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Sharon McCann is proud to be a veteran

Sharon McCann with her daughters
Sharon McCann with her daughters at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth

Sharon McCann, who currently works at the Trust as Head of Quality and Professions, served in the Armed Forces for 27 years. This Remembrance Day Sharon reflects on her service and how her time in the military, her experiences, the skills and knowledge she gained and the person she became because of being in the Armed Forces.

Inspired by her grandparents, Sharon’s grandfather was a Royal Marine and her gran was in the WRNS as a radio operator, Sharon’s military journey started in 1990 when she boarded a train to HMS Raleigh at just 18 years of age to join the Royal Navy as a radio operator. In her first six years, Sharon served at Whitehall, Naval intelligence in Plymouth, and in a communications centre in Portsmouth dockyard. Remembering that time fondly, Sharon says: “I would have done anything to ‘join up’ and joining as a radio operator was the quickest way for me to get in. I learned quickly in my naval career that I would need to be able to adapt to change. Three months after I joined, women were finally able to serve at sea, a year later women could stay in the Armed Forces if they had children.”

Although Sharon enjoyed working as a radio operator, she wanted grow and make a difference in people’s lives, which led her to nursing. “In 1998 I was proud to qualify as a nurse, having completed most of my placements at Royal Naval Hospital Haslar and at Portsmouth Hospitals. I relished the constant change and learning opportunities. The joy of being in the Royal Navy as a nurse is you can move around and try most specialities. I chose my speciality in 2003, deciding to study infection control.”

Even though this was a challenging time for Sharon, having two young children to look after, completing placements in Southampton, studying for a degree, keeping up with fitness levels and keeping up to date with military skills, she would not have changed any of it.

In 2009 the Royal Navy created a role for Sharon in Navy Command, which saw her leading on Infection Control for 24 medical centres, the surface ships and submarine fleet and the Royal Marine Commando units.  Shortly after this, Sharon was deployed to Afghanistan. In what was an emotional, exhausting and life-changing experience, Sharon recalls that time vividly: “In 2011 I was sent to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan for a five-month tour as the infection control nurse. This was a frenetic tour and the hospital was very busy. There were many casualties. We treated not just British forces but also Australians, Americans, Dutch and Afghans.”

This experience made Sharon more aware of the importance of valuing life and appreciating all the little things we often take for granted. She says: “There are so many things that give me great joy and continue to, such as being with my family, sleeping in my own bed, being able to go home every night, taking my dog for a walk, the rain, greenery and flowers.”

                         

The Armed Forces gives you invaluable skills for life

In 2012, Sharon’s journey in the military took a different path when she was commissioned as a Naval Officer. She was posted to Birmingham City University to be an educational support officer to 350 military students, lecturing on pre and post registration courses. It was here she also completed a Master’s degree in education. Sharon then got a posting back to Portsmouth which she was looking forward to, saying: “I was happy to be back with my family, but life in the military involves lots of ‘curve balls’ and as I settled back into Portsmouth an Ebola outbreak started in West Africa. In October 2014, with four days’ notice to move, I sailed out of Falmouth. We didn’t know how long we would be away for or when we would return home.

“As the Infection Prevention Control (IPC) nurse, I was responsible for keeping the 300+ crew members safe, which included a helicopter squadron, Royal Marine Commandoes, RFA and Royal Navy personnel. We were based just off the coast of Sierra Leone and we provided medical cover for all Armed Forces and charity staff working ashore. We also assisted the ‘Save the Children’ charity in setting up their facility."

Sharon returned home in April 2015, and in 2017 she decided to leave the Armed Forces. Sharon adds: “I didn’t want to leave my family anymore and wanted a more secure future. I will never regret my time in the Royal Navy, it made me the leader that I am, it has given me skills, education, and experiences I would not have been able to obtain as a civilian.

“Whilst I have been at Solent, I have leaned on my military experiences, especially during the pandemic. The military values really align with Solent’s values and every day I see teamwork, honesty, commitment, dedication, leadership, resilience and agility.”

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