Perspective from a Bridge Watch Keeper Under Training

SLt Jillian Surette

SLt Jillian Surette

SLt Jillian Surette, HMCS Ville De Québec ~

In late January, I set sail for Africa with HMCS Shawinigan in consort with HMCS Glace Bay for Operation Projection 2020. During this sail I learned seamanship and how to run the bridge of a minor war vessel, earning my bridge watch keeping ticket. Unfortunately, the deployment was cut short due to COVID-19, which was starting to grow significantly worldwide.

We returned mid-April.

After a few months working from home, I was posted to the frigate HMCS Ville De Québec, where I took the next step in my career as a Naval Warfare Officer.

I joined the ship for Mission State Readiness Training in preparation for Operation Nanook-Tuugaalik. It quickly became a crash course on everything to do with life on major warship, starting with where do I sleep, eat, or do laundry, and how do I even get there? Then there is what happens when there’s an emergency or a drill?

I was finally able to see all the evolutions I learned about while I was training in Esquimalt first-hand, and learn even more than when I was on course. Everything I had forgotten rushed backed into memory in a hurry, on top of all the new things to which I was being exposed.

For Op Nanook-Tuugaalik, Ville De Québec took position as the Flag Ship, embarking Captain(N) Martin Fluet and his staff from Canadian Fleet Atlantic. We set sail with our consorts, Canadian ships Glace Bay, MV Asterix, United States Ship (USS) Thomas Hudner, United States Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma, His Danish Majesty’s Ship Triton, and French Ship Fulmar.

The purpose of this sail was to show NATO military presence in the Arctic, and work with our alliance counterparts to conduct exercises together as we proceeded North to the Arctic Circle and to Nuuk, Greenland. As this was such a big operation and I was new to this class of ship, I was hesitant at first on the bridge when it came to running the watch. As an untrained bridge watch keeper, most of my time on the bridge is understudying the ticketed watch keepers, maintaining administration, and finding opportunities to drive the watch, and work to refine my reports to the captain.

During this operation, we were involved in multi-ship anti-warfare operations, conducting exercises in anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, using weapons fitted on ships, and towed acoustic systems to track underwater threats, as well as helicopter evolutions. This was also my first time being involved in major weapons firings, which can be remotely controlled from an operations room team. The ships took turns firing at a remotely controlled Hammer Head Target with the 57mm gun, in order to sink the target in accordance with environmental safety precautions.

We conducted multiple helicopter serials with USS Thomas Hudner’s Sea Hawk Cutlass. With no air detachment onboard, this was a great opportunity for our Ship Without Air Detachment team to conduct training.

Additionally, this was my first time being involved in the recovery and launching of a helicopter on the deck of a ship, which requires a steady ship and a watchful eye on the safety of the whole evolution.

This to me was the coolest and most nerve-wracking of all the operations we conducted. Being under the helicopter in one of the control stations as it hovered over our flight deck really gave me an appreciation why it’s so important to maintain safety during the evolution.

I am extremely grateful for my experience being posted to HMCS Ville De Québec in time for Op Nanook. It is a great crew, with many people with varying levels of experience as a bridge watch keeper. It was an incredible experience to be a part of a multi-national task group and work alongside allied nations.

As the operation ended, my only regret was not being able to be in more than one place at a time to experience all of the serials.


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