Former CCS student Rory McEwan (1988 -1995)
Did you want to join the Royal Navy from an early age?
Only really from my late teens. I was inspired by my family as my Father had served in the late 1960s, my elder brother joined at 16 and my sister a few years later. My original plan was to go straight from A-Levels and apply to be a Technician in the Royal Navy. I wasn’t a particularly good student during A-levels possibly because my thoughts of becoming a pilot faltered, owing to my eyesight failing the entry tests, but mostly because I was having too much fun away from studying.
It wasn’t until I decided upon a new path to become an Engineer that I started to engage with education again. I was initially rejected during Navy Officer interviews. It turns out I’m not a fan of being told I’m not capable of something so I decided to prove I could. It worked out in the end.
Where did you go to University, and how did you find it?
It was too late to make much of impact on my A-level results, but I found a route to an engineering degree through the Foundation Engineering Course at UWE in Bristol. After the foundation year I moved across to the BEng Electrical and Electronic degree course. I really enjoyed my time at University. It taught me self-discipline and responsibility through my studies and living away from home and provided other opportunities for great friendships and experiences such as the University Royal Naval Unit and sports.
In 2007 I was fortunate to be selected to study for a Masters in Acoustics and Digital Signal Processing at Southampton University. I had a different university experience this time, now on a full salary, married and with a young son. It was still a great experience and a fair challenge after 7 years away from academics.
What was your career path in the Royal Navy?
I joined Dartmouth BRNC in September 2000 as an Officer Cadet, followed by fleet training (time on a warship) and then specialist engineering training in Portsmouth. I volunteered for submarines during this period and subsequently went on to complete my submarine shore and sea training, finally qualifying as a submariner and Deputy Weapons Engineer in mid 2003. I have served aboard several submarines from the largest Trident SSBNs to the smaller SSNs, all based in Scotland.
Engineering Officers in the Royal Navy only have a select few posts based at sea with the remainder of their initial career set around preparing for those sea posts or in their later career becoming more deeply involved in the management of defence. I have held a wide array of posts in my career that have included time as an instructor, front line engineering support, sea trails for a new submarine class and working with coalition forces in Afghanistan. The variety available is, at times, one of the greatest parts of the Royal Navy.
How come you've ended up in the USA?
In short, right time, right place. I had just completed further academic training at the UK Joint Staff College but was unenthused by the available posts, so I volunteered for an operational tour (approximately 6 months plus training). As a result, my availability date shifted and this post aligned. I am now the Liaison between UK MOD and US Navy project teams for systems that are part of the Royal Navy’s capability on ships and submarines.
High and lows in your career so far, would you do anything differently?
Highs - There are a lot of great highs, my first dive in a Submarine, receiving a secret signal at sea to say I was going to be a father (I may have kept a copy), opportunity to travel, promotion, many of the people I have worked with and some of the great challenges overcome (technical and personal).
My greatest high was my last Profession Command position at Sea as the Head Weapons Engineer for HMS ASTUTE. As the UKs newest submarine, I helped complete her test and trials and then deploy on her first operational deployment. It was professionally challenging, exciting and in some way the pinnacle of my operational career.
Lows - I have spent a lot of time away from home. Not just at sea, also when berthed alongside supporting maintenance or in shore posts that require significant travel or unsociable hours. I knew what I would be signing up to (20 years ago) and I am still happy with my choices but when added up it is a lot, particularly for my family.
How have you coped with the challenges of the pandemic?
It has been a little different here in Southern Maryland. After the initial lockdown there has been a gradual easing of restrictions and life has partially returned to normal. Working exclusively from home and home schooling was a new challenge but we all took a great deal from spending more time with each other. My wife Rosie set a routine of work and exercise from the outset and by sticking to it we moved through lockdown with little concern. The only real issue for us is that we have been unable to visit family, or they visit us owing to the ongoing restrictions. We have not been to the UK since Summer 2019 and I am very much looking forward to seeing friends and family when are able to travel again.
What's a typical day like in your current role?
Prior to the pandemic it was a combination of office work and meetings at various locations around the area and various other states. Since then, it has mostly been remote except when security makes that impossible. Start and finish vary depending on whether I am working more with the UK (5 hours ahead) or the USA. It is giving or receiving advice on policy, process and technical matters that relate to the aims of these projects or how they affect others.
What advice would you give to current CCS students/or fellow alumni interested in the Royal Navy?
It is a really exciting and busy time for the Royal Navy with new carriers, submarines, frigates and aircraft all coming into service alongside our continuing commitments. If someone is interested in an exciting job, even if only for a short career, with great opportunities for training, education, and sport then I can fully recommend this life.
There is a wide array of career streams to choose from and each person will be drawn to one depending on their own interests. Also, if you can, talk to someone who will give you a balanced view of life in the services. Life onboard operational warships and submarines can be just as challenging as it is rewarding and very much 'work hard, play hard.’ However, if you were to find yourself bored then you are probably not paying attention.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Chemistry - probably because I most enjoyed the experiments. CDT - I really enjoyed the practical aspects.
Do you have any memories of your time at CCS, any memorable teachers, or stories you would like to share?
The teachers I most remember are Ms Dutton and Ms Moore (patience of saints as my A-Level Chemistry teachers). Mr Hamilton (great sports teacher). Mr Tidbull (Pitbull) - I remember him subbing for our Geography class and everyone running for their seats when he walked in with a black eye from playing Rugby. A gentle giant that no one wanted to test!
Mr Moore (I think we called him Bronco aka Grange Hill). Taught my combined science. Old school ultra-strict and demanding of respect. Nobody dared mess around! Legend. There are many others I remember with fond memories.
Do you remember Rory or any of the teachers he mentions? If so, please comment in the box below, and click here if you would like to contact Rory.
Currently living in Ghana working for a charity, Megan reflects on her time at University More...