They left on June 15, 2015 and for the next 254 days, the 250 men and women of HMCS Winnipeg represented Canada around the globe, performing their duties with the pride and precision that has become the hallmark of the Canadian Navy.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments of the crew, their professionalism and effectiveness,” said Commander J. Jeffrey Hutchinson, commanding officer for the latter part of the deployment.
For some navy personnel, though, the homecoming was tainted by the belief the media coverage of their sail focused, not on their accomplishments, but on the alleged actions of two crew members (one was a civilian attached to the Winnipeg) who were arrested while on shore leave in Tokyo for alleged drug use. That arrest and the subsequent news coverage at home has caused some of the crew to cry foul.
“A lot of people worked really hard, doing their job with a lot of pride…separated from their families and trying to do their duty to meet Canada’s commitments around the world,” said one crewmember who asked to remain anonymous.
“Then we come home and all anyone asks about are the two guys who got arrested. It’s not right. I don’t expect any special thanks…we did our job…but if we’re going to be covered in the media, how about talking about the things that we actually did while we were away from our families?”
The Winnipeg was part of Operation Reassurance; an operation that came in direct response to Russia’s annexation in the Crimea. All three branches of the service were involved and together they accomplished their goal of demonstrating that NATO is still relevant and ready to respond to world situations.
“The crew knew the importance of what we were doing and they were fantastic, behind every mission,” said Commander Pascal Belhumeur.
The Winnipeg provided support to Operation CARIBBE, part of a multinational campaign against illicit trafficking and organized crime in the Caribbean. She also became part of the NATO Maritime Group(s) One and Two; operations to detect, deter and disrupt terrorism in the Mediterranean Sea.
“That operation in the Mediterranean originally started right after Sept. 11, 2001,” said Belhumeur. “And this time out we did a tremendous amount of work to help keep our world a bit safer place.”
During their deployment, the Winnipeg also took part in three separate NATO joint exercises, including Operation TRIDENT JUNCTURE — the largest NATO led exercise in more than 20 years, employing more than 70 ships, eight submarines, over 100 aircraft and over 3,000 marines from 12 NATO countries.
But the Winnipeg’s crew didn’t limit its work on behalf of Canada to the ship’s military operations
“At almost every port that we went into there was some form of community outreach done by the crew, absolutely on their initiative and their own time,” said Belhumeur, adding, “community outreach has always been a part of what the Canadian Forces personnel see as part of their responsibility while on deployment.”
“In Rome, for example, the crew had set up a Christmas tree on board with tags that listed the age and sex of children, like a five to seven-year-old girl for example, and they purchased presents for the tags they took and when we were in port they took all those presents and donated them to underprivileged children. Everywhere we went they were like that…they did us proud.”
By the end of their deployment, the crew of the Winnipeg had circumnavigated the globe, travelling 53,875 nautical miles (99,776 kilometres). They had reaffirmed Canada’s position in NATO, and, according to Belhumeur, they had been a credit to their service and their country.
“They have every reason to be proud of what they did,” he said.