Decorated diver calls it a career

LCdr Billy Barter, Commanding Officer of FDU(A), presents a Certificate of Service marking 31 years in the CAF to CPO1 Paul Walsh at a Depart with Dignity ceremony held at the unit on May 12.
Photo: Ryan Melanson, Trident Staff

Navy divers say goodbye to one of their best

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

He travelled the world, served in Afghanistan, met the Queen, and became one of the RCN’s best known divers over a 31-year career. But on May 12, colleagues, friends and family members gathered in the hangar of FDU(A) for a grand send-off for CPO1 Paul Walsh as he prepares to release from the CAF.

The gathering was emceed by CPO2 Gordon Williamson, a close friend and current Underwater Engineering Chief at FDU(A).

“We’re losing a great diver and a good friend and brother from the trade, but I prefer to think of today as a celebration of his career,” he said.

CPO1 Walsh joined the RCN in 1986, following his father’s footsteps, and served on HMC ships Protecteur, Provider and Preserver before completing the Clearance Diver qualifying course at FDU(A) in 1990. He honed his skills on the West Coast at FDU(P), spent time at Dwyer Hill Training Centre in Ottawa, and returned to FDU(A) in 1996, where he remained for the next decade and rose to the rank of PO1.

Highlights of his career include the Swissair recovery efforts in 1998, deploying with Operation MEDUSA in Afghanistan as the head of an explosive ordinance disposal team in 2006, for which he was awarded a Mention in Dispatches from the CDS, and representing the CAF at Vigil 1914-1918 in London in 2008, where he met Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II.

In recent years, after being promoted to CPO2, he served as Chief Diver for the Experimental and Undersea Group in Toronto, and in 2016 after being promoted to CPO1, took over as Senior CAF Diver at the Directorate of Diving Safety in Ottawa.

CPO1 Walsh, along with his mother and daughter, was set up on a sofa next to the podium as an endless stream of individuals took to the mic in the hangar to thank “Knobby”, as he’s fondly known, for his years of service, and to share stories from the last three decades, some of which aren’t fit to be shared outside of that close-knit community of divers.

“There’s too many stories to talk about, and some are too dangerous to talk about in front of his mother,” joked Cdr (ret’d) Chris Deere, the CO of FDU(A) from 1999-2002. He recalled meeting CPO1 Walsh for the first time in 1988 on Diving Tender #6 Boat, before then AB Walsh was qualified as a clearance diver. The young sailor may or may not have gotten into a fist fight with a much higher ranked PO on #6 boat, but even back then, his potential was clear, Cdr Deere said.

“I remember he was full of energy, he worked hard, and he earned the respect of his entire crew.”

And Cdr Robert Klein, CPO1 Walsh’s final Commanding Officer at D-Dive-S, was one of many who mentioned that the Chief has been renowned for doing things “a little bit differently” than others, and he also teased the no-nonsense diver for being inexperienced with administrative duties in Ottawa after a career of high energy, hands-on work.

“That being said, he always gets things done very, very well. He’s a people person, he’s as experienced as you get, and he’s a great technician. All of those attributes and characteristics were needed to be the Chief Diver in our shop, and I was so glad to have him,” Cdr Klein said.

CPO1 Walsh was presented with numerous gifts through the emotional ceremony, which saw many old friends tear up as they paid tribute to their longtime colleague. From letters and certificates from the likes of the CDS and the Prime Minister, to mementos and dive artifacts. CPO1 Walsh was even presented with an artifact from a 1971 oil spill dive recovered by his late father, Petty Officer Michael Walsh, who died tragically after a diving accident in Chedabucto Bay in 1983. His father was also a member of FDU(A), and some of the retired sailors who spoke at the ceremony recalled their friendships with both CPO1 Walsh and his father.

CPO2 Williamson couldn’t hide his sadness at CPO1 Walsh stepping away from the Navy, but said he was thrilled to help send him off in the best way possible. He thanked CPO1 Walsh’s family for being his support through difficult and dangerous times, and spoke on behalf of all naval divers in thanking CPO1 Walsh for everything he gave to the community as a diver and as a friend.

“The bonds we’ve made will last a lifetime,” he said.