Commander RCN delivers Holiday Greeting and End-of-Year Update

Navy News / December 24, 2020

Season’s Greetings, Shipmates!

I hope this message finds you and yours well, keeping healthy, and as happy and consumed by the Season as possible in what has been an absolutely unprecedented year – a year in which we not only grappled with COVID complicating every aspect of our work and domestic lives, but also with the staggering loss of six shipmates when Stalker 22 crashed, the most significant maritime loss in decades. Denied, owing to ongoing pandemic response, the usual opportunities this year to celebrate the Season and to recount the Navy’s activities with you through a series of get-togethers/kitchen-parties, I hope you’ll appreciate this written expression of Season’s Greetings and rapid resume of unprecedented adversity and challenge squarely met by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and our extended family!

Obviously, this Season’s story rightly begins with last week’s uniquely bittersweet homecoming of HMCS Winnipeg which has now returned home with honour after a deployment of some 140 days which regrettably included the tragic, heartbreaking loss of one of their own, Master Sailor Duane Earle, just days before arriving home in an incident that really stung us all. Indeed, across the naval family, we mourned as “one with the strength of many” as Winnipeg hosted Duane’s family onboard for a commemoration upon arrival. We then saluted and welcomed home Winnie as they closed-out the deployment alongside in Esquimalt – so very proud of them for how they remained resilient, professional and yet human even when facing the most intense of challenges. They’ve returned home from Operation PROJECTION (Indo-Asia Pacific) and Op NEON (United Nations Security Council Resolutions enforcement off the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) as proven warriors, compassionate shipmates and some of Canada’s best ambassadors.

And speaking of great Canadian ambassadors, as I write, only one Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) remains at sea, Toronto, which has completed Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) service and is expected back alongside in Halifax just in time for Christmas and the Holidays on 23 December. This return marks the first time in years that we haven’t had a ship forward over the Holidays, an adjustment driven by the unusual and enormous burden that COVID places upon our sailors as individuals and as a ship’s company. Toronto returns from a 193-day Op REASSURANCE deployment – the twelfth HMC Ship to do so, all relieved in-place until this year.

These two deployments represent only the latest of a busy and successful operational year for the RCN. Facing no decrease in need for naval representation and activity at sea, the RCN – like most allied navies – has continued to conduct operations at home and abroad in response to unrelenting demand (despite the pandemic) by keeping, ships COVID-free via appropriate protocols and procedures in ships, Dockyards and Bases, enabled by the great union-management collaboration which our Navy has made a hallmark of how we work.  As a result, the year has seen us deploy 2,750 sailors for more than 800 days at sea in 15 ships (including Shawinigan, Glace Bay, Summerside, Brandon, Saskatoon, Nanaimo, Whitehorse, Regina, Calgary, Winnipeg, Fredericton, Halifax, Toronto and Ville de Québec, and MV Asterix) – all kept clean crews and delivered excellence on domestic and international operations. Our submarines, meanwhile, had their reactivation programmes slowed by COVID as maintenance routines for military, public servants and contractors were reworked and have now resulted in Victoria having been returned to sea off Victoria and Windsor in train to do the same soon on the East Coast.

Our operational successes in the COVID environment notwithstanding, there was no doubt that COVID impacted our daily routines at work and at home. This was perhaps nowhere more evident than in our celebrations and commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic which we transitioned into a virtual activity. And, perhaps most demonstrative of our ability to succeed despite the challenge, our virtual celebrations were so poignant, reaching and effective that we saw unprecedented interest and participation – commemorating our predecessors, heroes all, appropriately!

I am so proud of the way the naval team has managed the pandemic response over the course of this past year. Since our swift response in early March, we have asymmetrically, deliberately and incrementally adapted our work environments to the evolving conditions in order to continue delivering critical support for the Government of Canada (including, for example, service in Long-Term Care Facilities in Quebec by some sailors), to continue putting ships to sea, and to advance important institutional and corporate affairs including procurement and Fleet revitalization efforts. BZ and TY to all of you who have enabled these accomplishments in such adverse conditions.

Of course, as we all know only too well, as the situation evolves in the coming months, we will continue to listen to our health experts, respect physical distancing requirements to the maximum extent possible, and take appropriate measures to provide a safe work environment from which to continue to succeed. Although it will, no doubt, remain challenging, I remain confident in your resilience and perseverance. We are operating confidently in the pandemic environment – delivering effects, executing our programme, all while making sure that you and your families are protected.

Likewise, in a Navy known not just for “what we do” but equally “how we do it” and “who we are,” we’ve been equally as busy in the sea of change in which we live. Woken by the recent, ongoing outcry against racial injustice echoing around the world, including here in Canada, we’ve had cause to reflect on our own shortcomings as an institution. What is clear is that racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and discrimination exists within our ranks – despite the efforts of many to combat it and as much as it hurts to admit this.

For this reason and because the RCN is dedicated to being a modern and forward-looking organization in which all people are welcomed, feel safe in their workplace, and are judged solely on their competence and contribution to Canada’s defence goals, we’ve recommitted to a hateful conduct response and to having an inclusive and diverse organization. Achieving these goals is no small task. It will take a concerted effort – by each and every one of us. It will require that we help one another as we “listen, learn and act.” It will require culture change – which I have ordered. As a result, the Fall’s priority activity was the series of “culture change engagements” with our Navy’s leaders (Master Sailor thru Chief Petty Officer 1st Class) and (Lieutenant(Navy) thru Flag) which afforded leaders at all levels with motivational testimonials, enabling discussion, and a call to arms that identified everyone as an engine for the change we seek. As we go into Christmas, more than 90 per cent of naval leaders above the rank of MS have participated in the training serial and have become empowered, indeed responsible, to deliver our desired inclusive and diverse institution.

Recall, too, that in the summer we moved to adopt more inclusive and gender-neutral rank designations for our junior ranks. This was another important and far from symbolic incremental step in ensuring that the RCN remains a forward looking, inclusive and diverse organization.

These efforts are about nothing less than ensuring that our Navy strives to keep pace with the society we serve so as to remain exactly the Service that Canadians want to represent them in the world’s darkest corners when principles and values matter.

Meanwhile, while culture change is underway as a priority activity, so too is the collective effort to progress realization of our future fleet.

We took delivery of HMCS Harry DeWolf, the first-of-class Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, at the end of July. This was a momentous occasion for the RCN and our industry partners – our Navy growing for the first time in more than two decades. The excitement continued in October when Harry sailed under naval command for the first time. With the completion of Basic Ship Sea Readiness Training (BSSRT), what used to be called Sea-Readiness Inspections (SRIs), followed by incremental operationalization and crew proficiency training in the final months of 2020, we are well underway to seeing the ship – a great new capability for the RCN, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Canada – commissioned and fully operational in 2021.

Amongst other National Shipbuilding Strategy milestones this past year was the ceremonial keel laying of the future HMCS Protecteur, one of Canada’s two new Joint Support Ships. The progress in Protecteur’s build is now evident to all peering into Vancouver Shipyard as the ship takes shape en route to a 2024 delivery – with sister-ship Preserver tracking for delivery two years later.

The Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project also continues to be well progressed. Preliminary Design Review (PDR) has been progressed in earnest, undeterred by the pandemic and while exploiting the shipbuilding world’s best practices and most amazing innovations – as we’ve shared via our website and as Irving Shipbuilding Inc., Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems have all shared via various products.

Of course, as our future shapes up through the parallel change efforts of culture change and new fleet realization, what will not change is the central role that families play in our success. We would not be able to achieve any of our successes in this incredibly challenging year – or indeed any year – without the unwavering love and support of our families and loved ones at home who always enable and celebrate naval successes and console in our tragedies. Thank you all for your routine sacrifices – for countless missed events and uncelebrated milestones during your sailor’s absence that can never be recovered – for which the RCN/CAF, our great country and our allies are thankful! In recognition of all that you do, dear families, I hope that these Holidays afford you all the opportunity to enjoy a little of the peace on Earth that you’ve helped maintain through your sacrifice!  

And as you try to enjoy your Holidays, Shipmates, I remind you that in this, an already stressful year, you all need be on guard against these stresses becoming exacerbated during the Holiday Season. So I ask you to look out for each other and remember that help, and mental health resources, are available if needed. We need everyone to rest, recuperate, recharge, and be healthy and ready to return to the deck plates recharged for what lies ahead in 2021.

Indeed, 2021 promises much. I am, for example, encouraged, Shipmates, by the recent vaccine roll-out and Operation VECTOR which signal that the pandemic’s end is coming. It remains, meanwhile, vital that we continue our active defence against COVID’s impact on what we are charged with doing, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In any event, the New Year will begin with Halifax deploying from Halifax as the Flagship to SNMG1, with Calgary departing as the latest West Coast Indo-Asia Pacific deployer, and with future deployers progressing a myriad of pre-deployment sailings and activities. Three submarines will also sail in 2021. And, I note with great pride too, that RCN Flag Officers will also once again be honoured with international naval commands: in the Middle East, Commodore (Cmdre) Dan Charlebois will command Combined Task Force 150 beginning in January; and in Northern Europe, Cmdre Brad Peats will command Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 with Halifax his initial Flagship. The provision of leadership concurrently in some key partner/ally naval operational formations is indicative of the professionalism of our Navy and of the high regard in which we are held in the eyes of our partners and allies. And, meanwhile, what excites me most, is the prospect of making significant progress in our culture change efforts with respect to creating an inclusive and diverse organization in which racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and discrimination in all of its forms are exposed and combatted whenever found.  In short, I look forward to sharing the exciting year ahead with you and watching the greater RCN team continue to prosper together.

I’ll conclude now by sharing that it’s been my honour to be charged with your leadership in the significant year that has passed! Thank you all – the extended naval family including my shipmates, your loved ones, our incredible civilian workforce, and our industry partners across Canada – for your service, sacrifice and/or support of the RCN/CAF in the past year! This has indeed been a difficult year, but your perseverance, encouragements, and efforts are truly appreciated and delivered our many enviable successes!  Bravo Zulu, Shipmates! I’m so proud of you all!

The Command Chief Petty Officer, CPO1 Dave Steeves, and I wish you all the best of health and happiness for the Holiday Season. Enjoy it! You all deserve it!

Stay healthy, safe, and ready, Shipmates. Stay Salty!

Yours Aye, With Wishes of the Season’s Best,

Art McDonald
Vice-Admiral
Commander Royal Canadian Navy