HMCS Charlottetown returns after six-month NATO deployment
By Ryan Melanson,
After a half year at sea and away from their loved ones, the wait is over for the ship’s company of HMCS Charlottetown.
The frigate arrived back in Halifax Harbour on January 19 after a six-month deployment to Op REASSURANCE in the Baltic and Mediterranean, with hundreds of friends and family letting out loud cheers as Charlottetown came alongside. The Stadacona Band was at the jetty with a few tunes for the occasion, despite a cold morning, and representatives from the MFRC were also on hand with colouring books for the kids and plenty of coffee.
As usual, one sailor won the first kiss lottery, and LS Chris Martin was the first off the ship to be reunited with fiancée Rosemary Holland for the first time since getting engaged while at sea. As the rest of the sailors marched down the gangway to be reunited with family, the mood was markedly different than when the crew departed Halifax in August of last year.
“Coming home is the best part; it’s always a joyous occasion. I’m just happy to see my family and see my kids, and now we’ll go home and try to get back to our normal lives,” said Lt(N) Duncan Wolfe, who was greeted by his wife Laquisha and three children, holding up a sign proudly proclaiming that the ‘Wolfe Pack’ is now complete.
“Everytime he leaves, it’s like starting fresh and meeting for the first time all over again. We’ve got a lot of date nights coming up now,” Laquisha Wolfe said.
Some were sailing on their first-ever deployment of this length, while others like PO1 Patrick Cooper-Mayer have grown accustomed to the routine. With 16 years of service and experience sailing in the Victoria-class submarines, a half year on a frigate is no sweat.
“It’s a part of normal life for us now, you get used to it and you learn how to deal. Some people find it really difficult but we make it work,” said PO1 Cooper-Mayer’s wife Beth at the jetty with her two daughters.
“He’ll get a good sleep and some food from his favourite pizza place tonight, and we’ll go from there,” she added.
Though everyone was happy to get home, Cdr Nathan Decicco, Charlottetown’s Commanding Officer, was quick to credit his crew for extremely high levels of morale through the tail end of the trip.
“As you walked around the ship recently, you would see people smiling, and so often after a six month deployment that isn’t the case, and you have people who are exhausted and just looking forward to getting home,” he said. A lot of close friendships were formed on board, and members were always able to share in successes or look to one another for support when needed.
“We’ve all been through the same program for the last 12 months, and people are really feeding off that. There’s a lot of positivity and a lot of pride in what they’ve accomplished in that short amount of time.”
The deployment allowed for many hours of interoperability training and relationship building with NATO allies, and other operational highlights included swapping out the ship’s embarked Sea King helicopter about halfway through the mission after a fuel cell problem that couldn’t be repaired at sea. A new Sea King arrived in France on a C-17 Globemaster and was swapped in without any assistance from contractors or allies. The replacement of a diesel generator while alongside in Croatia also allowed the ship’s engineering department to prove their worth, Cdr Decicco said.
“We opened up the whole ship from top to bottom for some major engineering work over about two and a half weeks and it went off without a hitch.”
Charlottetown marked the seventh rotation to Op REASSURANCE since 2014 for the RCN in support of the NATO assurance and deterrence measures in the region. Seeing the situation first-hand, including a large amount of non-allied naval and air activity in the Baltic and North sea, highlighted the importance of Canada’s contribution for the crew, Cdr Decicco said. In addition to the Maritime Task Force, Op REASSURANCE has also seen more than 1,000 Canadian Army soldiers deployed in eight different Central and Eastern European countries since 2014, and the CAF Air Task Force recently contributed to patrols and enhanced air policing in Romania and Iceland.
With the rotation complete for Charlottetown, members of the crew will take a break with some well-deserved leave time. Once they do return to work, many of the personnel from this deployment will rotate off the ship and into the Navy’s training establishments, where they can use their recent experience to help prepare others for future REASSURANCE deployments and other overseas missions.
“By deploying, seeing what’s happening out there and doing some of those real-world operations, they’re in a really good position to stay in Halifax or head to Victoria and train the next batch of sailors,” Cdr Decicco said.
“They have a lot of knowledge now as to what sailors can expect on this type of deployment and how they can deal with it, so they’ll pass that on.”