The life experiences of Lt Cdr Tracy MacSephney, ‘Best Reservist’ of The Sun Millies 2020

Written by Lt Cdr Tracy MacSephney, Royal Navy reservist:

“I jokingly wrote in another piece that I was born in Zimbabwe but I was made in the Royal Navy.  The truth is not too far from the statement.

Although born in Zimbabwe, I grew up in South Africa.  I have a loving family with proud and encouraging parents who worked hard to provide for us.  When I finished high school with something between GCSEs and A Levels I felt that I had limited options and going to university wasn’t one of them.

I was discriminated against because I was white and because I was a woman but after Apartheid how could anyone complain.  So I had two options, secretarial college or a plane ticket overseas.

I left home when I was 18 with a return ticket to Israel and about £500 to my name.  I traveled between Israel and the UK.  In Israel, I worked on a number of Kibbutzim or as an au pair.  In the UK, I had a number of live-in hospitality jobs earning £100 per week.

I had ambition though.  I wanted a better job, I wanted a salary, I wanted more meaningful work and I wanted to study.  I must have seen an ad in a cinema once and the Royal Navy was calling.  So I joined in November 1999 as a Short Engagement Seaman.

One of my grandfathers had been in the South African Air Force but it was only after I joined that I learned that my other grandfather had completed his national service in the RN.  One of my proudest moments was passing out of HMS Raleigh and receiving the Owen Cup.

During Phase 2 training, a CPO further ignited my ambition by suggesting that I had potential to become an officer and I requested that my papers were raised. This option was only available to me because of the Upper Yardman Scheme.  I still had to gain a further two GCSEs because my South African qualifications were not wholly understood. After a year of hard work, and with support from those at HMS Raleigh, I entered the daunting gates of BRNC Dartmouth.

After another year of hard work I passed out of BRNC Dartmouth in Dec 2001.  Another one of my proudest moments and this time I was able to share it with my parents.

It was while I was at RNAS Culdrose that I was able to take advantage of the Learning Credit Scheme and I began an Open University degree.  In 2004, I had to leave the RN but I joined the RNR the very next day, maintaining my rank of Lt.  I now have the best of both worlds and for years I had a full-time job with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; averaged about 50 days per year with the RNR and continued my studies with the Open University.

During that time and to add to my proudest moments, I marched for the first time in uniform at London Pride in 2009.

While working in the British Embassy in Yemen, I learnt of my promotion to Lt Cdr in 2012.  Returning to the UK after two years in Yemen, I took the opportunity to work on FTRS in HMS Collingwood teaching Maritime Trade Operations (my RNR Specialisation).

I was awarded a BA (Hons) in 2011, the first person in my immediate family to have a degree. I was awarded a MA in 2015 and I’m currently half way through an MSc. Having completed the RNR Advanced Command and Staff Course (ACSC) in 2016 I’m also currently half way through the Regular ACSC and I’m aiming for further promotion in due course.

I believe in personal development and life experiences.  I’ve had numerous opportunities in the RN and RNR thanks to those who saw potential, gave me a chance and encouraged me to succeed.  I hope I can inspire, encourage and support others to achieve their potential too.”

Citation from Bahrain, DUKMCC, Capt James Byron RN for our ‘Best Reservist’ Award Winner at The Sun Millies 2020:

“The attempted capture of the MV BRITISH HERITAGE on 10 July 2019 was the catalyst for the UK to instigate a team of specialists to build a detailed picture of UK merchant shipping movements in the Gulf region. 

With such specialist knowledge and skills unavailable in the Regular Service, the demand fell to a Royal Naval Reserve Maritime Transport Officer to be deployed to UKMCC Bahrain to gather, analyse, and articulate data regarding the number, movements and intentions of UK and Red Ensign Group (REG) shipping.

Readily volunteering and deploying at no notice, Lt Cdr Tracey MacSephney found herself in an pressurised operational headquarters at a time of extreme risk to UK Shipping and an opaque and unclear understanding of the totality of UK vessels at threat. 

From scratch, and in a matter of weeks, Tracey MacSephney developed a product that allows a complete understanding of what UK and REG shipping is in the Arabian Gulf at any point in time, including critical information regarding persons on board, cargo and economic beneficiaries. 

This would be a phenomenal achievement if all the information was available in one place – but it isn’t. 

She had to work quickly with multiple organisations across Defence, the Department for Trade and Industry, and the maritime industry to coalesce data from numerous sources, none of which was available in one format or on one Information System. 

She not only refined the data to be able to forecast movements  in advance and allow UK warships to be tasked in good time, but her hard work liaising directly with key stakeholders in industry has exponentially bettered the relationship between Defence and shipping companies operating in the Gulf Region.

By the time she left Bahrain, just 6 weeks after arriving, her efforts had enabled the commencement of Group Accompaniment operations to safeguard UK and REG ships transiting the particularly dangerous Straits of Hormuz.

It is difficult to put into (400) words the extraordinary, singular impact Lt Cdr Tracey MacSephney has made to the current maritime operational picture in the Gulf region. 

Without her selfless commitment to both the task in hand and the wider Royal Navy, there would be no clear or accurate picture of the merchant shipping to whom the UK is required to deliver assurance and presence. 

Her efforts have directly ensured the improved safety of all UK and REG in this dangerous and unpredictable region.”


Main image: courtesy of BFBS. Full article on The Reservist Who Helped Defend Shipping In The Gulf

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