Veteran PTI inspires next generation of Navy officers

Published on MIDN Amy Luke-Paredi (author)

Topic(s): Physical Training Instructor

Leading Seaman Physical Training Instructor Jan Gilmour with Midshipman Amy Luke-Paredi on the beach at HMAS Creswell during New Entry Officers’ Course 60. (photo: )
Leading Seaman Physical Training Instructor Jan Gilmour with Midshipman Amy Luke-Paredi on the beach at HMAS Creswell during New Entry Officers’ Course 60.

Leading Seaman Jan Gilmour encapsulates perseverance.

She joined the Royal Australian Navy way back in 1979, years before the decision was made to permit women to serve at sea.

But it wasn’t until May 2019 that she got her first opportunity to serve in an Australian warship.

Having experienced both the past and present Navy, the 58 year old is a role model who inspires serving and non-serving women alike.

She first joined the Navy as a dental nurse on 30 October 1979 and then later transferred into the Physical Training Instructor (PTI) branch in 1983 for want of a “more active role”. She was one of the first females to ever be accepted as a PTI.

Even so, getting there wasn’t an easy feat. Jan found the PTI course extremely challenging, particularly because she was the only female and had no emotional support.

Furthermore, she said there were a lot of physical challenges that she felt she was “unable to live up to”, so as a consequence she concentrated on excelling in other areas such as academics.

Despite finding the course extremely demanding, she said it was an amazing experience as she had the opportunity to be involved with incredible charities such as the wheelchair marathon.

Leading Seaman Gilmour was then posted to HMAS Cerberus where she trained new recruits.

Even though she had a dream to go to sea, when she applied to do so in 1983 there were no positions on a ship that could accommodate women of her rank.

As a result, after completing 10 years in the Navy, she fully resigned in 1989 and returned to civilian life.

Jan re-joined the Navy again in 2007 as a reservist.

Leading Seaman Jan Gilmour runs through the drill manoeuvres with students undertaking ditching scenarios in the Modular Egress Training System at the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training pool, HMAS Albatross, in 2012.

Leading Seaman Jan Gilmour runs through the drill manoeuvres with students undertaking ditching scenarios in the Modular Egress Training System at the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training pool, HMAS Albatross, in 2012.

She performed a variety of roles at HMAS Albatross including working as a PTI in the gym, being the lead instructor in the HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) course, and jobs with the Defence work experience program, Naval Aviation Prospects Scheme and Naval Community Engagement.

She also played a key role in maintaining the base’s relationship with the local community in order to encourage recruitment and inspire the younger generation.

She ran a Women in Aviation camp which involved Year 10 and 11 girls from all over Australia, using her unique experiences to motivate other females to fulfil their true potential.

Throughout her time in the Navy, Leading Seaman Gilmour has seen and experienced many changes with respect to the treatment of women.

These experiences have allowed her to enrich the lives of new generations of Navy personnel.

She says the simple act of passing on her knowledge and expertise fills her with a sense of real accomplishment.

“I feel accomplished to know I’ve contributed to the new Royal Australian Navy - one in which all women are empowered and encouraged to reach new heights,” she said.

Jan never dreamed that she would actually get the opportunity to go to sea and gave up on her seagoing aspirations long ago.

But, in April 2019 she was given the opportunity to join the Australian warship HMAS Adelaide, accompanying New Entry Officers’ Course 60 on their sea training deployment.

“This has been the highlight of my career - fulfilling my lifelong dream to serve at sea,” she said.

Each day of the sea training deployment, the veteran Physical Training Instructor ran multiple PT sessions for the NEOCs, varying each through her creativity and sense of fun.

Her innovative skills enabled her to adapt to a changed environment and overcome challenges that do not arise ashore.

While on board, Leading Seaman Gilmour was able to get to know all the New Entry Officers personally. 

She said she loved training NEOCs.

“Because they have a vision greater than themselves and that is to render service to humanity by being a member of the defence force. They’re meritorious,” she said. 

She also praised the NEOC’s enthusiasm and energy.

“I love seeing the transformation in individual confidence and everyone’s ability to work effectively in a team environment,” Leading Seaman Gilmour said.

NEOC 60 greatly benefited from Jan’s leadership and she earned the trainees' respect – with many acknowledging her positive impact on their individual growth.

Notably, the female trainees got a sense of what trailblazers like Jan Gilmour had done in the past to smooth the way for other women to have successful careers in the Australian Defence Force.

And, she inspired them to throw the ladder down for other women making the climb behind them.