We sat down with 21936 Amber Comisso, RMC Class of 2001, to talk  leadership, inclusivity, and all things Navy.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from being in the Navy for 25 years?

This career is a long, windy road. Try to enjoy the journey and worry less about the destination. Every posting I’ve had ‘off-the-beaten-path’ of the traditional progression to Command has been both personally and professionally enriching and I would do it all over again. Find a way early on in your career to worry less about what opportunities others are given and instead, focus on a constant journey of self-discovery and improvement. That is what is great about this career. The opportunities for personal growth are incredible!

After sailing on both the east and west coasts, what was life like for you on each of them? Do you have a favourite Coast?

I equally enjoyed my time on both Coasts although I will admit that after spending the majority of my career on the West Coast, being posted to the East Coast was a bit of a culture shock since the two Coasts operate very differently. The scenery on the West Coast is stunning and the weather is wonderful of course; while posted to Esquimalt, BC, I visited Japan, Korea, China and San Diego and Pearl Harbour more times than I could count. But the advantage of the East Coast is that the trips overseas typically occur more often than those on the West Coast. While posted East, in one 3 month trip, we went to Scotland, UK, Portugal & Spain. It was incredible! And of course, nothing compares to the East Coast’s hospitality. To be honest, you really can’t go wrong either way. Each has its pros and cons but we certainly are very lucky in the Navy to be able to live on either coast of Canada.

What was it that prompted you to join the Royal Canadian Navy in the first place?

My dad had wanted me to join the Air Force but I was intrigued by the idea of “Join the Navy! See the world!” I still find it pretty amazing even today considering the only boat I had ever been on before going to RMC was the ferry that went to Centre Island in Toronto. I knew nothing about the Navy or sailing but I was certainly drawn to the sea.

You graduated from RMC in the class of 2001, and returned to RMC in 2009 to as a Squadron Commander. What was it like for you to return to the college? Was it a very different place from what you first experienced?

I was very impressed by the increased diversity of the cadet core when I returned to the College. Certainly, when I went to RMC, visible minorities were few and far between and that really wasn’t/isn’t very reflective of Canadian society. The fascinating part was that while somethings had changed a lot, others remained almost the same! It was one of my favourite postings because I felt like I could provide the cadets with good advice on what to focus on and what wouldn’t matter as much further down their careers given that I had just completed my Director tour onboard HMCS ALGONQUIN and had sailed quite a bit early in my career.

How much of an adjustment was moving to an office job at Navy Headquarters in Ottawa, after working on ships throughout your career? Do you miss being at sea?

Every day! While being 2nd in Command of a warship – on deployment – during the pandemic – was one of the most challenging things I’ve done, life at sea is actually really simple. Each day is almost like groundhog day but you get in to a routine and you start to look forward to each day (especially the sunsets!). My current job at Navy Headquarters is incredibly challenging – I work on personnel policy for the RCN – but I miss seeing the younger sailors every day! My favourite part was waking up early and walking the ship and chatting with those onboard. Despite the fact that I don’t see them every day anymore, they still keep me motivated to work on making things better for our people.

You are also a military spouse, and a mom of two girls. You’ve been very successful in your field – how did you go about finding that work/life balance to get you where you are today?

Not sure I’ve ever managed to achieve balance but certainly really good communication is key and we’ve learned to not look to far ahead as a family. Things change quickly in the Navy – because we’re small. It can be easy to get overwhelmed about how to manage two complex careers and two growing girls, but we’ve approached things with the philosophy of looking at the year ahead each posting season and making the decisions that are right for us. My husband graduated in 2001 with me and used to be a Sea King pilot, so he understands life at sea better than most and is incredibly supportive.

What does being a leader mean to you? What makes for a good leader?

Especially with our current personnel challenges, being a leader today means getting to know your subordinates and figuring out how to help them improve on their weaknesses and continue to develop their strengths. Most importantly, it means connecting on a human to human level regardless of rank. What do they care about? What are they worried about? What is important to them? What can you do to facilitate any or all of these things? Get curious about the people that you are leading. It will pay dividends. I promise.

If you could sit down with someone who just received their acceptance letter to RMC, what would you say to them? Any advice?

Get ready for a grand adventure! Although I completely stumbled into RMC, I have no regrets. I am especially appreciative of the way the College helped me become a well-rounded Officer. You can’t excel at only one pillar and make it through that program. You need to learn balance and organization and management techniques very early in your career. My only advice would be to try to be yourself. I’ve always felt a lot of pressure to be someone I was not and it is only recently that I feel like I can lead authentically. I think we need a lot more authenticity right now.

Is there a favourite book you’ve read, or are currently reading that you would recommend to our readers?

There are a few I’ve read recently that I’ve really loved. “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown is about being deliberate about spending time on the things that matter. It’s helping me quite a bit in my current job where there isn’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done. I also loved “The Fearless Organization” which is about creating psychological safety in the workplace. This is a must read for all CAF Officers especially as we navigate the challenges of culture change. Finally, “Like Wars” by P.W. Singer is an essential read for all Officers. It talks about the weaponization of social media, something we are contending with more and more in the CAF.

As a Officer in the Navy how do you ensure inclusivity as a leader?

Make sure that every one has a seat at the table – and not in the back row or up against the wall – literally at the table of conversation. Be deliberate about who is included in making decisions and discussing problems and possible solutions. We know that diversity is key to solving complex problems but leaders need to be conscious about bringing those voices to the table AND ensuring they are heard.

Recruiting is a challenge in many industries right now especially the CAF, would you recommend a career in the CAF? If so what are the best perks of the job in your eyes?

Yes! It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart though… if you’re looking for an easy job, this isn’t it. I love that you’re always learning something new. Being 2nd in Command of HMCS WINNIPEG was a life-changing opportunity especially since we deployed in the middle of the pandemic with numerous unknown unknowns; My current job challenges me to think hard about our current people problems and allows me to provide my opinions on how to make things better for our sailors. The challenges we currently have are complex. In the aftermath of the pandemic, there is opportunity to reset and explore new and innovative solutions. As for perks, it’s the people. The sailors I have had the honour to sail with are some of the most incredible people I have ever met. Leading them was truly a privilege.

If you could go back to 2001 when you graduated as a young officer what advise would you give yourself now?

Hard work always pays off.

Never ever give up on your dreams.

You’ve got this!

As International Women’s Day wraps up, do you have any words of wisdom to either future female members of the CAF, or current members of the CAF?

Have the courage to bring your authentic self to work. It won’t be easy but it is necessary. Don’t succumb to the pressure to be someone you are not. We need a female perspective to solve the problems we are currently confronting. The current conflict environment is complex and ever evolving. We need you and the way you see the world to make the CAF a better place for everyone.

Adrian Juric produced a documentary titled ‘True to Yourself’ in 2021 where he featured a segment on Amber, please enjoy the clip below.





  1. Cher Dignan on March 31, 2023 at 8:31 pm

    Nice article.

  2. Robert Sedxsmith on April 3, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    This lady should be in the Leadership department at RMC

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