The Profession of Arms in Profile – The Royal Canadian Logistics Service: Commander Selena Aral – Commanding Officer, Base Logistics HQ, CFB Halifax
March 15, 2021 - Defence Stories
Commander Selena Aral - Commanding Officer, Base Logistics HQ, CFB Halifax
As part of our commitment to share Defence stories beyond any particular day, The Maple Leaf will profile several women leaders across the CAF, specifically those in the Royal Canadian Logistics Service (RCLS). We will share their example, their experience and celebrate their tireless support to international and domestic operations, exercises, and the day-to-day business of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Read about others profiled in this series, including:
- Commander Cynthia Smith – Commanding Officer, Base Logistics HQ, CFB Esquimalt
- LCol Amanda Aldous – Commanding Officer, 17 Mission Support Squadron, 17 Wing Winnipeg
Cdr Selena Aral’s career began in 1997; she served as a boatswain for roughly seven years, attaining the rank now known as master sailor. In that time, she was often responsible for ship’s stores; this was a duty and responsibility she quickly found that she enjoyed.
“I got a little taste for the logistics world doing that job,” she says. “And I realized I had a knack for it – resource management, being resourceful, building the networks you needed to be able to get your ship what it needs quickly. I really enjoyed that.”
Choosing to pursue her passion, then-MS Aral applied for the Reserve Officer Training Program, seeking to become a Naval Logistics Officer. To strengthen her file, she made a bold decision, giving up her full-time Class C contract to study Business Administration at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
“It was a huge risk – I mean, it was $55,000 a year that I was giving up, right?” Cdr Aral says. “I took out a student loan, was still paying my mortgage, was still paying for my car. For a whole year, it was pretty difficult; I could barely afford coffee… but I was able to show them that I did have the aptitude, I did have the math skills. And I got accepted, thank goodness. It was like winning the lottery.”
After achieving her full qualification, Cdr Aral was selected to work with CANSOFCOM at the Dwyer Hill Training Centre, including a six-month tour in Afghanistan, then was appointed Logistics Head of Department aboard HMCS Ville de Québec. In this time, she has found that the same “knack” she had acquired as an NCM still served her well as an officer.
“What has made me successful in my profession is my ability to create strong networks and strong relationships with organizations everywhere,” Cdr Aral says. “So when I get to a situation where I absolutely need to get something, I know where to go to tackle that. I know what strings to pull.”
She cites an example from a deployment on Op CARIBBE in 2013, when a single part on the ship’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats kept breaking, exhausting their stores. While attempting to get the part in from the CAF’s supply chain, she also identified companies in the southern US who also made the part.
“But then there’s the issue that we’re at sea,” she notes. “So how do I get this part to us without coming alongside? Then I remembered a bunch of connections I had made through CANSOFCOM and said, ‘Well, let’s see the US Navy in action.’” Reaching out to her contacts in Norfolk, VA, she convinced them to accept the part and then turn the delivery into an exercise opportunity – in which US Navy pilots would attempt to locate the Canadian vessel at sea, and then conduct an airdrop.
“It was all for a little tiny part,” she laughs. “But lo and behold, it broke down again, so we arranged the same thing, but they did an airdrop at night... My commanding officer was beside himself, he’d never seen a LogO put this kind of thing together. But I just knew that armed forces are always looking for opportunities to train, and so long as I was giving them a chance to do what they trained to do, we could make it happen. It was fun for everyone aboard the ship to see how logistics can really work, once you know how to pull the right levers.”
Now serving as the commanding officer of Base Logistics HQ at CFB Halifax, Cdr Aral is responsible for 450 people and 14 warehouses spread across all of Nova Scotia. Leading a large group over such a dispersed footprint may be difficult, but she has succeeded by being a persistent presence in the lives of her subordinates.
“I’ll signal that I’m going to show up in a particular location, and I’ll ask them to make me do something,” Cdr Aral says. Even mundane tasks such as clothing disposal or changing winter tires give her the opportunity to be an active participant in the work of her team – and lets her take note of things she could improve, such as a flatbed loader that badly needed replacing.
“They looked at me like I had ten heads at first,” she notes. “But after a while, the troops started to get more excited about it, like ‘What are we going to get her to do now?’ I’m not this person who’s just a figurehead – they know that I’m someone who truly cares about what’s going on in their world.”
Cdr Aral finds that her team is responding well to this leadership style. She points to a recent visit by RAdm Brian Santarpia, the commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, where her staff designed an elaborate scenario in which the admiral had to find a “flux capacitor,” clear it through hazardous materials screening, and deliver it to a DeLorean (actually a surplus vehicle) to arrive in time for his next briefing. The scenario gave the admiral hands-on experience with the work of his logistics unit, and empowered the team to deal directly with their regional commander.
“I try not to be just a figure head or boss, I try to create more of a team atmosphere,” she says. “I try to strive for synergy and cohesion within my unit. I’ve taken hold of the leadership style that I have, and I feel that it is successful.”
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