HMCS Fredericton returns after difficult Op REASSURANCE deployment
By Ryan Melanson,
After 141 days at sea that brought unexpected difficulties and tragedy, HMCS Fredericton and her ship’s company were finally reunited with their families, friends and colleagues as they arrived back in Halifax on July 28.
“We all know we’re returning to a very different world than when we left Halifax six months ago, but I can’t tell you how great it is to be back on Canadian soil,” said Cdr Blair Brown to a small crowd at HMC Dockyard and to thousands who watched online as the ship came alongside. Rather than having a large gathering of family members waiting as sailors disembarked, the crew was bussed to Windsor Park after arriving to meet with families in a way that complies with physical distancing guidelines.
Before reaching shore, the ship was met at sea by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen Jonathan Vance and Minister of National Defence Harjitt Sajjan, who spoke with the crew to privately thank them for their work under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Gen Vance also took the step of awarding Fredericton the CAF Unit Commendation for their extraordinary work carrying out their deployment in the face of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragic loss of six of their colleagues.
On April 29, Fredericton’s CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, codenamed Stalker 22, crashed during operations off the coast of Greece, Six CAF members lost their lives – Capt Brenden Ian MacDonald, Capt Kevin Hagen, Capt Maxime Miron-Morin, MCpl Matthew Cousins, SLt Abbigail Cowbrough and SLt Matthew Pyke. Despite the loss of their friends and shipmates, the crew carried on with their mission through an uncertain, and sometimes frightening, COVID-19 environment.
“Our role in Operation REASSURANCE was vital, and our ship’s company displayed tremendous resilience, a positive attitude, and unwavering commitment to that mission,” Cdr Brown added.
Others who were present at the jetty for the arrival included family members of Fredericton’s fallen sailors and aviators, who received flowers and condolences from Cdr Brown and other members of senior RCN and CAF leadership in attendance.
“The loss of our shipmates and the crash of Stalker had a profound impact on all of us… It was felt by every single one of us on board every day, and it’s left a space in our hearts that will remain there for the rest of our days. I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences,” Cdr Brown said.
In the aftermath of the crash, Fredericton embarked a padre and two social workers, and worked to thoroughly interview each member of the ship’s company to help them process the traumatic event. Access to those services remained available through the deployment, Cdr Brown said, as the ship worked to slowly introduce the day-to-day business of life at sea while they mourned and remembered their shipmates.
The homecoming ends a long period of relative isolation for the crew, who were unable to enjoy the usual port visits and time away from the ship that would come with a six-month stint at sea. Access to the ship was also extremely limited beyond Fredericton personnel, with only rare exceptions being made for critical work.
“The crew has been isolated, they’ve been away from their families, and they’re happy to be home,” Cdr Brown said.
As part of Canada’s ongoing commitment to Op REASSURANCE HMCS Toronto has now joined NATO allies and continues the mission of ensuring stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe.