RAdm Kurtz takes command as first woman to lead MARLANT

From left, RAdm Josée Kurtz, VAdm Angus Topshee, RAdm Bob Auchterlonie, and RAdm Brian Santarpia at the MARLANT and JTFA Change of Command Ceremony on June 20 in Halifax.

RAdm Kurtz takes command as first woman to lead MARLANT

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

RAdm Josée Kurtz is seen giving her first address as the new commander of MARLANT and JTFA.

As she’s done many times before during her 35-year naval career, Rear-Admiral Josée Kurtz broke new ground for women in the Royal Canadian Navy on June 20 in Halifax. RAdm Kurtz was officially appointed the new commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic during a Change of Command ceremony held on the base’s newest jetty, with HMCS Margaret Brooke providing a backdrop.

“I’m deeply humbled by the opportunity and tremendously excited to rejoin the defence team here on the East Coast,” said RAdm Kurtz, who most recently commanded the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont. Her other previous command appointments include HMCS Halifax from 2009-2011, the former Canadian Forces Naval Operations School from 2011-2012, and Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 in 2019.

Speaking to members of Formation Halifax for the first time after taking command, RAdm Kurtz focused on the accomplishments of the team she’ll now lead. She mentioned HMCS Fredericton, currently in the Mediterranean, HMCS Montréal and NRU Asterix’s recent operations in the Indo-Pacific, and the upcoming NATO mine countermeasures deployment for HMCS Summerside and HMCS Shawinigan as examples of the east coast fleet contributing in key roles.

“There’s a rapidly evolving geopolitical context that demands naval forces be ready to protect the rules-based international order. In the face of Russian aggression and an expansionist China, Canada continues to maintain a steady naval presence in those tense geographical regions,” she said.

“This command is truly unique in terms of its combined force generation and force employment functions, both of which are crucial to the Navy continuing to deliver on these missions.”

RAdm Kurtz also took time to acknowledge the significance of a woman leading an RCN formation and taking a seat at Admiral’s Council for the first time. She said she felt she was appointed to the position because of the leadership, competence, and character shown throughout her career, which shows there is no ceiling for any RCN or CAF member, and that everyone has a place in the organization.

RAdm Kurtz takes over from RAdm Brian Santarpia, seen here, who has led MARLANT and JTFA since the summer of 2020.

The new commander takes over from Rear-Admiral Brian Santarpia, who stepped into the role in June of 2020. The timing meant the early part of his command was focused on keeping the team operational during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody leaned in and worked hard, we had an incredible team to get through that period, and we got back to work in a way that kept everyone safe,” RAdm Santarpia said.

He thanked a long list of people and groups who supported him during his time with MARLANT, from government officials and community groups to industry partners and CAF colleagues, including a number of former admirals and flag officers who were in attendance for the occasion.

He gave special shoutouts to Honourary Captain (Navy) Debbie Eisan for her ongoing involvement in reconciliation efforts involving the CAF in the Atlantic region, and to the MARLANT diversity and inclusion team for being local leaders during a time when DND has faced crises, as it now attempts to make positive changes to its culture.

Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee presided over the change of command ceremony as Commander RCN, along with RAdm Bob Auchterlonie, Commander JTFA. VAdm Topshee described RAdm Santarpia as “one of the best operational planners and tacticians the Royal Canadian Navy has ever produced,” and said those skills helped allow the formation to accept three new Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships during his three-year tenure while still sustainably managing the Halifax-class fleet and supporting operations around the world.

Welcoming the Navy’s newest Admiral to her new role, VAdm Topshee said he has full confidence in RAdm Kurtz as she takes on her largest responsibility yet. He added he was pleased to note the Navy now has a number of women in command positions across the country, as it marks the first woman to reach this height in the institution.

“But it’s not the time to pause and celebrate; it’s time to redouble our efforts to achieve the representation within our ranks that we require,” VAdm Topshee said.