Vancouver Homecoming

 Families react to the return of HMCS Vancouver. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Families react to the return of HMCS Vancouver. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

After six months at sea, holiday cheer and heart-felt embraces warmed the spirits of HMCS Vancouver sailors and their families in a homecoming last Wednesday.

Temperatures hovered near the freezing mark and a brisk northerly wind greeted the Halifax-Class frigate as it pulled alongside. Still, family members smiled eagerly as they waited to welcome their loved ones home.

The ship came alongside A Jetty at 10 a.m. where the ship’s company was greeted by a cheering crowd of 250 friends, family and co-workers who waved, blew kisses and held their welcome home banners high.

“There is no better time than when a ship comes alongside after a long deployment and this moment is just perfect for the [holiday] season,” remarked Rear-Admiral (RAdm) Art McDonald, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific, as he stood on the jetty beside Lieutenant-Governor of B.C. Judith Guichon moments before the sailors disembarked.

“When I look around and see all the families and sailors who have made big sacrifices and they are reunited, it warms my heart.”

Moments after the ship docked, Cpl John Jamieson of 443 Squadron was bestowed the honour of the navy’s traditional First Kiss and proceeded with a lengthy embrace with his fiancée Racheal Wilkie. Cpl Jamieson’s name was randomly selected in a raffle with the rest of the ship’s company and said he bought 12 tickets to give him better odds of winning the draw.  He said he was likely the first aviator ever to ever be chosen for the First Kiss aboard an RCN ship.

“This is the best Christmas present ever,” declared Wilkie as the two embraced and the crowd cheered.

“The cold weather has nothing to do with us kissing for so long, it was because I really, really missed her,” said Cpl Jamieson. “I would have kissed her the same amount of time even if it was June.”

Others were equally overcome by the homecoming, including Vancouver’s Chief Boatswain CPO2 Ian Biller who was reunited with his four-year-old son Colton and two-year-old daughter Hailey.

“I’ve been watching them grow up on Facebook for the last six months so it’s great to be hugging them and to finally be reunited just in time for Christmas,” he said.

Throughout the deployment the Military Family Resource Centre held regular Sunday Deployment Sessions at the Colwood Pacific Activity Centre, which included regular updates on the ship’s progress from Vancouver’s Commanding Officer, Cdr Clive Butler, and also allowed family members to video conference with their loved ones.

Since departing Esquimalt in June, Vancouver operated extensively in the Pacific region and participated in a variety of training exercises, including the world’s largest international military exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC); KAKADU, a joint biennial exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Navy involving 20 nations; and WestPloy 16, a deployment aimed at building ties with Asia-Pacific nations. But Vancouver’s unplanned involvement in relief efforts after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island on Nov. 14 was certainly among the highlights of its deployment and spoke volumes about the crew’s training and readiness, said Cdr. Butler.

“We do humanitarian assistant preps as a regular part of our training so I was glad to see such a quick turnaround when the real thing happened,” he said. “We were able to deploy quickly as a self-contained unit and were part of an international effort that reflected well on our combined efforts, which were able to get over 1,000 sailors and five ships on station quickly.”

Vancouver’s return was their second homecoming for 2016 and brought their total deployment this year to nine months. The ship was away from the base for an additional three months earlier this year between February and April as it participated in SouthPloy, a training exercise aimed at strengthening ties with several South American nations including Peru and Chile.

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