CPO2 Colley – HMCS Scotian’s trailblazing Cox’n
By S1 Bill J. Bagunu,
As HMCS Scotian marked African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia through February, sailors took the opportunity to celebrate the decorated career of Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Perry Colley, our unit’s former Coxswain, who retired from service in 2014.
His 38 years as a Boatswain has brought him around the world, including to Cambodia, where in 1992 he spent six-months as a UN Peacekeeper. The job involved driving small boats to escort UN Observers to election booths so they could oversee democratic processes after that country’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime. In 1994, Perry toured across Europe during the 50th D-Day Anniversary where he partook in memorial parades at Canadian cemeteries that honour our fallen.
Colley served as the Coxswain of a Kingston-Class Maritime Coastal Defense Vessel and has over 15 years of sailing experience, all as a Naval Reservist. In-fact, he fondly remembers the time Scotian’s Chief & Petty Officer’s Mess sent a care package (a bunch of morale-boosting trinkets like chocolates, reminders of home, etc.) during his tour in Cambodia.
When Colley went through basic training, he was only one of two Black Canadians from a total of 750 recruits. He said he remembers his dad telling him, “Don’t let them bring you down. Don’t do anything to take away from your integrity.”
Military life often instills valuable life skills, Perry said. Things like waking up early and making your bed, getting a haircut, ironing your uniforms, polishing your boots, and ordering your kit. He advises any person of colour considering enlistment to be mindful of micro-aggressions that unfortunately exist in any facet of Canadian society. However, he also encourages that “You have to be aware, but the most important part is to be aware of who you are. Not just in the military but anywhere in life, you need to persevere.”
Of the countries he has travelled to, he said the Bahamas was perhaps his favourite, although like most experienced sailors, he finds it a difficult question to answer. Visits to other parts of Canada also hold a special place in his heart — the only place in Canada he hasn’t yet visited is the Northwest Territories.
“We don’t realize what we have here until you go somewhere else. You can complain about our politics, but when you go to a country where people don’t have the right to vote — or they could get shot while voting — you start to appreciate Canada and what we have over here,” he said.
Colley may not be a Chief anymore – he spends most of his days enjoying time with his family, goes to church and has meetings at the Lion’s Club – but the trailblazing impact he made during his time in the Canadian Armed Forces is undeniable. His story is an inspiring example of resiliency for anyone currently serving or those considering military enlistment.