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Citizen-sailor Chris Preston sets a new course

When he signed on with the naval reserve as a fuzzy-faced 16-year-old, Chris Preston had no idea he’d still be in the fold 44 years later.

When he signed on with the naval reserve as a fuzzy-faced 16-year-old, Chris Preston had no idea he’d still be in the fold 44 years later.

And he had no designs on setting any sort of benchmark with his stretch of service, but very few people have given as much time as he has to the reserve program.

While records of longevity in the reserves aren’t readily available, Preston’s contributions are clearly exceptional, said
Lt.-Cmdr. Todd Dupuis of HMCS Malahat — Preston’s home unit.

“Certainly, his service is unique in terms of the length of time,” Dupuis said.

“It’s quite impressive.”

The Royal Canadian Navy’s reserve allows people to pursue naval training at the same time that they work at a civilian job. In Preston’s case, he spent 25 years as a Victoria police officer while also holding down reservist duties.

“Not only was he working a shift schedule, he was then coming in on his time off and doing training and training younger members of the navy,” Dupuis said. “You’re talking about someone who has served in uniform in two different capacities for the bulk of his adult life.”

Preston’s police career ran concurrently with that of his brother-in-law,
John Ducker, who retired in August from the high-profile position of deputy chief. The two are keeping each other company in retirement, including working as volunteers at Saanich’s Ashton Armoury Museum.

Generally, naval reservists commit to a schedule of about one or two evenings a week and one Saturday per month, along with a training period during the summer. Preston retired from the police force in 2006, but kept up with his reservist efforts.

He recently stepped down from that job, as well, when he reached the mandatory retirement age.

“I retired on my 60th birthday,” he said.

Dupuis said naval reservists are referred to as “citizen sailors,” a title that acknowledges a commitment beyond their civilian jobs and responsibilities.

“Truly, it’s for love of country and service.”

Preston’s father was in the navy and following along just seemed like the thing to do, he said. He got started in the reserve as soon as he could, signing up three days after reaching the minimum age of 16.

“Growing up in a naval environment, I was literally born into it.”

His original intention was to eventually join the navy and become an officer, but it never quite happened. Instead, he became part of the Victoria police at the age of 28.

Before that, Preston was involved in a Middle East peacekeeping mission in 1974 and spent some time in the regular naval forces.

The police department was helpful in allowing him to combine his duties with time in the reserve, Preston said.

“For some reason I just stayed with it,” he said. “Most of the time, I felt like I had two careers.”

The combination was tough at times, he added.

Still, all manner of professionals take on the challenge, such as doctors, firefighters, lawyers and engineers, Preston said. The quality of training by itself makes the reserve a valuable option for just about anyone, he said.

Preston joined in 1969, during the era of the Vietnam War, and said he saw many changes in the reserve along the way. It’s not easy to leave it all behind, he said.

“I’m going to miss the navy. I’m going to miss it a lot.”