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Married couple makes history by commanding same Canadian navy ship

HALIFAX — Victoria and Chris Devita say they're in the same boat as many other married couples trying to strike a balance between work and family.

There's just one big difference: the Devitas' boat is a warship. 

The lieutenant commanders are the first married couple to have skippered the same Canadian naval ship, according to naval historians.

"In today's day and age, it's so important to demonstrate gender equality and that work-life, family-military balance," says Chris. "It's also good that it seems to be the time for these kinds of things to just be happening naturally now."

Victoria commanded HMCS Glace Bay between 2013 and 2015, and Chris succeeded her at the helm in August.

Chris says the Glace Bay was the first East Coast ship he sailed on as a young officer in the Navy, so returning to the vessel felt like "coming home" — in more ways than one.

"It's been a very supportive environment," he says. "A couple of sailors have come to me and said, 'You know, I sailed with your wife, sir. It's kind of neat to sail for both mom and dad.'"

While some officers might be intimidated to take over command from their spouse, Chris says it only felt natural for him and Victoria, who now works at Maritime Forces Atlantic headquarters in Halifax.

They met in Chilliwack, B.C., as reservists fresh out of basic training and have spent the past two decades as partners in marriage and professional colleagues, he says.

"Victoria has been a great source — a resource, quite frankly — for advice," says Chris. "I can share problems with her and she can do the same with me, and you have that professional level of analysis you can get to in a very safe environment."

While their relationship is built on mutual support, Chris says they also make room for "professional ribbing" between ship commanders. Victoria has jokingly warned him to "not scratch the paint" on the Glace Bay, he says.

The Devitas have been on parallel career paths as their 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son grew up, Victoria says, and the couple switches off duties so one parent can look after the home while the other pursues their professional ambitions.

"As we progress, sometimes one of us has to do something first," Victoria says. "By allowing each other to have the time to pursue command at sea, we will both have fulfilling careers, and yet be able to have a fulfilling home life as well."

On occasion, the couple's deployments at sea will conflict with each other, Chris says, so the Devitas rely on a support network of friends, families and neighbours to look after the kids while the lieutenant commanders mind the waters.

Victoria says the military has taken strides to make taking care of the family unit part of its mission.

"The military has advanced in their ability to deal with family situations," she says. "If they hadn't done that, we would never be in this situation. One of us would be in a desk job and the other would be pursuing a career."

Chris says he and Victoria try to abstain from shop talk while at the dinner table at their home in the Halifax suburb of Bedford, but there are times when their roles as captain and parent overlap.

He says the challenges are different, but the problems are often the same — both schools and ships can invite trouble with assignments or conflicts with peers.

"Managing a home life is very similar to managing a ship. I mean, the ship is always considered a family away from home," Victoria says. "You have to make sure that everyone is looked after both psychologically as well as in their own individual pursuits."

While both of their children are considering pursuing naval careers of their own, Chris says it's an "even race" between his kids and his crew when it comes to not listening to his orders.

"Everybody has a good day and a bad day, and I would say that both of them are equally fantastic," he says.

While Chris insists his wife is the clear commander of their household, Victoria says she's less certain.

"If you get a bunch of officers together, they never make a decision," she says. "No one wants to take charge."

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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