We spoke to Elaine Egan about her time in the military and how she balanced her career with motherhood.
I enlisted into the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) on 4 Nov 1981 as a Medic and transferred to Stores Naval after recruit training. I was the first female at my first posting to HMAS Nirimba after training, which was an interesting time of learning.
After reaching compulsory retirement age at 60, I retired from full time service after 40 years and 7 months on my 60th birthday. I received a gold service medallion (the size of a saucer) and my Fed Star in December 2022 at HMAS Cerberus. I am still currently serving in Navy Reserves.
I am proud to say that I am the 9th woman in the Navy who has achieved 40 years of service.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF DEFENCE LIFE:
My Dad served in the Navy and my Mum always wanted to join, so I wanted to enlist since I was 14 years old. I feel immensely proud of serving my country and doing something special - I feel extremely good about helping people. I have also been in a submarine, which is an interesting experience!
One particular Navy memory stands out for me when a Patrol Boat had broken down in New Guinea and we needed to coordinate the movement of supplies from Sydney, which was logistically challenging with no flights available to that part of the country. But we got the delivery there via a rotary plane, then picked up and delivered by a liaison officer. We received many emails to thank us for our determined effort to help them – that’s what I love about defence. Every day can bring lots of different experiences, adventures and challenges. Every base and posting is different. I was never bored – there was always something new and something to look forward to, along with meeting lots of new people. I am finding it hard to let go of serving, but being a Reservist is my opportunity to continue wearing uniform and working towards defence objectives.
HOW DID YOU BALANCE YOUR NAVY CAREER & MOTHERHOOD?
It was challenging with my Navy husband away a lot and trying to balance my career and motherhood with three children. At the time, a lot of my Navy chain of command had wives at home looking after kids, so it was easier for them to focus on the ADF and their career - I faced a lot of challenges to get the support I needed for my family.
I was always conscious of making up any time that I had taken off for my family, including weekend duties. I would often drive my kids to my husband’s parents in Wollongong on a Friday night so that I could do my weekend duty, then drive back on the Sunday to bring them home for the school week – those days were challenging, but I find that I feel better when I am busy and I haven’t got time to focus on the hardship. I would also complete courses and extra study while my husband was away, so I would read my books and course work for the next day after putting the kids to bed; that’s what you do when you love your career. I wasn’t able to go out sea very often and I went on a few exercises from time to time, but I also knew that I would provide capability at every posting by taking on extra tasks and helping people ‘on the ground’.
My children often grumbled that I wasn’t able to attend school or sports events, but a lot of parents struggle with life balance, regardless of their employment. There are always some feelings of guilt with parenting and defence, especially moving the kids to new schools and trying to settle in, but we somehow managed.
My three children are adults now and at one stage, all of us were serving; my eldest daughter served 10 years in the Navy and my son served 10 years in Army before transferring to the RAAF 2 years ago. My youngest daughter served 2 years in the Navy and my husband served 9 years in the RAAF, then 25 years in the Navy - overall, our family has served over 100 years in the ADF.
WHAT SKILL HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE MILITARY THAT YOU STILL USE REGULARLY:
A lot of people can do a supply job, but the skill of knowing what to do in an emergency to help people is something that you learn through defence. Not everyone knows what to do or has coping skills to switch on when things need to be done. Because of my defence experience, I run towards problems instead of running away from them - we are trained to help people and manage emergency situations.
I understand that there are good times and bad times in every job, but overall, I am extremely proud of my service, especially on ANZAC Day.
Interviewed by Deb Herring Committee Member The Top Ender Magazine