RCN ships back in Halifax after unique West African deployment
By Ryan Melanson,
After nearly three months away from home in the warm West African climate, the crews of HMC ships Summerside and Kingston had were quickly reintroduced to Halifax-style weather as they came alongside Jetty NC on April 17.
Heavy rain and 60 km/h wind gusts made for a cold and wet return, but plenty of families, kids and even a few excited pets were still on hand to welcome the sailors home after successfully carrying out Op PROJECTION West Africa.
The mission was described as a strategic engagement meant to support capacity building and foster relationships with partner navies, as well as to engage at the community level, visiting and helping out with manual labour tasks at schools, daycares and other locations in multiple countries, including Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin and Ghana. The ships sailed from their final port of call in Madeira in early April and arrived in Halifax about nine days later.
It’s the type of deployment that many have described as a trip of a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean sailors weren’t excited step off their respective ships and get reunited with loved ones.
“It was an incredible experience, different than anything I’ve done before, but I still can’t describe how good it feels to be home. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time now,” said SLt Joannie Martin-Labelle, one of the first off HMCS Kingston, who was greeted by kisses from both her boyfriend, Lt(N) Sebastien Williamson, and her puppy Merlin.
MS Joey Roberts, also a member of HMCS Kingston, came to the ship with sailing experience mainly on the larger Halifax-class frigates, but said once he adjusted to the bumpy ride of crossing the Atlantic in an MCDV, he enjoyed being part of a smaller crew on the unique trip. The at-sea portion of Op PROJECTION, which included the US-led Obangame Express exercise from March 22-27, saw Kingston and Summerside, along with Dutch and Belgian partners, lead exercises with the Navies of Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“Bringing the other Navies over onto our ships was a highlight. We were teaching them some counter-piracy techniques, drug interdiction maneuvers and procedures, and there was a lot for us to gain as well in passing that knowledge along,” MS Roberts said.
LCdr Matthew Woodburn, Kingston’s Commanding Officer, echoed those comments. While the Canadian ships served as a platform for exercises mainly focused on building capacity for the West African personnel, he described an exchange of cultures, ideas and best practices that was beneficial all around. This started before the vessels even departed in February, with exchange officers from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire accompanying the RCN crews across the Atlantic.
“We were really able to learn from each other. We saw how they do their work with these types of operations, and they were able to see what we have on our ships and how we conduct our business for Maritime security,” LCdr Woodburn said.
The majority of those who made up the two ship’s companies were deploying and operating in that area of the world for the first time, while a few others, including LCdr Emily Lambert, Summerside’s CO, were returning after being a part of the initial 2017 deployment. This year, she was able to bring familiarity with the region and the like-minded Navies the RCN is working with, and she also further developed friendships and working relationships with some African counterparts who she got to know during last year’s trip.
“And the RCN plans to continue sailing to the region for the next three to five years, so we’ll become more familiar and this will become a more typical deployment for us. We’ve done a lot in these two years to build relationships with some of these like-minded West African Navies, so it will be very important to continue that work,” she said.
The community-focused portions of the trip involved not only deliveries of donations and lending a hand to local schools, but also plenty of meetings with community members and welcoming of visitors on board the ships, with a special focus on meeting young women and promoting women’s rights and equality.
“That was very special to me and my crew,” LCdr Lambert added.
“We were able to pass on our stories and hopefully help inspire some young women and let them see that there are non-traditional jobs that they can aspire to.”