HMCS Summerside and Moncton back in Halifax after rewarding African deployment
By Ryan Melanson,
Sailors aboard two RCN ships received a well-deserved homecoming on May 2, when MCDVs HMCS Summerside and HMCS Moncton returned to Halifax harbour 75 days after departing for West Africa on Neptune Trident 17-01, the Navy’s overarching engagement mission in that region. Ships visited multiple African countries and mixed operational training with community outreach and volunteerism during the deployment.
Family members gathered on the jetty to meet their loved ones after more than two months away, and the traditional first kiss upon their return went to LS Franklyn Murray, a combat engineer in Summerside. He emerged as the first sailor back on land from either ship, with his girlfriend Kaitlyn Campbell waiting on the jetty. He said he was happy he had the experience on Neptune Trident, but that two and a half months away is always tough, especially with a baby on the way.
“We’ve been gone for a pretty long time, so this is what I’ve been waiting for. It’s nice to be home,” LS Murray said.
The mission involved training in maritime interdiction and boarding operations as part of the multinational exercise Obangame Express, along with plenty of opportunities to get involved in the communities the ships visited while alongside. RCN sailors visited schools and orphanages, gave ship tours to students and other community members, participated in discussion forums, and even visited culturally significant landmarks that link Nova Scotia to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
LCdr Paul Smith, the Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside, said visiting the Gulf of Guinea region was personally significant for him, but he also wanted to highlight the work done by both ships’ companies and the embarked MTOG crews in working with partner nations like Senegal, Liberia, Morocco and Sierra Leone in complex at-sea scenarios.
“It was a chance for us to work with them and learn from them, and hopefully have them learn something from us as well,” he said.
LCdr Nicole Robichaud, Moncton’s Commanding Officer, described the deployment as the ‘trip of a lifetime’ for her and her crew, and said the opportunity to work with and speak to so many women in the region was one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip for her.
She participated in roundtable discussions with young women and female community leaders in three different nations, including a UN Women’s Forum in Sierra Leone along with other female sailors.
“We were focusing on the leadership and empowerment of women in non-traditional roles. Myself and the female crew members of both Moncton and Summerside participated, and it was truly an eye-opening, unbelievable experience.”
And for many of Moncton’s crew members, who have an average age of about 25 (the ship even celebrated one 19th birthday while overseas), the mission served as a unique first RCN deployment.
“This was the first trip overseas for some, and the way they were able to see different cultures and lifestyles, to see areas affected by poverty, it was a humbling experience for them,” LCdr Robichaud said.
Both commanding officers described a deployment full of lasting memories and varied accomplishments, with newly strengthened diplomatic and professional relationships that will hopefully help bring more Canadian ships to the region in the future.