Part-time sailor joins HMCS Winnipeg for Operations Neon and Projection

Sailor First Class Hunter Johnson on board HMCS Winnipeg in the East China Sea during Operation Neon. Photo by MCpl Andre Maillet, MARPAC Imaging Services

Sailor First Class Hunter Johnson on board HMCS Winnipeg in the East China Sea during Operation Neon. Photo by MCpl Andre Maillet, MARPAC Imaging Services

S1 Hunter Johnson
HMCS Winnipeg

Who knew that signing up for a job that would land me in the middle of the ocean on a warship would be one of the best confidence boosters in my professional life?

The last time I stepped foot on a Canadian warship was for Rim of the Pacific 2018 in HMCS Ottawa. Since then, I finished my undergrad, completed my Naval Communicator course in Halifax, and deployed with my reserve unit, HMCS Prevost, located in London, ON, on two domestic operations for COVID-19 (Operation Laser and Operation Vector).

Weeks before I signed up for Operations Neon/Projection in HMCS Winnipeg, I had just finished a year-long contract for a civilian job and was starting to look into sailing again to brush up on my skills, and to have a chance of getting out of the country for a little while.

Since sailing in Ottawa, I knew without a doubt I wanted to sail in a frigate again. The larger crew and platform is a personal preference and I have a lot of fond memories from RIMPAC.

With near perfect timing, my best friend (also a Reservist at HMCS Prevost) saw a few openings in HMCS Winnipeg and, of course, we had to sign up together. After just two weeks I was offered a spot in the Naval Communicator section, and my bestie was offered a position as a Human Resource Adminstrator.

Two weeks. That’s all it took to have this amazing opportunity right in front of me. So, my home unit booked my flights and I started preparing to leave home for the four month deployment.

You’re probably thinking, “Two weeks isn’t a lot of time to prepare for four months of life at sea.” But, you’d be surprised how quickly one can adjust to a different environment, and a good portion of that can be credited to the crew and how welcoming they are.

Although I was looking forward to exploring other continents with new and old friends, there are currently limits to our port visits with the pandemic. However, where possible, we’ve still been able to experience other cultures, such as attending an eye-opening Canadian commemoration ceremony at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan. Honestly, even just having catered Korean fried chicken was worth the trip to South Korea.

From stargazing on the bridge top, to watching our own band play on the flight deck, to the Sub-Lieutenant’s crafting Starbucks-esque drinks in the Wardroom, there is never a dull moment.

My crewmates are great at keeping morale high with various activities and events; have you ever had a Mario Kart or Poker tournament while transiting in the South China Sea? I never thought that would be something on my bucket list, but I added it just to cross it out.

Other than the stories I now have in my back pocket, one thing I’ve always loved about my time in the Reserve Force is the flexibility I get in building my career. Returning home with new and invaluable experiences and skills, and being able to use them in every facet of my life—whether it be exploring my passions in my civilian career, or taking on another full-time contract with the Reserves—is a game changer. That is a huge part of why this particular deployment helped boost my confidence as an employee and as a junior manager. I am getting the best out of my experiences with the Royal Canadian Navy, knowing that I had a large hand in getting myself to my current position.

What I’m trying to get at here is if you are a reservist, consider taking up the challenge of augmenting the Regular Force, I’d highly encourage you to give it a shot. Jump right into sailing and see where it takes you. After all, you might end up in the middle of the ocean with one of the largest Carrier Strike Groups since the Second World War, and an unlimited supply of stories to tell friends and family when you return home.


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