Two ships return to Esquimalt from Caribbean mission

Two Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt defence-class ships returned home Monday after an eight-week deployment in the Caribbean where one of the ships helped disrupt a shipment of 550 kilograms of cocaine.

“Our main activity is counter-narcotics and acting in a support role to law enforcement,” said Lorne Carruth, Commander of Coastal Division at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.

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He said HMCS Whitehorse played a supportive role in the disruption of a major cocaine shipment in mid-March in the Caribbean. The presence of the warship allowed law enforcement to board a suspicious ship, where there was evidence the drugs had been recently dumped.

“Even our presence is a deterrent to people doing bad things,” he said.

HMCS Whitehorse and Nanaimo were deployed Feb. 10 to the eastern Pacific ocean as part of Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s contribution to a multinational initiative against the illicit drug trade and organized crime in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific.

There were about 45 sailors on each ship, the majority navy reservists.

“This was the first deployment of this length for many of them,” said Commanding Officer Jeff Hopkins, who also happened to be leading his first mission of this type.

His wife Tracey, sons Clarke, 11, and Nathan, 8, were among the family and friends who came to the navy base to greet the ships as they sailed into the harbour.

Among the many homemade “Welcome Home” signs and baby strollers at the jetty were two members of a unique family who have all served in the military.

“This is us,” said Sub-Lt. Cathy Cartwright as she held up her BlackBerry with a portrait photo of her family, all in naval uniform.

The family of six from Mission are all reservists, not to mention grandpa, who was in the air force, and great-grandpa, an admiral.

Cartwright’s sons, leading seamen Thomas and Patrick Doyle, were deployed on HMCS Whitehorse.

Navy reservists are part-time or contract sailors, with deployments ranging from a few days a week to months or even years. Most also have civilian jobs.

“My husband is an elementary teacher,” said Cartwright, who is an accountant. She met her husband, Lt. Des Doyle, in the reserve service in Victoria in the 1970s. “We’d go dancing at the Forge downtown, disco dancing.”

She joined up again in 2008 after taking time off to raise four kids, now all in their 20s. Their daughters, Jacqueline and Caroline, are also reservists.

“It helped the kids get through school but also taught them about responsibility and team work,” she said. “We’re a very close family so we can support each other.”

Cartwright said neither of her sons have wives or sweethearts to greet them upon return from deployment so she and her father, Tom Cartwright from Saltspring Island, made the trip over.

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