Ordinary Seaman Jeff McConnell can now say he has travelled to the other side of the world and back.
But when he saw his wife Melissa waiting for him at the end of the ship’s gangplank at CFB Esquimalt Thursday, McConnell grinned like a little kid before taking her in his arms and pressing his lips against hers.
The View Royal couple was the first to kiss, just minutes after HMCS Ottawa was brought alongside a dockyard jetty after spending more than four months at sea. The ‘first kiss’ has special meaning for many navy couples, and has become something of a tradition when ships return after lengthy voyages.
While the ship was deployed June 6 to conduct a multinational training mission and pay diplomatic visits to Asia-Pacific nations, spouses waiting at home and sailors and officers on the warship purchased raffle tickets – one for $2 or three for $5 – for a chance to win the ‘first kiss’ prize.
The spouses alone purchased about $100 in ‘first-kiss’ tickets – money which goes to the ship’s family network fund to pay for social gatherings and other events for families when HMCS Ottawa personnel are deployed.
Melissa purchased six tickets, one of which was randomly drawn.
“I was pretty nervous (about kissing in front of the large crowd) all day long,” McConnell said smiling. “People kept reminding me. But I was happy we won.”
After the cheers died down after their peck, waiting family members were welcomed onto the deck of the warship, where many of the 253 crew members stood holding single red or white carnations.
“I’m just glad to be home,” said McConnell, pausing to answer one of the many questions his eldest daughter, Maddison, 6, peppered him with after they reunited.
“I’m looking forward to just getting back to a normal routine instead of the ship’s routine (involving 12-hour work days),” the father of three said.
HMCS Ottawa participated in Operation Talisman Sabre – a three-week biennial warfare exercise involving 14,000 Canadian, U.S. and Australian military forces, among others – off the northeast coast of Australia.
“It’s really about practising what we do when we’re deployed in operations,” said Commodore Peter Ellis, who commands the Royal Canadian Navy’s West Coast fleet.
There were also stops at Singapore, Japan and South Korea to strengthen diplomatic and operational relations, and conduct charity work, such as visiting a South Korean orphanage and raising $7,000 for Japanese earthquake survivors.
“A ship going to a foreign port is basically is a little part of Canada – it’s a sovereign territory,” Ellis said, adding the visits are a chance to showcase Canada’s naval capabilities around the world. “I’m biased, but I think I can be impartial here and say, (these warships are) the best, if not among the best, in the world.”