Local educators take field trip ‘beyond the fence’

Participants in the Canadian Leaders Alongside (CLA) program pose for a group photo at the Fleet Maintenance Facility (CAPE BRETON), HMC Dockyard, CFB Esquimalt, Victoria, British Columbia on 19 September 2023. The CLA program provides a select few with the chance to experience the operations and capabilities of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Photo: Aviator Conor R.G. Munn, Canadian Armed Forces Imagery Technician

Sabina Kukurudziak

‘Out of sight, out of mind’. The saying’s origin is lost to time, but surely, a sailor must have uttered it first.

For years, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has endeavoured to overcome ‘maritime blindness’: low levels of awareness amongst Canadians of their Navy’s defence and security roles. The effect obscures our ships and sailors operating around the globe at sea, as well as all those working behind gates and fences in restricted access areas at our two coastal naval bases.

“It’s unrealistic to expect Canadians to support something they don’t know or understand,” said Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Anne Gardam, Senior Staff Officer Outreach and Attractions at Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters. “Although there is no single solution to the problem, there are things we all can do to improve the situation.”

Lieutenant-Commander Nick Kucher informs participants in the Canadian Leaders Alongside (CLA) program during a tour of the His Majesty’s Canadian Ship REGINA (FFH 334) at HMC Dockyard, CFB Esquimalt.
Photo: Aviator Conor R.G. Munn, Canadian Armed Forces Imagery Technician

One example of such an initiative is Canadian Leaders Alongside (CLA) – a program that invites civilian managers and executives to learn about the RCN and the wide range of military and civilian career opportunities it offers.

On Sept. 18, a select group of eight Vancouver Island educators in the secondary and post-secondary sectors were given privileged access to CFB Esquimalt to explore its units and facilities and, more importantly, to meet its people.

The tour began at HMCS Venture’s world-class Navigation and Bridge Simulator (NABS). Participants observed junior officers train in a simulated maritime environment before being whisked away by bus to HMC Dockyard to explore HMC Submarine Corner Brook, one of four RCN long-range patrol submarines. Guests got a rare glimpse of living conditions aboard the boat and discussed aspects of submarine service with crew representatives. Next, they visited Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton, one of the largest indoor industrial facilities on North America’s West Coast. Here, they learned about the many employment opportunities available across civilian technical trades. Guests got a ‘taste of the Navy’ by lunching at Nelles Galley before resuming the tour of HMCS Regina, where they interacted with sailors who explained the military occupations that comprise a ship’s company.

Participants tour the Damage Control Division training centre located in CFB Esquimalt.
Photo: Aviator Conor R.G. Munn, Canadian Armed Forces Imagery Technician

“Our sailors are our best ambassadors,” said LCdr Gardam. “When given the opportunity, they share their knowledge and experience proudly and enthusiastically with the public.”

The educators briefly developed their ‘sea legs’ while traversing the harbour by jet boat to meet with Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) divers before ending their day at Damage Control Training Facility Galiano. There, they learned how every sailor must undergo damage control training before joining a ship and that even participants in the new Naval Experience Program (NEP) must complete the Naval Environmental Training Program.

The first NEP participants had already arrived in Esquimalt and begun training. The hosts stressed that the one-year program allows candidates to experience life in the RCN while learning about various trade options before deciding if they wish to commit to a longer service period.

Participants travel to visit the Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) by crossing the shore in a Patrol Craft near Victoria, British Columbia.
Photo: Aviator Conor R.G. Munn, Canadian Armed Forces Imagery Technician

“I think the one-year gap program is such a great opportunity for people to try the Navy without the long-term commitment,” said Carmen deGoey, Department Chair for Electrical Trades at Camosun College. “I am already sharing things I’ve learned during this visit with my staff and students.”

The tour ended with a return bus ride from Colwood to Work Point. LCdr Gardam said this was a very successful day.

“The time and resources shared by organizations hosting these engagements is a smart investment in the effort to attract and recruit the next generation of sailors who are essential to maintaining our maritime capability,” LCdr Gardam said.

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