Life at the Helm
PUBLISHED: 15:17 08 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013
In this December/Janaury issue, we talk to Commodore John Keegan Royal Navy, the Commanding Officer of HMS Raleigh. Commodore John Keegan is responsible for every aspect of the training provided to around 25,000 naval men and women, and youth trai...
Commodore John Keegan is responsible for every aspect of the training provided to around 25,000 naval men and women, and youth trainees, who pass through the base on their way to Royal Navy ships and shore establishments around the world. "Since the age of six or seven, I had always wanted to join the Royal Navy," says Commodore John Keegan, Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy training establishment at HMS Raleigh on the outskirts of Torpoint. "It was a visit to a Portsmouth 'Navy Days' that fired my early ambition and my enthusiasm for the service, and a career that I love, which hasn't waned in over 30 years in uniform."
"As long as I can remember I've always had a love of science and things mechanical and, with my ambition to join the Royal Navy, it was almost inevitable that I was drawn to studying for a Naval Engineering degree at the RN Engineering College at Manadon in Plymouth. At the age of 18, I joined as a Midshipman, and four years later, with my degree and my officer training behind me, I joined HMS Liverpool, my first ship, as a technical officer."
Since then, Commodore Keegan has undertaken a variety of sea-going and shore-based appointments. During the early 1990s, as Weapon Engineering Officer on HMS Cardiff, he saw action during the first Gulf War. In 1997 he was back in the Gulf again as the Commander (Weapon Engineering) in HMS Invincible after taking an appointment to the Sea Training staff, working up ships to war-fighting efficiency. Like every other officer in the armed services he has also had to take his share of desk-bound jobs at Naval HQs and the Ministry of Defence. Following a number of operational and staff appointments, including 12 months as the Senior Naval Officer in the Centre for Defence Analysis, he was promoted to Commodore in April 2005 and took command of HMS Raleigh in February 2006.
"Every morning when I wake up I have to pinch myself to realise it's not a dream and that I'm being paid to carry out the single most motivating Royal Navy job I've had," said the Commodore.
Where recruits are concerned, the Commodore and his team's job is to turn civilians into sailors. "We have them for just nine weeks and the results when they leave here are quite amazing. The highlight of the course," the Commodore adds, "is the passing-out parade, when the young men and women move into the Navy proper. Loved ones come from all over the country and from overseas to witness this occasion, and many parents have said, tongue in cheek, I'm sure, that we have achieved more in nine weeks with their sons and daughters than they have in 18 or so years."
Before they join their ships, every new entrant to the service must first undertake a trade or professional training. In pursuing this next and vital stepping stone in their career, some 50% of those who have just marched off the passing-out parade will remain at HMS Raleigh, while the remainder move to other Royal Navy training establishments around the country.
"We help generate income for the local community and try to become involved with the county at all levels"
However, more than 25,000 trainees pass through HMS Raleigh's gates each year. When the unit is operating at full capacity it is, in effect, a small town, with three churches, a post office, a supermarket and a bank, four doctors and three dentists, a gymnasium and swimming pool, and a large supporting infrastructure.
Other training schools at HMS Raleigh, each under the Commodore's command, provide residential training in seamanship and military skills, fire fighting and damage control and first aid. Then there's the Defence Maritime Logistics School, which takes care of the career and professional training of officers and ratings of the logistics branch, as well as the Navy's prestigious Submarine School, which provides everything from induction training for the new submariner, right through to deep-water specialist warfare and weapon engineering courses. These too fall under Commodore Keegan's wide-ranging remit as commander of this busy base. "It's a complex and diverse command for me," he volunteers "and there's never a moment when I'm at a loss for what to do next." Two other organisations at HMS Raleigh are the National Sea Cadet Training Centre (NSCTC) and Flagship Training Limited.
"One area that I'd like to emphasise," said the Commodore, "is that at any one time we also have over 600 civilian contractors working at HMS Raleigh, and so we see ourselves as being very much part of local life. Not only do we help to generate income for the local community but we also try to engage and become involved with the county at all levels." For example, there are arrangements set up for the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to use the base's fire-fighting training facility and for local schools and colleges to use available classrooms and sporting facilities.
But how does a man with such demanding professional responsibilities relax? "Time with my family is incredibly important," says the Commodore, who is married with two children, "but I also have a passion for motor sport and for philately. Like most motor sport fanatics I've had a few track days and I follow events whenever I can. But I'm also a member of the Royal Philatelic Society and the Liskeard Stamp Club."
And what of the future? "For anyone serving in the armed services, predicting the future is a most inexact science. I'm concentrating my efforts on developing HMS Raleigh into an expanding centre of excellence. Also, we're about to replace the old training barge moored in the River Lynher with HMS Brecon, a decommissioned mine hunter, which will increase our ability tenfold to motivate, encourage and instil a sense of responsibility in the youngsters who spend time with us at the Sea Cadet Training Centre."