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HMCS Fredericton returns to a different world

HMCS Fredericton

HMCS Fredericton arrives in Halifax Harbour July 28 after a lengthy deployment on Operation Reassurance ROTO 12.
Photo by Leading Seaman Bryan Underwood, CAF Imagery Technician

Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper ~

After 141 days at sea that brought unexpected difficulties and tragedy, HMCS Fredericton and crew were finally reunited with their families, friends, and colleagues when they arrived back in Halifax July 28.

“We all know we’re returning to a very different world than when we left Halifax six months ago, but I can’t tell you how great it is to be back on Canadian soil,” said Commander Blair Brown to a small crowd at HMC Dockyard, and to thousands who watched online to see the ship come alongside.

Rather than having a crowd of family members waiting as sailors disembarked, the crew was bussed to Windsor Park to reunite with loved ones in a way that complies with physical distancing guidelines.

Before reaching shore, the ship was met at sea by Gen Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff,  and Harjitt Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, who spoke with the crew to privately thank them for their work under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

On April 29, Fredericton’s CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, code named Stalker 22, crashed during operations off the coast of Greece, with six CAF members losing their lives – Capt Brenden Ian MacDonald, Capt Kevin Hagen, Capt Maxime Miron-Morin, MCpl Matthew Cousins, SLt Abbigail Cowbrough, and SLt Matthew Pyke.

Despite the loss of their friends and shipmates, the crew carried on with their mission through a COVID-19 environment that made it impossible to get rest away from the ship while in port or to travel home on leave.

“Our role in Operation Reassurance was vital, and our ship’s company displayed tremendous resilience, a positive attitude, and unwavering commitment to that mission,” said Cdr Brown.

Others who were present at the jetty for the arrival included family members of Fredericton’s fallen sailors and aviators, who received flowers and condolences from Cdr Brown and other members of senior Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Armed Forces leadership in attendance.

“The loss of our shipmates and the crash of Stalker had a profound impact on all of us. It was felt by every single one of us on board every day, and it’s left a space in our hearts that will remain there for the rest of our days. I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences,” said Cdr Brown.

As part of Canada’s ongoing commitment to Operation Reassurance, HMCS Toronto is now en route to join NATO allies and continue the mission of ensuring stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe.

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