Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt has a new commander at the helm.
In a naval parade ceremony Wednesday, Capt. Steve Waddell took command of Canada’s second largest base.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Waddell, his wife and two children. He first came to Esquimalt as a naval recruit at age 19 in 1990 and served here off and on until 2006.
“Everybody I knew in school didn’t know what to do after. Keeping with my character, I wanted a big change, so I joined the navy,” said Waddell after the ceremony. Travelling to the West Coast was a major shift from life in Temagami, in northern Ontario — which has a population of about 500.
“There’s a big lake, so I grew up around water. That was familiar,” said Waddell, whose wife Shauna also joined him from his hometown.
What followed was a diverse and worldly naval career, including leadership deployments to the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, African coast and Korean peninsula.
He circumnavigated the globe on HMCS Calgary and commanded HMCS Fredericton on a counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia.
Waddell also managed to get an undergraduate degree in geography, a masters in defence studies and recently completed a diploma in national security from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
He said he’s ready to take on the role of “mayor” at the base, which is sometimes called Greater Victoria’s 14th municipality.
At the ceremony, Rear Admiral Bill Truelove welcomed Waddell and his family, noting he’s the third commander in three years. The two commanders before him were promoted halfway through their two-year posting.
“You inherit a remarkable team of professionals both in and out of uniform,” said Truelove. “You will discover leading CFB Esquimalt is demanding and rewarding and I encourage you to make it your own.”
Waddell takes over command of the base from Luc Cassivi, who was promoted from the rank of captain to commodore at the beginning of the ceremony. He will move to Ottawa to become a director general at national defence headquarters.
Cassivi led the base in one of its most challenging years. Just a month into his tenure, HMCS Algonquin and HMCS Protecteur were damaged in a collision during an exercise. The damage to Algonquin has kept it out of commission since.
Protecteur was severely damaged in a fire off the coast of Hawaii in February and is out of commission at the base. Also, two tragic deaths of sailors shook the navy community. The recall of HMCS Whitehorse on July 10 after misconduct allegations in the U.S. might be the catalyst to change navy policy and procedure across the country.
“Life will throw you curveballs. Through all these challenges, the incidents, fire, what it’s proven to people is that when called to action, they can get through these things,” said Cassivi. “The incredible dedication and ingenuity of the people here did that.”
Cassivi said that behind the scenes this past year was also difficult financially, which was a focus for him.
The navy, and all the armed forces in Canada, have faced substantial budget cuts in the past four years as the Conservative government has reduced defence spending.
“We have to look at the way we do business and do it better,” he said, noting the base needed to operate but also prepare for a new naval fleet coming in the next few years.
Originally from New Richmond, Que., Cassivi joined the navy in 1983. In nearly 35 years, he’s moved from sea cadet to flag rank commodore. He said the best thing he’s seen in his naval career is the integration of women at sea.
“The diversity, to get back on track with our times, is very important,” he said.
He noted his three years in Victoria not only benefited him professionally but personally as well. He met his partner Francisco Mejia De La Rosa here.
“After so many years in this life as a bachelor, it’s nice to have a stabilizing force at home,” said Cassivi. He and his partner move to Ottawa in August.
BASE COMMANDER’S DUTIES
The Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt commander is responsible for:
• Provisions and support services for 70 organizations on the base.
• Management of $1.6-billion in real estate assets, covering 14,939 hectares on 23 sites as far north as Masset and east to the Lower Mainland.
• Operation of the base and support for the 6,000 personnel of Maritime Forces Pacific.
CFB Esquimalt is divided into seven branches comprised of 850 civilian and 350 military personnel.
The executive, administration, construction engineering, information services, safety and environment, port operations and emergency services, and logistics branches perform roles similar to those in most large municipalities.