HMCS Halifax departs, second ship to join NATO operations

HMCS Halifax

Joanie Veitch 
Trident Newspaper

Just before HMCS Halifax sailed away to join Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) in waters off Europe March 19, Commander Dale St. Croix, Halifax Commanding Officer, said he and his crew felt buoyed by the support they’ve received. Not just the extra help from base and dockyard colleagues, but also well-wishes from the general public.

“Canadians usually don’t pay much attention to their armed forces, except at times of strife,” says Cdr St. Croix. “We’ve received a lot of encouragement, from people and politicians to business leaders, all telling us they’re proud of what we’re doing. It’s been very touching.”

Halifax will join HMCS Montreal to provide additional military support to NATO operations in Central and Eastern Europe. The warship was to deploy on Operation Artemis in the Middle East in April, but was re-tasked by the Federal Government.

While the ship is scheduled to arrive in the Baltic region in early April, Cdr St. Croix says the crew will be doing extra training activities on their way across the Atlantic Ocean, primarily working with their embarked helicopter air detachment.

“We are at a level of high readiness, but with this final training we’ll be able to refine our skills so we’re even more prepared by the time we arrive.”

While past deployments would see Canadian warships involved in a wide range of multinational NATO exercises over the course of their six-month deployment, the war in Ukraine has made the schedule of activities on this deployment less certain.

Their main focus, Cdr St. Croix says, will be on combat-readiness operations within the greater mission, as well as providing general security, including search and rescue operations and any needed humanitarian assistance.

“Any time there are people on the move in large numbers there’s a concern from a navy perspective for any incidents at sea with people in unseaworthy ships. It’s always something you prepare for,” he says.

The main goal, he adds, is to be present “to assure our NATO allies that we’re ready to respond should anything occur.”

Just as the schedule for activities is not fully known, exactly how long Halifax will be gone is also a shifting target.

“The schedule has changed so many times already and it will change again. Right now, we’re tracking to return mid- to end of July, but with what’s going on in the world, we just can’t know for sure,” says Cdr St. Croix. “I’ve told the crew to be flexible.”

While there are inherent risks with any mission for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the situation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has made this deployment feel different than previous ones, both for the crew and for their families and loved ones at home. 

While everyone in the ship’s company is feeling that tension, Cdr St. Croix says he’s impressed with how well the crew has pulled together in getting ready for the mission.

“There is a lot of political instability in eastern Europe right now. Does that have the potential to boil up into something more? Of course it does. We have prepared the crew for any tasking. They are very well prepared already and will be even more prepared by the time we get there. Hopefully the situation will be resolved diplomatically, but in the meantime, we have to remain vigilant and at a high level of readiness.”

Commander Dale St. Croix, Commanding Officer HMCS Halifax

Commander Dale St. Croix, Commanding Officer HMCS Halifax

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