HMCS Star delivers duff and boosts morale this Holiday Season

S2 Kelsey Labbé receives a surprise promotion outside her house.

S2 Kelsey Labbé receives a surprise promotion outside her house.

S1 Bill Jethro Bagunu

Festive dinners in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) are ripe with tradition and holiday cheer.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, Naval Reserve Division HMCS Star’s Festive Dinner tradition continued, albeit a little differently. Due to the ongoing pandemic, only a limited number of sailors were able to attend this year’s festivities.

Festivities began with promotions, awards and presentations. Well-earned medals were awarded for service in various operations including Caribbe, Reassurance and Projection. Commissioning scrolls and certificates of recognition were provided and acknowledged by Lieutenant-Commander Marie-Sonya Sowa, Star’s Commanding Officer.

Normally, the festive dinner, the Officers, Chiefs, and Petty Officers would serve the Junior Ranks a complete turkey dinner prepared by Star’s Galley. COVID-19 restrictions prevented the unit from gathering for these festivities, leading the Command Team to adapt the plan and find a new way to continue the tradition of serving its junior sailors while following health regulations.

So, the concept of Duff Boxes was born, with the unique catch phrase of ‘Duff No Duff’. ‘Duff’ being naval slang for desserts; ‘No Duff’ meaning it’s not a drill, it’s for real.

This included the senior leadership delivering boxes of cookies and sweets with signed cards from the Commanding Officer to the houses of junior sailors, staying true to the tradition of leadership serving its junior ranks during the festive season.

“I love it! For us the festive dinner is an opportunity for the sailors to be treated from the Officers, Chiefs and Petty Officers; to recognize their efforts and allow them to be seated while we do the serving,” said LCdr Sowa.

She ensured each vehicle was equipped with hand sanitizer and that physical distancing practices and mask etiquette were followed.

During duff box deliveries, S2 Kelsey Labbé was promoted to S1 by LCdr Sowa. The rank of S1 is a milestone in any sailor’s career and having her promoted despite pandemic restrictions was something that Star’s Command Team viewed as the right thing to do.

“I was so surprised that all I could do was laugh and smile as I wore my mask and watched them change my epaulettes; needless to say, it rendered me practically speechless,” said S1 Labbé, a musician at Star. “I felt appreciated, valued, and happy to kick off the season with a new rank on my shoulders.”

Additionally, the Commanding Officer kept the tradition of switching ranks going with the youngest sailor. She stopped by S3 Rupp’s front yard to briefly swap jackets.

Throughout the day’s festivities, all members of Star were able to experience it live via Microsoft Teams from the safety and comfort of their homes.

HMCS Star is a Naval Reserve Division located in Hamilton, ON. Its members fill diverse occupations including firefighting, real estate, teaching, and engineering. Additionally, Star is comprised of a large number of students in college and university. Star sailors also regularly contribute their time to the RCN and have been deployed on various operations around the world.


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  1. Charles Bagunu says:

    Beautiful article

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