Naval Reserve Divisions: Safeguarding our history and modernizing our force

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Crowsnest - Fall 2017 / October 31, 2017

By Lieutenant-Commander David Lewis

For over 100 years the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has maintained a strong, vibrant and engaged presence in the communities of Halifax and Victoria. The population in these areas are familiar with seeing RCN ships in their harbours and sailors in their streets.

In the vast expanse of Canada between these two cities however, it is a mission of Naval Reserve Divisions (NRDs) to “support the navy’s efforts in connecting with Canadians through the maintenance of a broad national presence.”

For almost a century, NRDs have been accomplishing this task.

The mountains, prairies and farmlands might never see a Canadian sailor if it wasn’t for the 24 local NRDs that represent the RCN. It is these “stone frigates” that generate a sustainable strategic source of trained personnel for Canadian Armed Forces operations. It is these local hometown sailors, actively involved in their communities, who not only train to augment the naval fleet, but also to deploy on domestic emergency operations.

Rising to the challenge

Sailors from the NRDs have responded and assisted their fellow Canadians after ice storms, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.

Throughout their history they have risen to the challenge, even in the world’s darkest hours. When the Nazi scourge swept across Europe, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Unicorn in Saskatoon enlisted over 3,000 prairie boys, and HMCS Chippawa in Winnipeg, despite being furthest inland, became the third largest source of recruits for the RCN. HMCS Prevost in London, Ont., enlisted almost 5,000 sailors for the war effort and began an English language training centre for francophone sailors.

The list goes on with a litany of service and action. HMCS Tecumseh in Calgary enlisted naval pilot Robert Hampton Gray, the only member of the RCN to be awarded the Victoria Cross. HMCS York in Toronto was one of the premier naval recruiting depots in the British Commonwealth with almost 17,000 men and women enrolled.

More recently we see NRDs from Montréal, Québec City, Sept-Îles and Chicoutimi (among others) coming to aid when rising flood waters threatened Montréal, and HMCS Cabot in St. John’s provided lodging to almost 500 people stranded during the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

These are the stories of Canada’s naval reservists. Thousands of untold stories about the icy crossings during the Battle of the Atlantic, offshore actions in Korea, modern missions as first responders in Haiti, and forward deployments around the world.     

Our mission as naval reservists is to inherit the legacy entrusted to us and to continue it forward in the identity and the brand of an active, exciting, relevant force for the future.

Branding the Naval Reserve

Branding, in general, has evolved over the years. Branding used to be a simple description of the product. A popular cola ad would brand itself as “cold and refreshing”, a popular car ad would tell you the horsepower and gas mileage. But things have changed.

The evolution of branding has taken us away from the product itself and into an era which promotes the anticipated experience or emotion the product represents. A modern cola ad simply shows exciting footage of snowboarders, surfers, various athletes followed by a logo of the cola. The new car ad has a father reminiscing about how he loves his family and keeps them safe, followed by him gifting his daughter with this brand of car.

Most of our experience with a brand is created through the associations that we’ve made and not through personal experience. We assume we would enjoy eating at a certain restaurant because we somewhat voyeuristically shared the warm personal moments in a branded ad of others dining there.

This is our challenge as reservists in a Naval Reserve Division. We must represent and share the experience of the RCN brand. Quite often we are the first and only contact many Canadians will have with the navy and it is therefore essential, as part of the “One Navy” construct, that we completely represent what the RCN is and does. The NRD is the “storefront” across the country and it is our job to ensure a modern and exciting product placement.

Product placement is essential. In marketing our brand we must evaluate where we can attain maximum visibility to a prime demographic. What other brands target the same demographic and where do they choose to market that brand? Does an energy drink associate their brand with an arts and crafts show or at an athletic obstacle course challenge? Does the sporting gear brand seek visibility at a cartoon characters on-ice show or a hockey game?

To increase awareness of our brand and to create an immediate and accurate “expectation of the experience” associated with our brand, we need to be strategically aggressive. Our brand is our promise. Within that promise is the expectation that a capable, strong, secure force is engaged today on behalf of Canadians, and those people within that force are having an exciting, rewarding adventure.

Good brands don’t just happen. They are created through a dedicated group of people working together for a product they believe in. The greatest storefront placement we have are the men and women of the Naval Reserve Division within their communities.

Understanding history and mission

When sailors understand their history and their mission they will internalize a pride in “their” brand, which will be manifested externally. They will choose to identify with the brand by wearing NRD/RCN t-shirts, posting their experiences on social media, sharing their experiences and promoting the RCN in their personal circles. This is how a brand is built and reinforced at the local level. We own the brand. Our sailors are the brand.

In their day, those sailors with bell bottoms in the black and white photos were also the brand. Their brand at the time was an active, exciting relevant force for the future. We are that future. It is now our privilege and responsibility to maintain the brand we have inherited. We must be vigilant in our NRDs, our social media, our imagery, and our lives to promote and reinforce our own active, exciting and relevant force for the future.