Clearance divers feted with Theatre Honours

From the left: RAdm Art McDonald, Commander of Martime Forces Pacific; CPO1 Gilles Gregoire, Formation Chief; LCdr Chad Naefken, Commanding Officer Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific); and CPO1 Robert DeProy, FDU Coxswain, display the Battle Board presented at the unit’s Theatre Honours ceremony Feb. 28. The unit’s Clearance Divers were recognized for their bomb-defusing efforts in Afghanistan. Photos by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

From the left: RAdm Art McDonald, Commander of Martime Forces Pacific; CPO1 Gilles Gregoire, Formation Chief; LCdr Chad Naefken, Commanding Officer Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific); and CPO1 Robert DeProy, FDU Coxswain, display the Battle Board presented at the unit’s Theatre Honours ceremony Feb. 28. The unit’s Clearance Divers were recognized for their bomb-defusing efforts in Afghanistan. Photos by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Last week, in a highly prestigious ceremony, Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) (FDU(P)) received its first Theatre Honours in recognition for their work in Afghanistan.

Rear-Admiral Art McDonald, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, presented the honours on behalf of David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and called the moment a “significant milestone.”

After inspecting the 49-member Guard of Honour on parade at the unit’s West Shore explosive ordnance disposal garage on Feb. 28, the Admiral presented the Battle Board for display in their mess.

“For all of you currently serving or who have served in the FDU, this honour recognizes the exceptional excellence that is synonymous with the Fleet Diving Unit,” said RAdm McDonald. “The war in Afghanistan was synonymous with IED [Improvised Explosive Device] and the work of defusing these devices by FDU Clearance Divers was done in dangerous situations. That work changed the course of the war and your unit should be extremely proud of what you achieved in Afghanistan.”

The 4’ x 4’ wooden Battle Board features rope work carved out of wood with the inscription: Fleet Diving Unit Pacific, Afghanistan 2002-2014, Strength in Depth.

“It’s incredibly nice to receive this official recognition,” said LCdr Chad Naefken, FDU’s Commanding Officer. “It is a great source of pride for the entire unit. It will be used as a centre piece for all of our functions.”

Theatre Honours are official public recognition of Canadian Armed Forces units for their participation in NATO-led United Nations-sanctioned mission in Afghanistan. On May 9, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the honours, officially entitled South-West Asia Theatre Honours, would be bestowed on units of the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

Over 40,000 soldiers, sailors and aviators served Canada’s 12-year mission in Afghanistan, the longest military conflict in Canadian history. When operations in Afghanistan officially ended in 2014 it had claimed the lives of 158 Canadian Armed Forces members.

After the presentation was made, those attending bowed their heads for a moment of silence and prayer to remember Canadian military members killed in battle, and for those who suffered physical and psychological injuries during the conflict.

One of those deployed to Afghanistan was RAdm McDonald’s younger brother, who is a retiring Sergeant in the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment (2 RCR) of Gagetown, N.B.

“You insured our people, our shipmates and family members came home, including my brother,” said RAdm McDonald.

One of those who didn’t come home was 37-year-old father of two, PO2 Craig Blake, a Clearance Diver with the FDU(Atlantic), who was killed by an IED May 3, 2010, just three weeks into his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

In attendance was CPO2 Alexander MacNeish, one of two clearance divers that served in Afghanistan. He knew PO2 Blake very well.

“I was a pallbearer during the ceremony when we walked his casket up the ramp [of the plane] in Afghanistan. It was not only a devastating loss for his family but also for our trade as a whole,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit family; there are only 134 Clearance Divers in Canada.”

For CPO1 (Ret’d) Darrell Colwell the ceremony also marked the 10th anniversary of the day he returned home from Afghanistan.

He was attached to the U.S. Army’s Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell unit, which conducted blast investigation work. Over his 223 days of deployment, CPO1 (Ret’d) Colwell says his unit investigated 112 explosions, most of which were from IED’s.

“I’m hoping this acknowledgement will also help or be supportive to those who are still suffering from psychological injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he says.

Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author: The Lookout Newspaper can trace its history back to April 1943 when CFB Esquimalt’s first newspaper was published. Since then, Lookout has grown into the award winning source for Pacific Navy News. Leading the way towards interactive social media reach, we are a community resource newspaper growing a world wide audience.

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