An uncertain start leads to base command

Capt(N) Jeff Hutchinson, Base Commander

Capt(N) Jeff Hutchinson, Base Commander

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer

When the grad party died down and the high school certificate was stowed away, a young Jeff Hutchinson was left aimless. 

It was the early 90s, and nothing really stood out to him as a definitive career path. So, he popped into the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Recruiting Centre, to see what was available for a young lad like himself.

The prospect of a paid post-secondary degree in history and an officer commission seemed appealing. He signed up for Navy – following in one grandfather’s footsteps – and headed off to “boot camp”, also known as Basic Officer Training in Chilliwack, B.C.

Thirty years have passed since he scrawled his name on the Canadian Armed Forces contract. That young fresh-faced teenage recruit is now a naval Captain and CFB Esquimalt’s new Base Commander, having taken the position last Thursday in a formal change of command ceremony.

“I’d say I had the least clue about what I really wanted to do with myself after high school,” says Capt(N) Hutchinson. “Notwithstanding the haphazard way I got here, I sure am happy I made those choices.”

His career has been a volley of posting on either coast, with a few landings in Ottawa, such as his last one – Director Naval Strategic Management at National Defence Headquarters.

His early career sailings were in HMC Ships Montreal, earning his Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate; and Halifax for his Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer and Fleet Navigation Officer tours. He then returned to Halifax as Deck Officer three years later following a shore posting to the Royal Military College. The return to sea strengthened his desire to sail.

“I quickly found that I seemed to be more comfortable at sea than anywhere else and it just seemed to be my place,” he says.

His advice to young sailors beginning their careers: volunteer for every deployment.

“See the world, work hard while you’re young and energetic, not old and creaky like me,” he jests. “Go now, have a blast, because as you get older and go along further in your career, more jobs and responsibilities will pull you ashore.”

In 2006 he headed west – Weapons and Combat Officer in HMCS Vancouver, Operations Officer for Sea Training Pacific, and then Executive Officer in HMCS Calgary in July 2011 and later Algonquin in 2012. His posting as Commanding Officer of HMCS Winnipeg came in 2016 where the ship deployed with HMCS Ottawa to the Indo Asia Pacific Region in 2017. 

This week, as he sets up his office in the hub of Naden – building 5 – he takes over a base emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and all the stress that it brought to the employees under his new watch and to himself.

The pandemic taught him to appreciate what he could accomplish under these unusual circumstances, and let go of his internal self-criticism.

“I eventually learned how to make it through each day without tearing myself to pieces. I had to prioritize better and redefine what success looked like and stop trying to be everything to everyone simultaneously.”

By his side, guiding and supporting him, is wife Jin, who will also become Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton’s new Comptroller, and his two daughters Hayden and Scarlett.

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