Submariner takes command of Canada’s Atlantic Fleet

RAdm Brian Santarpia, centre, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic, presided over a change of command ceremony for Canadian Fleet Atlantic on August 3, between outgoing Commander Cmdre Richard Feltham, left, and the incoming Commander, Cmdre Christopher Robinson.

Submariner takes command of Canada’s Atlantic Fleet

By Joanie Veitch,
Trident Staff

Cmdre Richard Feltham handed over Command of Canadian Fleet Atlantic to Cmdre Christopher Robinson at a change of command ceremony held on Aug. 3 in Halifax at the dockyard’s NB Jetty, with HMCS Montreal as a backdrop.

Presiding over the ceremony, RAdm Brian Santarpia, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic, noted it as one of the largest in-person events held at the base since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve come so far as a community, as a city, as a province and as a country. It’s just so special to be here,” he said. “For so long, over the last two years, we’ve been doing these events without families and without friends and the fact that we can do this today really means a lot.”

In his farewell address, Cmdre Feltham said his command began “with a bang” as the fleet prepared for Cutlass Fury 2019, only to have the schedule for the Canadian-led international exercise disrupted by Hurricane Dorian. A welcome return to “routine” soon gave way to the global pandemic and restrictions, a situation that was particularly hard on members of the Navy and their families, he said — even more so after the Stalker 22 Cyclone helicopter tragedy that killed six Canadian Armed Forces members on April 29, 2020, while on deployment with HMCS Fredericton.

“All families across the country have had to deal with difficulty and challenges due to the pandemic but here today I’d like to highlight the sacrifices made by our sailors and their families, who not only trained in quarantine, but deployed for six-month voyages, never adventuring further away from the ship than a brief walk on the jetty, if lucky,” said Cmdre Feltham.

Retiring from a 36-year career with the Navy, Cmdre Feltham will remain as part of the Defence team as Maritime Forces Atlantic’s Director of Naval Force Readiness.

Commending Cmdre Feltham as a compassionate leader who “always balances the needs of the sailors with the needs of the Navy,” RAdm Santarpia said he is looking forward to working with the incoming Commander —Cmdre Christopher Robinson — who comes to the position after serving as Director General of Naval Force Development since June 2019.

Cmdre Robinson, who grew up in Hudson, Quebec, began his military career as Combat Engineer with the Canadian Army Reserves and has been a Naval Warfare Officer for almost three decades, serving aboard Canadian submarines Onondaga, Ojibwa, Victoria, Corner Brook and Windsor.

“We are very lucky to be getting an officer of this quality,” said RAdm Santarpia. “Chris brings a great amount of tactical expertise and experience in one of the most difficult things our Navy has, he has commanded submarines.”

In his address to the fleet, Cmdre Robinson reflected on various technological changes and the changing nature of conflict itself, concluding by saying that ultimately it’s the people who are key to the Navy’s success.

“We have a great deal of information but we still need to determine what is relevant and what is not. We must be able to create effective environments not traditionally impacted by naval forces. So technology plays a part, but I submit that it’s the leadership and professionalism of our teams that are the winning factor…. we need efficient and effective crews who enjoy their roles.”

While the change of command ceremony is an important event marking the passing of command between two officers, RAdm Santarpia also pointed to the fleet, and its sailors, as the heart of such occasions.

“The responsibility of command is immense, it’s all consuming and it’s about serving,” he said. “This ceremony is really about all of the people who are here on the jetty, who won’t be speaking today…it’s about the fleet.”