Navy ships back at CFB Esquimalt after five-month deployment

Families and friends turned out Tuesday with flowers, signs, kisses and hugs for the 436 crew members of HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Winnipeg as the vessels returned to CFB Esquimalt after five months.

Kristie Newby, with kids Mya, 12, Trent, 9, and Jay, 6, said she and her husband, Chris Newby, on HMCS Ottawa, have been together for 20 years — 12 of those in the navy. But the times away from home are never easy.

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“It’s been a long five months,” Kristie Newby said with a smile.

Parents Everette and Barbara Scott turned out with a Cree First Nations flag from their village of Cross Lake in northern Manitoba. The Scotts were welcoming son Skyler home from his first deployment at sea.

Everette Scott said his son has earned some celebrity in Cross Lake. People there believe he must be the Canadian sailor whose geographical home is the farthest from any ocean. Despite that land-bound origin, Skyler always wanted to be in the navy.

“This was always his dream,” said the proud dad.

The frigates were deployed to the Asia Pacific on a multi-country exercise called Poseidon Cutlass 17. The vessels visited 14 ports in 10 countries and worked with ships belonging to other Pacific countries, including the U.S., Australia, China, Chile, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Korea, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Vietnam.

Rear Admiral Art McDonald, commander of Canada’s Maritime Forces Pacific, said the vessels took part in about a dozen exercises.

Having ships working in the Asia-Pacific region extends Canada’s operational reach and renews international friendships.

“We provide options for the government in the event of any form of crisis over there in the Indo-Asia Pacific,” he said. “Which is exactly why we have a navy.”

Cmdr. Jeff Hutchinson, captain of HMCS Winnipeg, noted his vessel had a helicopter crew to integrate with the ship’s company.

“From the first day, they were landing stores and helping out,” Hutchinson said.

“Right away, they were part of the ship’s company.”

Ottawa’s captain, Cmdr. Sylvain Belair, said the whole mission, bolstering diplomatic ties and improving abilities to work with other navies, went “amazingly well.”

“I couldn’t be any more proud of the team,” Belair said. “It was just a tremendous deployment.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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