Danielle Smith serves as the Chief of Staff to the Base Commander at CFB Esquimalt.
There, Smith is the first point of contact with the Commander and is part of the half-dozen senior staff who execute the business of the base.
Smith is also a civilian.
“There are very few civilians in a position as senior as my own, but it was determined that, in the interests of continuity, the Navy might be better served with a civilian in this role,” she explains.
“The truth is that the Base Commanders are often rotated and other senior staff as well can be subject to new postings. That’s just the nature of the Navy, so to ensure that there was continuity in knowledge, it was important to have some stability in my role.”
It’s not a role that Smith ever envisioned filling as she originally came to the Navy as an environmental scientist. “I came to the Navy as a civilian working on what is really a very robust environmental program in the Navy, and in that capacity, I was partnered with military safety personnel and others, and it was a great experience,” Smith says.
Asked to describe the role of Chief of Staff, Smith laughs as she describes her position as “owning nothing, but being responsible for everything.”
“I’m the layer just below the top and I have to monitor a thousand different issues at a time, getting the information and keeping the Base Commander informed.”
To accomplish that goal, Smith relies on what she describes as a fantastic team of professionals who are hugely supportive of her and helpful in achieving the Navy’s goals.
“It sometimes dawns on me that I’ll be sitting at a senior staff meeting and I’m the only woman, and the only civilian at the table. I don’t feel that on a moment to moment basis, but occasionally I do notice it,” she says. “But I can honestly say that neither my gender or my non-military status has ever had an effect on the way I’m treated on base. I get nothing but support and respect.”
Smith also sees her role as instructive and takes every responsibility to help educate the general public on what it is the Navy does on a day to day basis. “We don’t always do a great job at telling our story, and sometimes it’s interesting that people (in the general public) don’t know what we do. Much of it isn’t visible.”