ST. STEPHEN – Meghan Coates graduated from St. Stephen High School (SSHS) in 1999. Just a few days later, the former summer employee at the Ganong Chocolatier was on a bus heading to an airport to fly to Quebec for basic naval training. Today, Cmdr. Coates is second-in-command of the warship HMCS Calgary, taking part in counter-terrorism missions, based out Esquimalt, B.C. Her parents and other family members still live in Charlotte County, and Coates visits the area when she can.

Coates said she decided to enlist after the Royal Military College visited SSHS during a career fair. She had always been involved in athletics, including soccer, basketball, rugby (the SSHS Spartans won multiple championships during her time on the team), and cross country running, and felt joining the navy would be the ideal way for her to continue her involvement in sports and have her college education paid for. She trained as a naval warfare officer, and has had the opportunity to sail around the world while performing a variety of roles.

“I joined in 1999, right from high school,” said Coates. “It’s been a great rollercoaster ride of a career. I would never have been able to see the world and meet the friends I have without my naval career. I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had.”

As second-in-command and executive officer (XO) on the ship, Coates recently took part in Operation Artemis, a counter-terrorism and maritime security mission in the Middle East, which she said was a huge success. Coates plays a critical role in all operations and activities on board HMCS Calgary, and during these operations, she is on the bridge to assist the commanding officer in coordinating all operation activity. In addition, she also has many non-operational duties, including commanding all other officers on board and overseeing the day-to-day operations on the ship.

Operation Artemis saw Coates and the rest of the crew conducting maritime interdiction operations that directly contribute to fighting terrorism. The role of the ship is to seize illicit cargo (typically narcotics), which are sold by regional terrorists and other criminals to fund their criminal activities. On its most recent rotation, the HMCS Calgary made 17 interdictions, which is a record for any single ship on such a deployment. Coates is also proud of the fact that her team made the “largest heroin seizure in combined Maritime forces history”.

“This is the third time I’ve been on this type of mission,” said Coates. “Essentially, what we’re doing is trying to deter small vessels from, say drugs going back and forth, hopefully counter terrorism that way. So we’re out here doing what we call Maritime interdiction operations.

“We’re looking for illicit cargo. That’s what provides the funding, so we try to stop that. It’s been quite a ride. A lot of people can’t believe what our small warship can do. It kind of proves to the bigger people just exactly what we’re capable of doing.”

So, how does it feel to be a woman in a position of second-in-command? Coates said it feels “amazing”. She said it has been a long and exciting road to this juncture of her career, and said being a woman has just given her a different perspective on her role. She has been “very fortunate” to have this experience in her career, and said it is satisfying to be at the level she has achieved. Her next goal is to be the commanding officer of a warship.

“This tour has done pretty well, so I’m just going to wait my turn until I’m selected. It’ll probably be another three or four years. After this, I do some language training, and then I’ll have what we call a posting ashore, so I’ll go to an office job for a couple of years. Then, hopefully it’ll be my turn to take command.”

Coates said she is proud of the many records the ship has broken. In just eight weeks, the crew performed 17 successful boardings, which she said is a record for the area, and something that other, larger nations have failed to do.

“When we get a successful drug interdiction, it makes you feel like we are actually contributing to the overall success in the fight against terror,” said Coates. “As a single ship, we’re just one piece of the larger puzzle but it’s very satisfying to be at the pointy end of the spear and see results first hand.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca