Although she calls it a cliché, Master Seaman Malisa Ogunniya really did join the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) to see the world.
An African-Canadian whose family claims a distant relationship to Viola Desmond, the first Canadian-born woman to appear alone on a Canadian banknote, MS Ogunniya currently works as a Human Resources Administrator for Canadians working at the U.S. military’s Western Air Defense Sector at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.
Although born in North York, Ont., and later moving to Ajax, Ont., with her parents and twin sister, MS Ogunniya was determined to reach out for broader horizons.
“I had never left my hometown in Ontario until I joined the navy, and I always had a fascination with open water and the sea,” she says. “I figured joining the RCN was the closest way to getting myself to either coast.”
And it was. After signing up in December 2007, her first posting after qualification training in Borden, Ont., was to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt, B.C., where she was employed in the Base Orderly Room’s Pay and Record Sections. Soon after she joined the crew of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Algonquin as a clerk in the ship’s office, thus realizing her dream of going to sea.
“During this posting, I was promoted to Able Seaman and conducted operations during Exercise RIM OF THE PACIFIC in Hawaii,” she explains. “I also sailed in support of anti-drug trafficking mission Operation CARIBBE, which had me visiting several ports in South America.”
In 2011 she was posted back to the Base Orderly Room in Esquimalt where she was employed in the Claims Section and then eventually moved to the Foreign Duty Section. While working ashore she was promoted to Leading Seaman and received the Base Commander’s Recognition Award for displaying uncommon leadership and dedication beyond rank and experience.
“After that I expressed a desire to return to sea and in January 2013 I was posted to HMCS Winnipeg, where I soon participated in high tempo sailing trials following its midlife refit, upgrading and modernization,” MS Ogunniya says.
Once again she sailed on Op CARIBBE, and then deployed in June 2015 as part of a nine-month deployment in support of Op REASSURANCE in the Mediterranean Sea.
It was this service that earned her three medals: the Operational Service Medal - Expedition, Special Service Medal - NATO, and the NATO Article 5 Medal. She was promoted to the rank of Master Seaman just prior to Winnipeg’s homecoming in February 2016. A few months later she was posted to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
“The best part of my job is the great relationships I have formed with my American counterparts, and living and working in the United States,” she says. “It is very rewarding to feel part of an operational unit and to work for a 24/7 primary mission of guarding America’s skies.”
Her workplace in Tacoma is about a two-hour drive from Esquimalt, so the climate is very similar. The biggest difference working in the U.S., she explains, is that as a small unit outside of Canada, she has had to familiarize herself with a number of different positions in order to effectively manage the organization.
The camaraderie between the Americans and Canadians is evident, with shared special events and lively hockey and baseball games.
MS Ogunniya says she has had a fulfilling and exciting career to date and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the RCN to young people.
“I can respect that it is not the choice for everyone as there are long times away from home and lot of strenuous work involved,” she says. “But I don’t regret my decisions or any of the places I have been. The places you see, the family you make – that will stay with you forever.”
She says that in just over 11 years of service, she feels “very fortunate” to have followed her dream to the sea and to have been posted to a unit outside of Canada.
“I had a vision of the type of career I wanted and I still feel like I am just starting. But I want to look back in 20 years and know that I saw as much as I could, helped as much as I could, and learned as much as I could.”