Exercise Northern Reach

Lt(N) Tom Eagle explains helm orders to passengers aboard Raven 56. Photo by SLt M.X. Déry

Lt(N) Tom Eagle explains helm orders to passengers aboard Raven 56. Photo by SLt M.X. Déry

SLt M.X. Déry, MARPAC PA Office ~

Community Relations

There were many firsts during Exercise Northern Reach: the first time Orca-class vessels fueled in Port Hardy, the first time they came alongside in Port McNeill, and the first time many youth in the northern Vancouver Island community met Royal Canadian Navy sailors in uniform.

Approximately 500 residents came out to tour two Orcas that were open to the public over the March 30 weekend, with over 40 people getting to embark on a day sail, including the mayor of Port McNeill, Gabriele Wickstrom.

“It’s a great buzz around town having you come in and I notice there are a lot of people on the docks. So, it’s great that you were well received in our community,” she said.

Commodore Angus Topshee, Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific, sailed during a few days of the exercise, and connected with local representatives including Chief George Alfred from the Namgis First Nations in Alert Bay.

“It’s always interesting to see the perspective of a small place that depends so much on the sea for their livelihood. Also, wonderful to go out on a beautiful day like this and see the incredible scenery that Canada has to offer,” said Cmdre Topshee.

Along with the ships, a recruiting bus showcased careers in the Canadian Armed Forces, members of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group spoke with the public, and Sonar, the Navy mascot, entertained children up and down the jetty, posing for photos and giving high-fives.

At the same time in Port Hardy, LCdr Todd Kennedy visited the Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre to donate on behalf of Boomer’s Legacy knitted tuques, dolls, and blankets to assist in their parenting programs.

“This particular donation is going to be immediately useful to our programs. We do a lot of family programming and parenting programming for expectant mothers. It has been a distinct honour and privilege to receive this donation from the Boomer’s Legacy foundation,” said Garth Holden, acting president at Sacred Wolf. He also remarked that he was a medic in the CAF and had met Corporal Andrew “Boomer” Eykelenboom.

Training Exercises

A four Orca-class vessel task group had a busy training schedule over the last two weeks.

Naval Warfare Officer (NWO) II training for “watch on deck” took place concurrently with a NWO IV pilotage course and a Fleet Navigating Officer course, with all sailors conducting their Orca at-sea phase to enhance their mariner skills.

“They get exposed to the fundamental elements of being at sea,” said Lieutenant Commander Todd Kennedy, Commander Venture Division. “The phase IVs are at the culmination of their yearlong training. They only have about a month and a half left.”

In the coming weeks, the NWO phase IV students will complete their pilotage navigation assessments, complete charge phase, and then join the fleet to begin earning their bridge watchkeeping certification.

Adding to the complexity of Exercise Northern Reach was the desire to sail in the northern part of Vancouver Island and test the ability of smaller ports in accommodating multiple vessels.

Orca-class vessels dwarf most ships in small ports, and with a crew 24 they require substantial jetty services such as fuel, water and food.

To prepare for an alongside visit to Port McNeill, a forward logistics team was sent to ensure services were delivered and to help setup for a community relations event that included the Canadian Coast Guard, Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft from 407 Squadron CFB Comox and the Orcas and their crew. Face-time with the public is also part of a sailor’s job in the Royal Canadian Navy.

“Some would argue that training is couched between the left and right arc of mariner skill-sets and the fundamentals of navigation, and reporting, and discipline. But there is something to be said about being interpersonal, being able to understand strategic government intent and how that plays out at the tactical level,” explained LCdr Kennedy about the importance of interacting with the public.

“Once they’ve joined the fleet as qualified operators and start leading at sea in major surface combatants, they will go to port visits abroad on behalf of the Government of Canada, as an extension of international policy. So, these sailors will have had exposure to community relations.”

The ability for Naval Warfare Officers to explain what they do, what other sailors do, and by extension what the Government of Canada does for Canadians domestically, is an important ambassador-like skill.

On operations such as Projection, Reassurance and Artemis, they will interact with members of allied navies and international partners, and that is when those skills will be instrumental to the success of port visits.

But for now, the community relations training for this operation is complete. The task group left Port McNeill on April 1 and carried on with Exercise Northern Reach for a second week of training.

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