Navigating through change
PO2 Chris West on being a part of HMCS Harry DeWolf’s historic deployment and the changing face of the RCN
By Joanie Veitch,
Petty Officer Second Class Chris West, Seamanship Supervisor with HMCS Harry DeWolf, knows a thing or two about dealing with change and overcoming challenges.
After he was posted to Harry DeWolf in December 2018, PO2 West faced the biggest, and most rewarding, job of his naval career — being part of the crew that would bring the Navy’s first Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) into the fleet.
“When I first joined HMCS Harry DeWolf, the ship wasn’t even finished construction yet. We had to develop all new standard operating procedures,” he said, describing an intense period as the unit began to ramp up ahead of receiving the ship in 2020. “Then, we had this completely brand new ship, different from every other ship any of us had ever sailed on. It was definitely a challenge, but very exciting,” he said.
The reward for all that hard work was a strong sense of esprit de corps and truly the “trip of a lifetime” as a member of the Harry DeWolf crew embarking on the ship’s inaugural deployment in August 2021.
“I had an excellent division and network system that was willing to face the challenges head on and put forth the effort that was required to make Harry DeWolf what it is today,” PO2 West said. “It built a strong camaraderie between the crew because we were all going through the same experience together.”
As the first Royal Canadian Navy vessel to circumnavigate North America via the Northwest Passage since 1954, by the time they arrived back in Halifax on December 16, HMCS Harry DeWolf and its crew had made history.
It’s one of the most memorable experiences of his career in the Navy so far, said PO2 West, but it’s certainly not something he would have imagined ever happening, back in 2004 when he followed the advice of a friend he’d grown up with in his hometown of Saint John, NB and joined the Naval Reserve.
“To be honest, I was in university and just thinking about a summer job and a bit of extra pay to help me with my education. I had never even considered the military, but it all worked out good,” he said.
PO2 West continued on in his military career — first as a reservist and then joining the regular force in 2005 as a boatswain — enjoying both the job security and the opportunity to travel and see the world, as he sailed to many different countries over the years on a variety of RCN ships, including HMCS Preserver.
Continuing in his trade as a boatswain over the years, PO2 West also discovered how much he enjoys mentoring and working with younger members, and people just starting out in their careers. His ability to teach has been noticed; he’s been an instructor at Naval Fleet School (Atlantic) (NFS(A)) and, once his posting with HMCS Harry DeWolf is finished, he’ll continue to pass on knowledge in an “ashore” position at Naval Training Development Centre Atlantic (NTDC(A)).
“Having been with Harry DeWolf since the beginning, and through deployment, I have a lot of operational expertise to pass on. I’m looking forward to that role… I take a lot of pride in teaching, not just specific to my trade but about being in the military in general, and the importance of what we do.”
Reflecting on his 18 years of service so far, PO2 West said he’s seen a lot of changes over the years, definitely for the better when it comes to diversity and inclusivity in the ranks.
“Back in the early years after I joined, the Navy was a predominantly white-cultured space. I have seen and dealt with racism over the years, mostly early on, but I’ve seen changes happen too and it’s been rewarding to have been part of that change. As I moved up through the ranks, I’ve been able to have more of a say and it’s good to know my voice has been heard,” he said.
The RCN of today — and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole — is more representative of Canada, and that’s how it should be, he said.
“The younger generation talks more about their experience and the need for culture change and I’m glad to say the military has been receptive. Change doesn’t happen overnight but it is happening and that’s what’s needed.”