Sailors return home from West African deployment

Photo by Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

Photo by Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper ~

After nearly three months away from home in the balmy West African climate, the crews of HMC Ships Summerside and Kingston were reintroduced to Halifax-style weather as they came alongside Jetty NC on April 17.

Heavy rain and 60 kilometer an hour wind gusts made for a cold and wet return. But that didn’t douse anyone’s spirits as families, children and even a few excited pets reunited with the sailors, bringing an end to Operation Projection West Africa.

The mission was described as a strategic engagement meant to support capacity building and foster relationships with partner navies. It also was to engage at the community level, visiting and helping out with manual labour tasks at schools, daycares and other locations in multiple countries, including Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin and Ghana.

The ships sailed from their final port of call in Madeira in early April and arrived in Halifax about nine days later.

“It was an incredible experience, different than anything I’ve done before, but I still can’t describe how good it feels to be home. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time now,” said SLt Joannie Martin-Labelle, one of the first off Kingston, who was greeted with kisses from both her boyfriend, Lt(N) Sebastien Williamson, and her puppy Merlin.

The at-sea portion of Op Projection, which included the U.S.-led Obangame Express exercise from March 22-27, saw Kingston and Summerside, along with Dutch and Belgian partners, lead exercises with the Navies of Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

While the Canadian ships served as a platform for exercises mainly focused on building capacity for the West African personnel, LCdr Matthew Woodburn, Kingston’s Commanding Officer, described an exchange of cultures, ideas and best practices that was beneficial all around. This started before the vessels departed in February, with exchange officers from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire accompanying the Royal Canadian Navy crews across the Atlantic.    

“We were really able to learn from each other. We saw how they do their work with these types of operations, and they were able to see what we have on our ships and how we conduct our business for maritime security,” LCdr Woodburn said.

The community-focused portions of the trip involved the delivery of donations and lending a hand to local schools, and plenty of meetings with community members and welcoming of visitors on board the ships, with a special focus on meeting young women and promoting women’s rights and equality.

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