First woman commander of Royal Navy frontline warship
Lieutenant Commander Sarah West this week became the first woman to take command of a Royal Navy type 23-frigate frontline warship, HMS Portland.
The Royal Navy said it was a command she won on merit and in the face of tough competition.
Her superior officers commended her for showing “leadership, confidence, moral courage, sound judgement and exceptional people skills”.
West said that the role was the highlight of a 16-year naval career.
After graduating with honours in mathematics, she completed the Principal Warfare Officers’ Course at the Royal Naval College.
She then joined HMS Cornwall as a Principal Warfare Officer and in 2005 was appointed to the Commander Amphibious Task Group, where she planned and executed operations and exercises around the world.
As part of the Middle East Operations Team she coordinated the maritime contribution of Operation Telic in Iraq. At the same time, she managed to complete an honours degree in law.
The navy first allowed women to go to sea in 1990, five years before West joined up. It hopes her appointment will encourage more women to join up, though few have so far achieved high rank in the service.
Currently there are 3,300 women in the Naval Service, of whom 620 are officers. This compares with almost 32,000 men, 5,990 of them at officer rank.
Last year, MoD permanent secretary Ursula Brennan said that all the armed forces should recruit, retain and promote more women, saying that top brass should just “get on with it.”
Despite this, Commander West’s appointment (announced last November) is not featured on the home page of the Royal Navy recruitment website; an ideal place to start changing the 10 to one male- female ratio.