New Commander CANFLTLANT

From left, RAdm Craig Baines, RAdm John Newton, and Cmdre Craig Skjerpen sign the official documents at the Change of Command ceremony for Canadian Fleet Atlantic on July 18.
Photo: Cpl J.W.S. Houck, FIS Halifax

Atlantic Fleet gets new Commander as period of ‘rejuvenation’ continues

Par Ryan Melanson,
L’équipe du Trident

Change of Command ceremonies have been a common occurrence around CFB Halifax in recent weeks, and one of the most significant was held on July 18, as RAdm Craig Baines turned over command of Canadian Fleet Atlantic (CANFLTLANT) to Cmdre Craig Skjerpen.

Cmdre Skjerpen previously played an important role in Fleet activities as the Commanding Officer of Sea Training Atlantic and Fifth Maritime Operations Group since 2014, and at a ceremony held on the flight deck of HMCS tragique, he described the Fleet and the RCN overall as being in the midst of a rejuvenation period. As he takes command, goals of the Atlantic Fleet will be to continue exploiting the advancements in the newly modernized Halifax-class ships, to advance training in preparation for new classes of ships, and to continue changing the culture of the Navy for the better, holding on to only the beneficial aspects of tradition.

“The Navy has changed much of how it achieves and maintains readiness… we’re going to continue to innovate, continue to change and continue to improve on what we do as a Navy to make it better,” Cmdre Skjerpen said, while referencing the new Defence Policy to stress the importance of recruiting and holding on to good people, and providing opportunity for sailors to lead and grow professionally.

Originally from Saskatchewan, Cmdre Skjerpen first joined the RCN in 1988 as a reservist in Saskatoon, and has in recent years served as the XO of HMCS Iriquois and the CO of HMCS Charlottetown, deploying to NATO Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR in Libya. He was joined at the ceremony by his wife and children along with other family who came from Alberta, New Brunswick, and as far away as Seattle for the occasion, and he thanked them for the support and sacrifice that has allowed him to focus on his naval career. He called out and thanked a number of colleagues from FMF Cape Scott, 12 Wing Shearwater, 5 Cdn Div and others groups who supported him at MOG 5 and who he’ll continue to work closely with, and also spoke about the working environment created by RAdm Baines and RAdm John Newton, Commander MARLANT and JTFA, that has helped contribute to his successes so far.

“I’ve enjoyed the mentorship and guidance, but most of all I appreciate that lattitude I’ve had to simply get things done, to get on with the business. That’s what I’ve tried to do and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” Cmdre Skjerpen said.

As for the outgoing CCFL, RAdm Baines used a poker metaphor in summarizing his three years leading Canada’s Atlantic Fleet.

“I was dealt a hand of aces,” he said, describing the men and women of the fleet, the shore and support staff at CFB Halifax, his personal team including assistants and Flag Lieutenants, and the overarching leadership from RAdm Newton.

He said some of his favourite moments in the job came when he had the chance to sail with various ships of the fleet, including as the Task Group Commander overseeing NATO exercises Joint Warrior and Cutlass Fury in the fall of 2016, getting to see sailors in action and putting the equipment to use. The work of crews and command teams across the formation made his job easier, and they deserve special recognition, he said.

“Whether it was deploying, doing exercises, or handling the myriad of divisional and administrative issues, budget challenges, or cultural changes happening within the Navy, they were always professional, brought their best to the game, and always represented Canada so well.”

RAdm Newton had praise for both RAdm Baines, who will take over command of MARLANT and JTFA later this summer, and the new CCFL in Cmdre Skjerpen, and said both men have already had major impacts in the implementation of new training procedures, new maintenance programs and new technologies.

“It is because of their leadership of fine sailors, all rowing the boat together, that we have generated a steady stream of warships to the NATO Op REASSURANCE mission, to the counter-drug mission in the Caribbean, and to capacity building in Africa. Their DNA is seen in successful deployments across the Indo-Asia Pacific consistently over the past two years, and in Arctic patrols of increased vigour and complexity,” he said.