Navy Appreciation Day*

*Moderator’s Note: The following address was delivered at a parliamentary reception on 15 November 2011.  My thanks to Mr. David Smart for bringing it to my attention.

"Navy Appreciation Day" 

Thank you Louise [Mercier], for that kind introduction.

Louise, you have been both a personal friend, and a friend of the navy’s for a very long time, and again this year you have volunteered and extraordinary amount of time and effort to put this day together. I would like to commend you and hopefully embarrass you here in front of your colleagues and our distinguished guests. And folks, not only has Louise volunteered her time, but she has given the navy her son, Leading Seaman Phillippe Mercier, who as a army reservist fought in Afghanistan in 2008, and who earlier this year, decided that his future in service to Canada would be at sea.

Minister Mackay, distinguished parliamentarians, friends of the navy, many of whom I recognize here from our partners in industry, our men and women in uniform here today, ladies and gentlemen:

Firstly Minister Mackay, thank you for your impressive words just spoken, for your leadership and genuine personal interest in not only the sailors, soldiers, aircrew and families of the Canadian Forces, but also you interest, indeed your passion in driving the Canadian Forces, and its maritime component the Royal Canadian Navy, smartly forward to be ‘Ready Aye Ready’ to respond to what I believe will be an increasing demand signal for the navy to act and act decisively in the national interest, at home here in our three ocean approaches, alongside our North American partners, and anywhere else in the world where Canada’s security and defence are at stake.

[Translated from French] ‘The Royal Canadian Navy’, we are becoming reaccustomed to that name, the historical name that the Government of Canada has just bestowed again on us.  The simple fact to understand is that our parliamentarians have taken the time, despite their busy schedules filled with the complex global issues of these days that confront all Canadians, to give the navy its correct name and this has put courage in our hearts and provided to the navy of today the desire to excel again with the advantage of following the examples of past generations of heroes of the RCN, these giants upon whose shoulders we are standing so proudly. [End of translation.]

Some of the naval heroes of today have joined us this evening, and I will introduce them all to you shortly. They were all specially acknowledged in the Senate Chamber earlier today, and by Senator Mercier and Honorary Captain(N) Senator Segal.

This was a real thrill for out sailors, and they’ve earned that recognition, but I would just like to say that my heartfelt thanks go to Senators Mercier and Segal for their support and tireless work on behalf of the RCN – today and everyday.

I wish also to acknowledge not only my minister, but also the Ministers of Public Works and Industry Canada, as well as their deputy ministers and senior officials for their tremendous leadership and commitment to the renewal of the RCN, through the truly historic National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

This is a time of great promise, as we move together to assure Canada’s place at sea.  Your navy today is more committed that ever to delivering on the promise of both the Canada First Defence Strategy, and the NSPS, that being, to fully operationalize the Victoria-class submarines, to improve our frigates’ combat capabilities through the Halifax-class modernization underway and the associated introduction of the Cyclone maritime helicopter, to accept the new Arctic Offshore and Patrol Ships and Joint Support Ships to be build and delivered into service this decade, and to move smartly forward with the Canadian Surface Combatant Project.

[Translated from French] Above all, do not forget the vital work of the Navy League of Canada.  Today’s activity is not just about information, but also about the awareness and organization of the league.  It emphasizes the work done in support of the RCN is required months of work before the events of today could transpire. The Navy League has been in existence, like us, for one hundred years.  During that time, is has created several different programmes for the development of the children and the youth of our country. [End of translation.]

So, many thanks to all here today from the Navy League of Canada, from Lousie [Mercier], to the Navy league President Dominic Richard, ‘merci’ Richard, to retired Vice-Admirals Gary Garnett and Ron Buck, and to the Honourable Rear-Admiral retired Fred Mifflin – our many thanks for your continued leadership and superb support to your Royal Canadian Navy.

And that brings me to the stories of our navy heroes. Our success as a fighting force depends on our people: People who feel a calling to the sea and tour profession of arms; and who harbour first and foremost a sense of duty to their country and a deep commitment to their shipmates.

Now, I know these sailors are much too modest to tout their own accomplishments, so I am going to do it on their behalf.  As you listen to their stories, I ask you all to imagine their shipmates and the civilian workers in the dockyards standing tall beside them, and their very proud families standing resolute in support, sometimes doing far more than we should reasonably expect of them in order to enable the ones they love to be successful in serving Canada at sea. I ask each of our heroes to come forward as I call their name.

First, Lieutenant-Commander Donna Barnett.  It strikes me that LCdr Barnett has achieved something in her life that many of us find elusive, and that is balance.  As have many of our country’s citizen sailors in the Naval Reserve, LCdr Barnett has a very rich working life – both inside and outside of the RCN. In her navy life, LCdr Barnett served as the first commander of Task Force Northwood, in support of Operation Saiph, Canada’s contribution to counter-piracy operations around the Horn of Africa.  Stationed in the UK, she bridged NATO’s mission to the global commercial shipping community, and worked very effectively to improve security for merchant ships transiting a region fraught with piracy. She is also a freelance photographer and writer specializing in the outdoors, travel and history.  She has worked extensively in Canada’s arctic, and has published three books, with a fourth currently in the works, a history of canals in Canada.  So Donna, as a superb part-time sailor and also as obviously a fine Canadian, thank you for making such a positive difference to your country.

Lieutenant(N) Chris Devita also began his naval career as a reservist, but made the decision later to transfer to the Regular Force.  While serving aboard HMCS Montreal, Lt(N) Devita and a shipmate were involved in a dramatic search and rescue mission to save the master of a stricken sailing vessel.  Taking considerable personal risk in dangerous conditions at sea.  For their selfless effort, Lt(N) Devita and his shipmate were awarded the Medal of Bravery from the Governor-General of Canada.  More recently, Chris served as the Operations Officer onboard HMCS Charlottetown in the combat mission of the coast of Libya. His planning and leadership in support of his captain enable Charlottetown to play and instrumental role in enforcing the arms embargo, in protecting Libyan civilians, and in keeping the port of Misrahta open for the anti-Ghadiaffi forces.  On his watch, Charlottetown came under shore-based artillery fire, repelled pro-Ghadaffi attacks from the sea, and patrolled waters known to have been sown with anti-shipping mines.  Chris, for everything you do for Canada, and for what you and Charlottetown did alongside our [Royal Canadian] Air Force CF-18 fleet to make the world a better place, I thank you.

Another dedicated hero of the Naval Reserve is Master Seaman Kurt Swanson.  MS Swanson began as a drummer at HMCS Chippawa in Winnipeg and tour with the national band on several occasions.  Looking for greater challenges, he then changed his path, and became a specialist in logistics, eventually becoming the senior supply technician aboard HMCS Chippawa.  When floods threatened southern Manitoba this spring, MS Swanson coordinated all support requirements for his unit during the first 48 hours of Operation Lustre.  Drawing from his experiences during the 1997 ‘Flood of the Century’ and another flood in 2009, MS Swanson quickly prioritized tasking to ensure that necessary safety equipment and other critical needs were met. He continued this excellent support throughout the operation and was identified early on as a “Critical Single Point of Failure” due to the high value of his contribution.  Kurt, thank you for your dedication to the navy but first and foremost to your community and the people of southern Manitoba.

Master Seaman Jarris Sampson is another hero who has clearly taken advantage of all the opportunities the navy has to offer.  While deployed on HMCS Protecteur in 2008 as a naval combat systems technician, MS Sampson was also a member of the ship’s dive team and an advanced medical first aid responder.  He performed many critical dives, including a delicate and lengthy operation to free a fishing net that had fouled the ship’s propeller off the coast of Chile.   MS Sampson never hesitated to take on more responsibility.  Currently, he is the radio maintenance section second in command at CFB Esquimalt’s Base Information Services, in addition to serving as a member of the Base Nuclear Emergency Response Team, the Auxiliary Security Force, and the Light Urban Search and Rescue Response Team.  He also serve his community in his off-time, as a key member of the B.C. Provincial Emergency Programme and is a volunteer for his local Ground Search and Rescuer Technician Team, and although I would hate to see him leave the fleet, I know that he epitomizes the SAR Tech Motto: “So that others may live.” Jarris, for everything that you do and will do for Canada, I than you.

Next, Master Seaman Kurt Sheppard has gained significant experience at sea as a boatswain serving n a number ships.  Earlier this year, MS Sheppard deployed aboard HMCS Toronto for Operation Carribe, a US-lead international counter-narcotics task force in the Caribbean.  Toronto embarked a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment to operate from a Canadian ship for the first time.  This cooperation proved extremely successful, allowing the navy to actively participate in interdiction operations, intercepting a 68-bale shipment of cocaine worth approximately $33 million.  MS Sheppard was at the centre of this operation.  He used his highly skilled boat coxswain abilities to conduct a covert approach on the suspect vessel, placing the laws enforcement detachment in a position to conduct a surprise takedown of the criminal traffickers. MS Sheppard’s courageous performance during this dangerous operation proved to be invaluable.  Kurt, for your dedication and service at sea, I thank you.

Finally, Leading seaman Scott Darbison has also excelled as a boatswain. In 2009, as a member of HMCS Winnipeg’s crew, KS Darbison took part in Operation Sextant, Canada’s contribution to NATO’s counter-piracy around the Horn of Africa. As a member of the naval boarding party, LS Darbison was involved in numerous boarding operations of suspect vessels.  He distinguished himself as a dedicated professional sailor as was awarded the Chief of Defence Staff’s Commendation for “swift and decisive actions that contributed to successful high-risk boardings of pirate vessels in the Gulf of Aden on 9 and 18 April, 2009.” Making the best of his ship’s docking work period, LS Darbison volunteered and deployed with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment as part of Joint Task Force Afghanistan from October 2010 to March 2011.  Scott, thank you for your service to this country.

[Translated from French] Ladies and Gentlemen, as you have come to see, heroism takes many forms.  All of these sailors have one thing in common: they know it relates to something greater than each of us, a national institution that united our citizens from all areas of the four corners of this country.   It is this institution that units them with their comrades onboard, in service, to the country and the values which we defend and for which we are ready to commit to combat at the risk our lives. [End of translation.]

These sailors, these heroes and their shipmates would be the first to tell you that they did not undertake this work for honour or glory.  They did it to make a difference.  It is that pledge for service to Canada that we in the Canadian Forces share with the parliamentarians who have joined us here tonight.  Together, we understand the notion of giving of ourselves for the betterment of our fellow Canadians.  You, like us, are not content to watch from the sidelines and wish for Canada, and the work, to become a better place.  You are actively involved in making it so.

On behalf of the Royal Canadian Navy, let me say just how much we appreciate the work you do on behalf of this country.  The long hours, the frequent absences from home and family – these are some of the working conditions that those of us in uniform share with those of you in elected office.

Thanks you for welcoming us into Canada’s Houses of Parliament tonight – your dedication to our country makes us eminently proud to be here. Merci.

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