From the Caribbean to Canada
By Lt(N) Linda Coleman
I first met Lt(N) Justin Sowley in Halifax, NS. We were brought together as a Task Group to train for our upcoming deployment on Combined Task Force (CTF) 150. It was a headquarter deployment located in Manama, Bahrain, and our mission was to work with Combined Maritime Forces coalition partners to deter and deny terrorist organizations any benefits from employing the high seas for smuggling illicit cargo, including narcotics.
As Lt(N) Sowley introduced himself in Halifax, I could hear an accent, similar to that of Rihanna, but a male version of course.
“I’m from Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. I thought of palm trees, tropical beaches, warm weather, and wondered why in the world he would leave paradise.
As his story goes, Lt(N) Sowley and his brother have Canadian citizenship through his father, but grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. Lt(N) Sowley never had any intentions of permanently moving to Canada, but it was his brother’s circumstances that led him there, which changed the course of his life.
“I moved to Canada in 2005 to help my brother as he went through physiotherapy following a major car accident in Trinidad,” said Lt(N) Sowley. “Even though we grew up and lived in Trinidad and Tobago, the facilities he needed weren’t available there. Once I was in Canada helping take care of my brother, I decided to start looking for a job.”
After settling in Burlington, ON during his brother’s physio treatments, reality kicked in. “Living in Canada full time was a bit of an adjustment. My first impression is that it was extremely cold. But, my thoughts were that this was a developed country with excellent infrastructure and a lot of opportunity for people willing to work.”
So how did Lt(N) Sowley end up in the Royal Canadian Navy? Through a television commercial. “While watching TV one day, the commercial ‘Fight with Forces’ came on. Military service had always interested me, and I decided that I would see if I would be a good fit. Though I initially applied for the combat trades, I ultimately enrolled as a Naval Warfare Officer, and the rest is history,” said Lt(N) Sowley.
By 2010, Lt(N) Sowley was enrolled and off to Basic Training. Since then, he’s been sailing with the RCN’s west coast fleet, including deployments on Op CARIBBE (2014), and most recently Op ARTEMIS where he was a Battle Watch Captain for CTF 150.
What does Lt(N) Sowley love about his job? “Seeing different places, and doing some of the really exciting things we get to do. My job has a variety of roles and responsibilities, all of which have their challenges and rewards. The most challenging and rewarding experience was my time as the Navigating Officer of HMCS Regina. There really is very little that compares to being able to navigate a warship. I was also responsible for helping train junior NWOs, and seeing them develop and succeed is also very rewarding.”
What have been some of the challenges? “Professionally, my journey to becoming a Navigating Officer was not an easy one. I was unsuccessful at my first attempt at the Fleet Navigating Officer course, but was invited to try again. I did so, knowing full well the amount of work and effort that would be required. Fortunately, I have worked with phenomenal teams throughout my career, making a lot of the challenges less arduous because of the support and mentorship that I receive.”
On the personal side, Lt(N) Sowley mentioned that time away from family and friends can be tough. “My wife, Shaina, is a Logistics Officer in the RCN, so she understands the nature of the job. We’ve actually never spent more than six months (combined) out of the year together. That may actually account for the success of our marriage! And with family, it makes it hard to coordinate seeing people at times, but they understand since they see how much I love my job.”
For both Lt(N) Sowley and I, our CTF 150 deployment was our first time living and working in the Middle East. An incredible experience neither of us will ever forget. “I joined the RCN for the adventure and challenge. I also wanted to embark on a career path that had many options for growth within the organization,” concluded Lt(N) Sowley. I couldn’t agree more.
Upon conclusion of CTF 150 on April 11, 2019, Lt(N) Sowley returned to Naval Fleet School Pacific – Venture Division where he serves as a Course Training Officer, mentoring and developing junior NWOs in their initial trade training before they are posted to seagoing units.
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