Down to the sea in ships, m’lads . . .
Commodore Mark Norman, Artsci’85, now commands Canada’s Atlantic Fleet – “anything that floats or goes under water,” as he puts it.
When Mark Norman began taking international relations courses during his student days at Queen’s, he never dreamed of the influence it one day would have on his career with the Canadian Navy.
Mark’s rise through the Canadian military ranks has been impressive, especially since the Ottawa-born, Kingston-raised man claims he may have spent more time socializing at Alfie’s Pub and taking girls sailing on Lake Ontario than studying during his undergrad days.
Nevertheless, he is now Commodore Norman, the Commander of Canada’s Atlantic fleet. And make no mistake about it: that big title means big responsibilities.
Mark, at age 45, is now in charge of making sure everything is shipshape and running smoothly aboard the Navy’s seven frigates, two destroyers, one replenishment ship, six maritime coastal defence vessels and three submarines. Or as Mark puts it, he heads up “anything that floats” or “goes under water” for the Canadian Armed Forces on Canada’s east coast. “It’s my job to ensure that the fleet is ready to respond to whatever the Government of Canada needs it to respond to,” he says.
However, he’s more excited than daunted by these new responsibilities, which he took on during a change-in-command service last March aboard HMCS Athabaskan. It was a traditional ceremony that Commodore Norman describes as “an important indicator of the change of command.”
His lofty promotion has also meant a move to Halifax for himself, his wife, and their daughter from Ottawa, where Mark had spent four years as Director of Transformation and Strategic Planning for the Chief of the Defence Staff. “I was very, very happy to go back to sea, because it’s what I grew up wanting to do,” he told the Review. “You don’t (necessarily) want to be fleet commander, but you want to be at sea.”
Mark explained that he has always been “subconsciously drawn to the water.” His father, retired Major-General Frank Norman, is a military officer well known in the Kingston area, and so signing up for the reserves back in 1980 seemed like a natural choice for Mark. The fact that his father was the commandant at Royal Military College meant that as a young man Mark could keep his Force Five boat tied up at the military campus docks, a favourite distraction from his own post-secondary studies. “I’d come home from my classes, and if it was a nice day, I’d drop my books, grab my stuff and walk about 200 metres to the boat, and then I’d sail for a few hours.”
Mark eventually started connecting the dots between his love for sailing, being in the reserves, and taking courses at Queen’s. He majored in economics, but found his interests drifting toward international relations.
He was especially inspired by Political Studies Prof. David Haglund, who seemed to have “a very balanced view” of what being in the military is all about. “That was really important to me,” says Mark.
While Haglund may not have known Mark well during his student days, he certainly knows him now. The two met a couple of years ago when the professor was a guest lecturer for a National Security Studies program that Mark took at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. Says Mark, “You don’t realize when you’re 18, 19, 20 years old what building blocks you’re actually putting together. You go through these sorts of periods of identity and self-assessment and wonder, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’”
However, each time he is “piped aboard” the HMCS Athabaskan by junior officers, the smile on his face is evidence that he has taken the right path in his life and his career.
“I often joke to people that I’ve never had a real job,” says Mark. “My first real paying job is the one that I signed up for because it had sail boats and girls, and that’s it. I’ve never looked back.”