Commander Josee Kurtz took the wheel of HMCS Halifax yesterday, the first woman to command a principal Canadian warship.
“I feel great. This is probably one of the best days of my life and I can’t wait to take the ship to sea,” Kurtz said. “To have been vested that confidence by the leadership to command a war ship … this is a tremendous honour.”
Kurtz signed up with the navy 20 years ago, and on Monday assumed command as the 11th Commanding Officer of HMCS Halifax.
“When I joined, I realized I was joining an environment that had not had women traditionally working with them. That transition was not going to happen overnight,” she said. “It was a question of attitude, initially. There was indeed some stereotyping and some reluctance when we first joined.”
With just two or three women in a crew of about 225 sailors, all eyes were on them.
“You were tested, scrutinized to a certain extent. When they realize you can do the job just as well, that scrutiny goes away.”
Growing up in Joliette, Que., her first career dream was the military, but circumstances led her to the navy.
“It ended up being an environment that suited my need for adventure, my need for challenge, and it set the stage for what personally has been a very rewarding career,” Kurtz said, adding she’s had her eye on the commander’s chair for years. “You get the taste for command quite early on and it becomes that ultimate goal.”
Last year, Kurtz served on Ville de Quebec as it fought pirates off the Somali coast. Her first task with HMCS Halifax is preparing the warship for a major modernization in a two-year refit.
“It feels good,” said Sgt. Jennifer Eddy on board the Halifax yesterday. “I really don’t think it’s that unusual. It’s a big deal, but it’s not a big deal.”