From Punjab to Down Under: The engineer who dreamt of ships and ended up in a turban at sea

By Our Reporter
Seaman Electronics Technician Mandeep Gill on the upper decks of HMAS Choules during Exercise Malabar 2023, NSW // Photo courtesy: David Cox

Able Seaman Mandeep Gill’s journey has been anything but conventional. After moving from Punjab to Australia in 2008, he’s navigated a path that saw him complete a masters in engineering management and another in engineering telecommunications. This was before he found his calling as an electronics technician in the Royal Australian Navy.

In his childhood, the allure of naval ships had him dreaming of a career with the Indian Navy. Gill says, “I joined the ADF, and Navy, as it aligned with my moral values, and it is what I believe in. The values are probably the main reason I signed up as I wanted to work for an organisation that I associated with.”

Gill’s professional aspirations don’t stop at his current role; he has his sights set on becoming a weapons electrical engineering officer. It’s clear that his academic background serves him well in his naval duties. “I already have a background from my study, but it’s great with the hands-on experience, being at sea, getting to talk to my ship mates, and working on the systems is something I enjoy,” he adds.

Recently posted to HMAS Choules, Gill has kicked off his seagoing career by participating in exercises Talisman Sabre and Malabar. The latter holds special resonance for him as it enables him to work with India—the country of his upbringing—even if his role isn’t directly on the front lines. “It’s great being able to participate in these exercises. Even though my role is not front facing with the Indians it’s nice to work with the country I grew up in,” he notes.

Being a Sikh, religion plays a significant role in Gill’s life. The Navy’s accommodating stance has allowed him to seamlessly blend his religious identity into his service life. Remarkably, Gill is allowed to wear a turban with his uniform, a practice which reflects the Navy’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

Seaman Electronics Technician Mandeep Gill on the upper decks of HMAS Choules during Exercise Malabar 2023, NSW // Photo courtesy: David Cox

The Navy also made special provisions for him during training sessions that required the use of a breathing apparatus, which necessitated the temporary removal of his turban. “During my training, even when having to don an OCCABA [breathing apparatus] and having to remove my turban, the trainers were really supportive, helpful, and respectful of my religion and culture,” Gill said.

It’s not just his trainers who appreciate the richness that his culture brings to the Navy; even his culinary skills are making waves. Gill shared, “I love how people embrace my culture. Even one of the chefs on board asked for my dahl recipe and then made it for the mess, and it was almost perfect.”

Able Seaman Mandeep Gill’s story illustrates how diverse backgrounds, commitment to core values, and the embrace of cultural individuality can enrich not just one person’s life, but also contribute positively to larger institutions like the Navy. His narrative, peppered with academic achievement, ambition, and cultural pride, serves as an inspiring tale for those who dare to sail against the wind.

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