First woman to serve as Base Chief Petty Officer in RCN history
By Joanie Veitch
Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Alena Mondelli made Royal Canadian Navy history on July 8, becoming the first woman to serve as a Base Chief Petty Officer. CPO1 Mondelli is the 23rd CFB Halifax Base Chief, taking over from CPO1 Kent Gregory, who served in the position for three years and has now retired from the navy.
“I have broken many layers of glass in the RCN for women non-commissioned members,” CPO1 Mondelli said. “It wasn’t my intention to break glass. I just did my best with what I had. As a matter of fact, for many years I didn’t want the label ‘first woman’ or ‘first female’ associated with my accomplishments as I felt that it put the focus on my gender and not my performance.”
Prior to her appointment as Base Chief, CPO1 Mondelli was Unit Chief Petty Officer at Personnel Coordination Centre Atlantic. After joining the Navy as a naval radio operator in 1991, she was posted to her first ship—HMCS Annapolis—in 1993 and has gone on to serve on a variety of ships, most recently as Coxswain on HMCS Toronto from July 2018 to August 2019—a role that awarded her another major “first” as the first woman in a hard-sea trade to have sailed on a major warship at every single rank.
“What I’ve learned over the years—thanks to some very strong mentors—is that the label isn’t about me, it’s about what it means and can mean to those who want to see themselves in their leaders,” CP01 Mondelli said. “I know that every day when I put on my uniform, just by being a woman in uniform I am making the change and it’s the change I want to see within the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Both the Commander of the RCN, Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, and the Navy’s Command Chief, CPO1 David Steeves, attended the Base Chief Change of Appointment Ceremony, which was held outdoors at Juno Tower and opened with a smudging ceremony, conducted by Hon Capt(N) Debbie Eisan as well as drumming and a prayer song, lead by musician Raymond Sewell, from the Mi’kmaq community of Pabineau, NB.
Before handing the ceremonial drill cane over to Capt(N) Sean William, Base Commander of CFB Halifax, outgoing Base Chief CPO1 Gregory gave a farewell address in which he reflected on some of the changes he oversaw during his three-year tenure, in particular the standing up of the Maritime Defence Team Pride Network in 2019, now part of the newly established National Defence Pride Advisory organization with champions at the national and local levels. CPO1 Gregory said he first began working on this initiative after attaining the rank of CPO in 2011.
“That a national organization has been stood up this year, before I retire, fills me with immense pride as my community now has a voice at all levels,” he said.
More change is needed, CPO1 Gregory said, change that will require “true action” rather than more “promises to do better.”
“The spotlight on sexism, racial inequality and inappropriate conduct needs to remain bright and powerful,” he said, noting that this Change of Appointment points to a step in the right direction.
“As the first openly gay Base Chief within the Royal Canadian Navy, nothing could further demonstrate a commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace than for myself to be handing over my duties and responsibilities to the first woman Base Chief Petty Officer in Royal Canadian Navy history.”