First and foremost a sailor

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Sharon Palmer (author), LSIS Nina Fogliani (photographer), POIS Phil Cullinan (photographer), POIS Paul McCallum (photographer)

Topic(s): Training, Establishments, Bases and Headquarters, Ceremony and Traditions, Ships, Boats and Submarines

Reviewing Officer, Warrant Officer of The Navy, Warrant Officer Gary Wight salutes members of General Entry 341 Shipp Division on the Recruit School Parade Ground, HMAS Cerberus, Victoria. (photo: LSIS Nina Fogliani)
Reviewing Officer, Warrant Officer of The Navy, Warrant Officer Gary Wight salutes members of General Entry 341 Shipp Division on the Recruit School Parade Ground, HMAS Cerberus, Victoria.

When the most senior sailor in the Australian Navy, Warrant Officer of the Navy Gary Wight joined, he wasn’t in it for the long haul. 

“I was adamant, I was doing my six years and all I wanted to do was make Leading Seaman. I thought if I make Leading Seaman I am going to be pretty happy with that and I’ll do my six years and I’ll go,” he said. 

Thirty years later, he reflected on his promotion to the position, saying it was not originally one he aspired to, but once he put his mind to it he gave it everything he had.

“The moment of truth came when I was part of the commissioning crew of [submarine] HMAS Sheean and my commanding officer asked me what my career goals were and what I was doing to realise those goals. 

“My answer was very shortsighted. I told him what my next posting was and on hearing this he pointed out to me that I was making the same mistake as many others in our Navy. 

“That is, I was looking at my next posting and not thinking about where I would like to be in 10-15 years’ time.
“I had been in much longer than I ever thought I would and had a few years earlier decided to make Navy my long-term career, but until that conversation with my Commanding Officer I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted to achieve during my service.
“I figured my future was going to be one of three things. I’m either going to get out while I was still young enough, commission, or continue as a sailor, but work much harder to be the best I could be and one day be Warrant Officer of the Navy.
“Then I started looking at opportunities that I could take to help me realise any of these career goals.
“For example, if I left the Navy, being well educated would help me secure a good job, to commission I needed a degree, and to enhance my chances of being promoted to Warrant Officer and then ultimately to Warrant Officer of the Navy, an education would help me with that endeavour as well.
“It wasn’t necessarily about the destination, it was more about the journey and taking the opportunities that Navy made available to me to help me achieve my goals.
“I knuckled down and laid out a rough 15-year plan. I actually said to myself: ‘15 years, I will give myself 15 years to be Warrant Officer of the Navy’; I missed it by a year.”
Warrant Officer of the Navy Wight said despite the circles he moves in a lot of the time, he is, first and foremost, still a sailor.
“It’s at the forefront of my mind every single day because providing Chief of Navy and the senior leadership group with a sailor’s perspective is very important.
“I’ve never been an officer and most of the officers I support have never been sailors, so my perspective on the challenges and opportunities we face will be different to other members of the Senior Leadership Group.
“My first priority is to support command, but I am of course also here to represent and support our sailors and give them a voice.
“Senior leaders are intelligent and have an amazing capacity to think strategically, to look at issues and think ‘big picture’.
“In my own way I do this as well, but I think the true value I bring to the table is a sailor’s focus on the issues that will have an impact on our people.
“I aim to provide relevant information and insights that will help the conversation progress in a meaningful way that is relevant to our sailors.”
He said visiting sailors with Chief of Navy often helped ‘break the ice’.
“An admiral showing up in your organisation, even in today’s modern world where sailors are much more forthcoming, still changes the behaviours of that organisation,” he says.
“People will line up, polish their shoes and say ‘yes sir,’; some will speak up, but while Warrant Officer of the Navy to a seaman might still be fairly intimidating, because I am a sailor and I relate to people as a sailor, the seaman is probably more willing to talk to me and give me their honest opinion.”
He said one of the hardest aspects of his job is getting the work/life balance right.
“I’m Warrant Officer of the Navy but I’m also a husband and father of four children,” he says. 

“My youngest children have just turned two and seven and my wife is also in the Navy and undertaking tertiary studies, so we are both busy people. 

“Michelle more often than not is the one to take up the weight and keep our family organised and I applaud her for that. It certainly isn’t easy for her, but she supports me and I thank her very much for doing so. 

“I certainly could not do this job without her. The challenge for me, which many of us in uniform have to deal with, is to try to be a good dad and husband and not forego that, understanding it is going to have an impact on my family, but to work hard to reduce it as much as I can.
“I am away a lot and that’s just a fact. I remain cognisant of the fact I have a family but I also need to give 100 per cent in my job because the Navy deserves somebody who is fully committed to the role.”
Despite the long hours and travel, Warrant Officer of the Navy Wight said he absolutely loves his job.
“What amazing opportunities this job affords me, I am very lucky to be able to accompany the reviewing officer to a number of Recruit School passout parades each year, but once a year I’m the reviewing officer. 

“Notwithstanding the excitement and honour you feel standing on the dais as our newest sailors march past, what I most appreciate is that 30 years ago I was standing on that very same parade ground.
“In that moment I reflect on my career and the potential careers of the recruits before me. With the right attitude and hard work the Navy offers everyone amazing opportunity.
“I started as a very normal, and some would say very average, young man from the western suburbs of Sydney. But as a result of hard work and opportunity (and a little luck), I have now gone on to be Warrant Officer of the Navy.
“Of course not everyone will reach this position, but the Navy does offer everyone the environment for them to reach their full potential.
“I encourage everyone to aim high and do everything you can to be the best you can be.
“You never know, you too may one day be sitting in this chair.”