Bri­gus na­tive en­joy­ing ca­reer in the Royal Cana­dian Navy

The Compass - - ORTHTE -

For­ward had no doubts about what he was go­ing to do af­ter fin­ish­ing high school in 1989.

“I joined the forces right af­ter high school through the reg­u­lar of­fi­cer train­ing plan,” he says.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege in Kingston, On­tario in 1995, he joined the East Coast fleet that same year and served on five ships: HMCS Terra Nova, HMCS St. John’s, HMCS Iro­quois, HMCS Fredericton, and HMCS Athabaska.

While not aboard ship he served as sta­tion com­mand­ing of­fi­cer at CFS Alert in the Arctic. He did a tour in Bos­nia, and was de­ployed to the Gulf, serv­ing both on ship and land.

He was also with the Dis­as­ter As­sis­tance Re­sponse Team ( DART) that re­sponded to the 2005 earth­quakes in Pak­istan. His last tour ended in 2008. When he was first pro­moted to the rank of com­man­der in 2009, while he was still un­der 40, For­ward re­calls he was one of the youngest in the Navy to hold that rank at that time — the av­er­age age for rank­ing of­fi­cers is 45 to 48. Largest mis­sion Some 27,000 peace­keep­ers from 51 na­tions are op­er­at­ing in Su­dan in an area the size of France, mak­ing it the largest UN mis­sion in the world.

“The chal­lenges are huge, but we are fix­ing things very slowly,” Cmdr. For­ward says. Are they mak­ing a dif­fer­ence there? “I cer­tainly hope so. I think so,” he says.

Most of the coun­tries rep­re­sented there are African or Asian. They are there from Rwanda, China, Gam­bia, South Africa, In­done­sia and Malaysia, just to name a few.

Out of the NATO forces rep­re­sented, there are only four Cana­di­ans, three Ger­mans, one Ital­ian and a Dutch­man.

“We’re the only ones who can ski,” For­ward jokes.

“Be­fore we showed up there, the force com­mand asked, ‘where are the Cana­di­ans?’ We bring so much. We’re the best-trained troops in the world. And ev­ery­where you go there’s a New­found­lan­der. I’m the only one in the whole coun­try, of­fi­cially any­way, among the forces.”

UN’S role

“The UN’S role here,” Cmdr. For­ward ex­plains, “is to try and make it sta­ble enough for the two mil­lion-plus in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple to be able to re­turn home. The only way that can be af­fected is by a ( peace­keep­ing) pres­ence. So we’re spread out thin here — all these lit­tle out­posts, all over the (Sa­hara) desert. And ev­ery­body has to eat. So I look af­ter all the con­voys. We can have a con­voy up to 100 ve­hi­cles and they all have to be pro­tected.

“They carry food, fuel, water, med­i­cal equip­ment and (med­i­cal) ex­perts, among other things. Every­thing here has to be im­ported. There are no stores, there’s no (shop­ping) malls or any­thing. And the roads are hor­ri­ble.”

Un­sta­ble con­di­tions

He adds: “There are so many fac­tions here fight­ing against each other. The Govern­ment of Su­dan has signed a peace deal with the Su­danese Lib­er­a­tion Army. How­ever, the army is frac­tured into so many parts. Then there’s the govern­ment-spon­sored mili­tias, and rebels, who are crooks. So it’s dan­ger­ous over here. In the last three weeks we’ve had four shot and killed and eight wounded amongst the peace­keep­ers.

“The poverty here is strik­ing. The big­gest prob­lem the UN has here is the fact the place is lit­er­ally the size of France and we’re try­ing to po­lice and pa­trol it with less than 30,000. When you put that up against 2.4 mil­lion, it’s stag­ger­ing!” New ex­pe­ri­ence Work­ing in the Sa­hara Desert has been a new ex­pe­ri­ence for a man who has spent most of his naval ca­reer at sea.

The op­por­tu­nity to work with troops from all over the world has been en­light­en­ing and ed­u­ca­tional for him. The big­gest chal­lenge has been the environment.

“It’s hot and dry and the bugs here, my son! Mos­qui­toes have noth­ing on these things.”

When he ar­rived there at the end of Septem­ber, the tem­per­a­tures were still around 45 de­grees Cel­sius.

“It’s cooled off a bit now, down to around 35,” he says.

While May-oc­to­ber is called the rainy sea­son, he says, “we may get a shower ev­ery three days. And the sand storms are bru­tal, the sand gets ev­ery­where.

“Here I am in The Su­dan into Week 6 of my sev­enth de­ploy­ment over­seas. An­other four and half months and I’ll be re­turn­ing to head­quar­ters in Ot­tawa, where I have been em­ployed since 2010. I’ll be back home in New­found­land some­time next sum­mer, I hope.”

Op­por­tu­ni­ties end­less

“It’s been an out­stand­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” Cmdr. For­ward adds of his time in the navy.

“The friend­ships are out­stand­ing, the work is re­ward­ing. Every­thing from health care, to pay, to ed­u­ca­tion, it’s all there. The op­por­tu­ni­ties are end­less. It’s ar­guably the most honourable pro­fes­sion in Canada, and I’m a strong sup­porter. I en­cour­age ev­ery­one I see to join up.”

Look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing to Ot­tawa and see­ing his girl­friend, Sarah Ka­vanagh, “whose love and sup­port has made this de­ploy­ment tol­er­a­ble,” Cmdr. For­ward also men­tions his sis­ter, Jen­nifer For­ward, and her hus­band David Sesk of Bay Roberts.

“Jenny is one of my best friends and has al­ways been a great sound­ing board through­out my ca­reer. That’s the thing that of­ten gets missed. De­ploy­ing over­seas is noth­ing com­pared to wait­ing at home and try­ing to carry on a sem­blance of or­der when your life is chaos. I don’t have kids but some of my team do, and it is the strength and for­ti­tude of their wives that hold their house­holds to­gether and al­low us to come over here to face the chal­lenges we do un­en­cum­bered by wor­ries at home.”

Look­ing for­ward to the next chal­lenge, Cmdr. For­ward con­cludes: “My ad­vice to any­one look­ing to join is to know what you want and how much you are will­ing to sac­ri­fice to get it. This is not an easy life but the re­wards are di­rectly pro­por­tional to the sweat. There is al­ways some­thing new and ex­cit­ing to tackle. You only have to look.”

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