior Naval Communicator for two and a half years. This included a four-month sail on a Canadian Patrol Frigate. This is where she battled her seasickness.
This was no small feat for a young woman in the Royal Canadian Navy. During the sail she was in charge of encrypting and decrypting messages from ship to ship, and ship to shore. She operated radio equipment and advised the Officer of the Watch for the ship’s maneuvering.
This was a welcomed responsibility for Johnson, despite the sea-sickness and bruises from drills.
“I work with highly motivated people that encourage me to constantly challenge myself,” she said. “I love that my shipmates help each other learn and progress in their careers.”
The sail took her to Hawaii and California. At a few points in the ship’s patrol she found herself stationed at the historic landmark of Pearl Harbor, surrounded by ships and submarines from 28 different nations. This diversity is one of Johnson’s favourite aspects of her job, especially as a communications specialist.
The sail gave her the opportunity to fast-track the qualifications needed to be considered for the position of Information Systems Administrator when she came back to shore, she said. This is typically a job for Master Seaman Naval Communicators, which is two ranks higher than Johnson’s Able Seaman rank.
Leading Seaman Eric Kim first started working with Johnson at a joint boat exercise in Port Stanley three years ago. He’s done similar long-term sails in the past.
“[Johnson’s] willingness to do jobs that others do not makes her a valuable member to the ship’s company,” he said. He also praised her capacity for teamwork – an asset on ship.
She fondly remembered her team on ship, especially the women.
“I got to live in the same room with 15 other girls… It was totally worth it to always have someone around to help with whatever I needed. Women in the Navy, I guess, are both caretakers of other members as well as leaders and inspirations in their own workspaces,” she said, describing her fellow female solders as “some of the strongest, badass ladies I have ever met.”
Leading Seaman Ashton Brett, whom Johnson has worked with since she finished basic training, described her as invaluable to the division at HMCS Prevost in London. They both work for the regional Navy’s visibility team.
“Her strong work ethic, advanced technological skills and personality make her an asset to the team,” he said.
These qualities helped her jump ahead in her career. Johnson accepted a one-year contract to serve as Information Systems Administrator and has been in this role for a month.
Johnson intends to stay with the military indefinitely.
“I plan on staying as a Reservist, primarily part-time, and pursuing another field civvi-side,” she said. This means following a ‘civilian’ or non-military career path while maintaining her connection with the Royal Canadian Navy.
Johnson is an alumna of the Media, Information & Technoculture undergraduate program at Western University. She eventually wants to go back to school for a master’s degree in consumer behaviour. Her time with the military so far encourages her drive for media studies.
“If Canadian media covered more of the military’s activities within Canada and North America, I think it would bring more awareness to what we actually do,” she explained, referring back to her long-term sail. Her ship docked in Los Angeles to set up a variety of events including reading to children at a local children’s hospital, cooking at food banks, and building houses with Habitat for Humanity.
In London, her unit is one of the runners of the local Toys for Tots campaign, storing and organizing toys for distribution over the holidays.
For this and many other reasons, Johnson finds her time with the Navy invaluable.
“The [Royal Canadian Navy] has honestly provided me with so many opportunities, both full-time and part-time, at home and abroad. I don’t think I would have had the experiences I have had or made the friends I have now if I hadn’t joined.”