Acting Sub-Lieutenant Richard Pereira

Sailor Profile / July 9, 2013

I am a bridge watchkeeper under training. My job is to assist the officer of the watch on the bridge, and learn from him. My duties range from taking fixes to driving the ship during simple evolutions. All of this is done in order to earn my bridge watchkeeping certificate, so I can stand watch as officer of the watch some day.

I am also the ship's education officer and officer professional development program co-ordinator. I'm a first-generation Canadian. The portion of my family that resides in Canada lives in Toronto. My parents were born in Funchal, Madeira, a Portuguese island about 800 km west of Morocco. They came here in the late 1960s/early 1970s and settled in Toronto. The rest of my family lives in Madeira, Portugal, Angola and Brazil.

We have been conducting maritime interdiction operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf. In layman's terms, we have been searching for potential smugglers transporting goods to and from Iraq in contravention of UN resolutions. We search for merchant ships and tankers, and query them as to where they've been, where they're going, what they're carrying, etc. If their story seems odd, we divert them to an anchorage area where we board and search the vessel. If everything checks out, we send them on their way. Otherwise, they are escorted to Kuwait, where the vessel and cargo are confiscated.

Shipboard life is very similar to everyday life in that you fall into a routine, but our routine is thrown off every now and then when something unexpected happens. The watch rotation is set up the week before, so I always know when I go up on watch on the bridge (four-hour watches). I can plan my off-watch hours and activities for the week. You're also stuck on a ship 103 m long, with 240 other people-if you want to be alone, the best you can do is lie on your bunk and close your eyes. It is hard being away from loved ones on any type of operation.

There's a saying that goes, "You never remember the departures, only the homecomings." E-mail helps greatly-it seems like my girlfriend is talking to me right here on the ship. Even if it is only an illusion, it's better than a memory. As for shipboard stress, you have to be like rubber and bounce back quickly. Stress can pile up fast on a warship, and if you can't let it go it will overwhelm you. The military executes the will of the government elected by the people. A weak military is a sign either of a weak government or of people that do not care. The Americans have a powerful military not just because of the money they spend on hardware, but because the people support their soldiers, sailors and air crew, and say so publicly.

Our job is not only to fight wars, but also to put forth a visible Canadian presence in every port we stop at. We are ambassadors as much as we are warriors. We go where others flee, and say, "Here is Canada's contribution to global peace and security." If Canadians fail to support us, then that presence is removed, and the rest of the world will just assume Canada doesn't care.

The travel is nice. I don't think I would ever be able to see, in my old life, all the places I'm visiting during this deployment. The biggest reward is training and skills development. We're sailors, after all, and we're trained to go to "sea", not sit alongside and twiddle our thumbs.