PHOTOS AND STORIES OF 16 MILITARY WORKERS AT THE BASE
CFB Esquimalt is the third-largest employer in the capital region, home to 6,000 workers — 4,000 of them military personnel, most in the navy, but with a sprinkling of army and air force members. Their roles on the base are as diverse as the people themselves. As the navy celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, reporter Katie DeRosa and photographer Debra Brash go behind the scenes to find out who does what and why they’ve dedicated their lives to their country.
THE MAYOR (Navy): Capt. Marcel Hallé
CFB Esquimalt base commander: Responsible for the 1,500 buildings and 5,000 hectares of property that fall under CFB Esquimalt’s jurisdiction. He also oversees 1,700 of the 6,000 people who work on the base. (Mariners posted to a ship report to the fleet commander, Commodore Ron Lloyd. Both Lloyd and Hallé report to Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile, who is the head of Maritime Forces Pacific.)
Time in military: 25 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: Three years “It’s almost like being responsible for a small town, if you will,” says Capt. Hallé as he walks from the hockey rink to his office — the former being one of his favourite spots on the base. Hallé looks at CFB Esquimalt as its own municipality and it’s his job to make sure things run smoothly. Even after two years on the job, there are buildings at HMC Dockyard and Naden that Hallé has yet to explore. “[Once a week] the base chief and I pick someplace different on the base and we go through it.” Recently, he chose Bickford Tower, a four-storey signal tower, now a national heritage building, which was built in 1901 for $8,288, only to be made obsolete by new technology two years later. “It was like walking back in time.” He knows his buildings and, like any good mayor, he makes it a priority to know his citizens. “I talk to a lot of people on the base. I’m out and about as often as I can and I’m heartened to hear how happy people are with regards to calling CFB Esquimalt their place of work and in that it develops a sense of community.”
THE PADRE (Navy): Lt. Marty Keating
Padre: Leads Sunday mass, weddings and funerals at Christ the Redeemer and St. Andrew’s Church, an interfaith chapel on the base. Goes on deployments to provide support to the commanding officer and crew and to counsel anyone who needs it.
Time in the military: Four years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: Three years When he’s on a deployment, Lt. Keating likes to spend his days doing rounds of the ship, looking for anyone who needs to talk. “My preference is always to start down in the laundry which is the lowest part of the ship, and then work my way up along and stop and talk to people. I spend a lot of time with stewards, cooks and stokers because those are probably the most
THE EYES IN THE SKY (Air force): Sgt. Andy Gervais
Airborne electronic sensor operator for the Sea King helicopter: Operates the Sea King’s radar, the forward-looking infrared at the front of the chopper and the sonar. Also handles anything happening out the cargo door — hoisting people down to rescue someone, hauling loads up to the aircraft and directing landings on a postage stamp piece of land.
Time in military: 30 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: Two years It doesn’t get much more exciting than this. During HMCS Winnipeg’s antipiracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, Sgt. Andy Gervais was flying in the Sea King helicopter looking for suspected pirates. “It’s hard to see the Sea King, surprisingly,” he says. “The pirates can’t hear us. We sneak right up on them.” Hanging over Gervais’s desk is the large piece of canvas on which his crew spray painted “Stop” in Somali and hung it next to the helicopter’s C-6 machine-gun. It acted as a clever and effective warning to the pirate skiffs edging closer to a merchant vessel. The chopper was an “incredible asset” to the mission, Gervais says, flying 400 hours over 3 1/2 months. In a typical 30-day period, the massive Sea King is only allowed to fly 100 hours. “We flew 99.7,” Gervais says, a dream for someone who loves to fly. “I had to not fly for a couple of days, it was driving me nuts.” difficult trades in the navy. “When I first joined, I thought my job was difficult,” he says. But on deployment, he watched the stewards, the cooks and the stokers, whose jobs carry on, or sometimes get harder, when the ship pulls into a port and everyone else gets a break. “The only difference between myself and the sailor is I’m a non-combatant and I don’t carry a weapon,” he says, sitting in a chapel that’s filled with an orange glow from the multi-coloured stained-glass windows. His first deployment was aboard HMCS Winnipeg in the Gulf of Aden. “My job is to not only support to commanding officer but also our greatest asset which is, of course, our sailors.”
THE LAWYER (Navy):
Lt.-Cmdr. Thomas Flavin
Military chain of command, lawyer: Gives to the legal presiding advice officer to the of a trial member and accused to protect of the a service rights offence. of a military
Time in military: 23 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt:
Less than a year If you ask Lt.-Cmdr. Flavin, the best place to practise law in Canada is not the big Bay Street corporate firms. It’s with the Canadians Forces. Flavin has been on missions in Kabul, on dog sleds in Tuktayuktuk, in the Northwest Territories, and on ships across both oceans. He’s a welcome well of knowledge for commanders on the Canadian Forces’ legal rights, responsibility and jurisdiction domestically and in foreign countries. Flavin says he goes on deployments to provide legal advice in case a sailor commits a service offence, which can range from being absent without leave, to criminal offences such as fraud. “Unlike the outside world, things like being late for work are a much bigger problem for the military,” he says. If a supply technician in Afghanistan is late unloading a C-130 transport aircraft that has a strict window of time on the tarmac, for example, that person would cause major problems. He says the chain of command can conduct summary trials anywhere in the world. “They like to have us there on the ground with them. It's a lot easier to appreciate the conditions the chain of command is dealing with if you’re over there.”
THE SEA KING MECHANIC (Air force): Master Cpl. Justin Harper
Aviation systems technician for the Sea King helicopter: Handles mechanical work, engine or hydraulic repairs, fuel-delivery for the Sea King helicopter
Time in military: Seven years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: Seven years Master Cpl. Harper is responsible for keeping the massive Sea King helicopters working smoothly, which is why the pilots call him “our go-to guy.” With the Sea Kings needing 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air, it’s clear Harper’s job is crucial. The maintenance-to-air time ratio, Harper notes, gets taken out of context when people talk about the aging Sea Kings. It doesn’t mean if
THE BOARDING PARTY (Navy):
Master Seaman Chet Horne
Instructor at the fleet school’s naval boarding operations: Teaches sailors to board ships, be it enemy craft or ships in distress in domestic or international waters. Demonstrates the safe use of the rope ladders and boarding equipment and leads rolepaying exercises to prepare boarding party members for various scenarios.
Time in military: 17 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: 10 years Master Seaman Horne has spent much of the last 10 years boarding ships in international waters, looking for pirates, weapons, drugs or human smuggling. His experience has led him to the Pacific Fleet School, where he now teaches sailors the ropes of the tense and physically demanding job. Horne has completed several counterpiracy missions aboard HMCS Protecteur to the Horn of Africa where Somali pirates regularly try to hold merchant ships ransom. Typically, a ship will receive intelligence that there are suspected pirates in the area, so the Canadian sailors radio the suspect ship and ask questions to test its legitimacy. If the Canadians grow suspicious, the boarding party will climb onto the enemy skiff and seize any weapons. “With pirates, they’re usually not that aggressive because, if they get caught, it’s ‘OK, turn around and go on your way.’ We can’t do anything unless we catch them in the act,” Horne says, adding that happens rarely. “It’s frustrating. You just have to work on getting good intelligence.” the chopper flies an hour it has to spend the next 30 hours in the hanger, that’s the average over its lifetime. And, he says, some newer aircraft require 20 hours per hour in the air. “Over the last couple of years, the job of the Sea King helicopter has really expanded from primarily an anti-submarine role to more of a search-and-rescue role, and fisheries patrols reconnaissance. We’re seeing a whole bunch of different taskings come out. The Sea King is really being used in a multi-faceted role.” Harper says, from a maintenance perspective, it doesn’t matter what role the chopper is in. “The maintenance has to be done. We don’t cut corners. Unless there’s life and limb involved, it’s going to be the same role for us.”
THE OPS ROOM OPERATOR (Navy): Lt. Christopher Nucci
Combat officer: Currently posted to HMCS Winnipeg, he co-ordinates the ship’s position, oversees the Sea King helicopter deployment, arranges refuelling, and gives tactical advice to the commanding officer on the bridge.
Time in military: 15 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: 10 years Navy Lt. Christopher Nucci — pronounced “like Gucci but not as rich,” he quips — embarked on his first long-term deployment in 2009 with HMCS Winnipeg while the frigate was participating in NATO’s anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. Sailors on the six-month tour saw “intense action” just days after arriving in the Gulf, Nucci says, and the crew became integral in warding off pirates trying to hijack merchant vessels. Nucci served as the operations room officer. “[The operations room] is the focal point of a lot of information flow and decision-making.” During the mission he split his time between the “ops room,” a dimly lit control room with more buttons and screens than one can count, and the bridge, where the commander sits for the best vantage point of what’s happening on the water. “My primary position is in the operations room but during the moments of the boarding, [when a crew is sent out to search the suspected pirate’s boat for weapons] I come up to the bridge to help provide that tactical advice to the captain, just sort of help out with the rest of the team.”
THE DOCTOR (Army):
Capt. Daisy Vianzon
Military Protecteur: doctor Provides aboard medical HMCS treatment to sailors posted to the ship, administers vaccines, prescribes medications, doles out anti-motion sickness pills.
Time in military: 17 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: Seven years Capt. Vianzon — just call her Doc — has spent most of her career working as a military doctor. Last year, she was posted to HMCS Protecteur and is adapting to life on a ship. As a support trade worker, Vianzon says she can move between the army, air force and navy. She has all three uniforms, in fact. Aboard HMCS Protecteur, Vianzon deals with myriad ailments, from the common cold to motion sickness to injuries. “We’ve had people with broken bones, with big cuts and scrapes. We’ve had people get dehydrated from vomiting; we’ve had drunken sailors.” She says she gives lots of immunization needles to prevent the sailors from spreading their cold and flu at sea. Vianzon says she can really get used to being on a ship with a maximum of 250 patients to treat, unlike being posted to a base where she has to be available for possibly thousands. “It’s less personal. It doesn’t really get you in touch with their work environment as much,” she says. “For medical people, [being on a ship] is one of the best secrets in town.”
THE CHEF (Navy): Leading Seaman Russ Golbourn
Cook: Cleans and prepares food, cooking for up to 2,000 people in Nelles block, the largest dining hall on the base. Goes on deployments as warranted.
Time in the military: Eight
Time at CFB Esquimalt: Three
months When Leading Seaman Golbourn started as a cook in the military, his culinary skills were limited to macaroni and cheese. “Now I'm doing stuff like full roast beef dinners, prime-rib dinners, cooking rotisseries,” he says, sometimes to feed up to 2,000 people in one meal. Even though the food might be mass-produced, Golbourn says his top priority is “making sure there’s a high quality of food going out, whether it’s the lowliest private ordinary seaman, a four-ring captain or a colonel.” When on a deployment, he has to make five to six meals a day to serve the different shifts. But it’s those work-intensive trips to sea when he feels his cooking really makes a difference for the crew. “If you're having a really crummy day and somebody makes your favourite meal, that can just brighten up your whole day. That day that went to hell [you think], ‘Whatever, I've got food that momma made.’ ”
THE SUBMARINER (Navy): Lt.-Cmdr. Chris Ellis
Commanding officer of HMCS Victoria: Responsible for overall operation of the submarine, HMCS Victoria and the safety of its crew. Makes sure the boat and the crew are prepared for the mission and ensures that mission is executed safely.
Time in the military: 23 years
Time at CFB Esquimalt: 13 years “I became a submariner because you get a lot of responsibility at an early age,” says Lt.-Cmdr. Ellis, who rose in the ranks to become commanding officer of HMCS Victoria in 2006. He had been executive officer of the boat since he was posted there in 2004. “Plus, submarines are cool.” A submarine’s greatest asset is its stealth, Ellis says. “Because it can operate underwater unseen, most adversaries don’t realize you’re there. So surveillance is one of our main tasks.” To become a commander, Ellis took an extensive, high-pressure four-month course on a Dutch submarine off Scotland. One mistake during training could have ended his career, he says. “You’ll spend your whole career trying to work your way up to captain. You’ll have one bad day at sea and you’ll never sail on a submarine again.” Deployments can be particularly tough on a submarine, he says. While they’re typically deployed for only 45 days (much shorter than the frigates, which can be at sea for months), the living and working quarters are extremely cramped with six-foot ceilings, narrow hallways and around 50 submariners on board. There are no laundry facilities and showers are a rare luxury. But he says submariners have one of the navy’s most exciting and rewarding jobs. “Everyone has to know the submarine inside and out. It's a very unforgiving environment if something goes wrong, so everyone has to be able to respond quickly.”