Rewarding experience in West Africa

Members of the Christian Young Adult Fellowship of Sierra Leone go for a ride aboard a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat during a visit of HMCS Summerside in Freetown, Sierra Leone, during Neptune Trident 17-01, on March 22, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

Neptune Trident – A rewarding experience for RCN sailors

By LCdr Kelly Williamson,

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONEHMCS Summerside departed Freetown, Sierra Leone on March 26, 2017 after a busy week of community outreach, relationship building and training.

Summerside and consort HMCS Moncton hosted a number of events while alongside in the region as part of Neptune Trident 17-01, the Royal Canadian Navy’s over-arching engagement in West Africa.

For Moncton, the highlight of the Freetown stop was an event hosted by Lieutenant-Commander Nicole Robichaud, Commanding Officer, in collaboration with Canada’s High Commissioner to Ghana and Sierra Leone, Heather Cameron, and UN Women, the global champion for gender equality.

The March 20 event provided approximately 20 high school-aged girls from across Sierra Leone with an opportunity to visit Moncton and Summerside and to talk about non-traditional roles for women with the crews of both ships, along with three prominent female leaders: Brigadier Kestoria Kabia of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces; Assistant Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police, Elizabeth Turay; and Sunkarie Kabba-Kamara, Mayor of Makeni.

The event was a huge success according to LCdr Robichaud. “This was a wonderful experience,” she said. “Sailors from both Moncton and Summerside thoroughly enjoyed sharing experiences with these young women.”

She added, “We were deeply inspired by their courage and the leadership they have demonstrated at such a young age. Today was a unique experience that will help these young women to continue to be a spark for change within their respective communities.”

Another highlight for the crews of both ships was a visit to Aberdeen Municipal School. Partnering with CODE Canada and one of its local affiliates PEN-Sierra Leone, sailors read newly donated – locally produced– children’s stories with the students. Some sailors even helped build shelves to house the books in the school library.

AB Josephine Simpson, a boatswain onboard HMCS Moncton, participated in both events and was thrilled by the experience.

“This has really opened my eyes in respect to differences in the world,” she said. “The young people we met were so amazing, so warm and so kind. This is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

AB Simpson wants Canadians at home to know they “should be grateful…we need to open our eyes a bit and see that we really do have a great country and if you have an opportunity to go out in the world to help other countries, then go for it, do it.”

Moncton slipped and proceeded to sea on March 21 with another port visit to Monrovia in Liberia, while Summerside remained in Freetown fostering relationships with the local community.

In addition to the UN Women and CODE Canada events, Summerside also lent a hand and visited children at the Fatima Interim Care Centre, an orphanage in the Cline Town district of Freetown, and visited with children at St. Edward’s and St. Joseph’s primary schools.

Thanks to the efforts of Minister for African Nova Scotia Affairs, Tony Ince, and community partners, church and school groups throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality, Summerside was able to donate clothing, books, soccer balls, skipping ropes and arts and craft supplies to a number of the venues visited by the crew.

There was also a significant cultural and historic aspect to the Freetown port visit due in part to the historic connections between Nova Scotia and Freetown, which was settled by freed slaves from Nova Scotia in March 1792. During their visit, Summerside’s crew learned about the deep connections between Nova Scotia and Freetown that predate Canada’s Confederation.

HMCS Sumerside and a detachment from the Royal Canadian Navy’s Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG) also participated in training in support of Obangame Express 17, a U.S.-led, multinational training event aimed at enhancing cooperation, coordination and collaboration between states with an interest in maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

MTOG provided mentors to share experiences and help guide members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), Joint Maritime Committee, and Fisheries Inspection and Boarding Teams through a series of events aimed at honing their skills.

MTOG worked and guided their RSLAF counterparts through a range of scenarios from compliant visits to more challenging boarding scenarios, and gave members of the RSLAF advice and guidance that could be adapted to the operational realties of Western Africa.

The Canadians also benefited from the training as it helped them gain a better appreciation for some of the challenges of maritime security in the region, while fostering relationships with regional partners and encouraging mutual understanding at sea.

In its eighth year, Obangame Express 17 is a 12-day training event conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa that runs until March 30. Neptune Trident continues through early May.