Working Harder, Working Smarter, Working Faster: HMCS St. John’s adapts training to join IRMA relief

A group of men carry a cylindrical object. There are houses in the background.
The crew of HMCS St. John’s work together to clean up a school on South Caicos Island during Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA, the Hurricane Irma humanitarian aid mission in the Caribbean, on September 19, 2017. (Photo by: MCpl Chris Ringius, Formation Imaging Services Halifax) Photo by: MCpl Chris Ringius, Formation Imaging Services Halifax


By: Captain Matt Zalot, Public Affairs Officer, Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA

When Hurricane Irma passed through the Caribbean in early September, it totally changed the course of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) St. John’s. Set for a six-month deployment in early 2018, HMCS St. John’s altered its plans for work up training and instead became an integral part of Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA on September 12, 2017. It quickly transited to the Caribbean region to support local authorities and regional partners in their disaster relief efforts.

In order to accommodate this sudden shift in plans, many aspects of HMCS St. John’s readiness training needed to change. Air operations and other intermediate training were added to the ship’s program to make sure it could safely undertake its new mission. It took a combination of ingenuity, hard work and team cohesion to meet these important milestones, as evaluated by Sea Training (Atlantic). Yet, the new crew—stood up only in July and sailing together for the first time—was successful, putting in long days and showing leadership at all levels to meet the demands of a tight timeframe.

Chief Petty Officer Second Class Scott Macpherson, HMCS St. John’s chief engineer, said that in his almost three decades at sea, he’s performed dozens of workups. However, this time “was the most intense short-term work up program” he’s ever been involved in. “We became incredibly mission focused in order to complete this training,” he said.

Given the tight timelines involved, the key element was to shorten the length of the program while still ensuring the crew could meet all required expectations required if emergencies arose.

Also impressed by the work of the crew was Chief Petty Officer Second Class Jake Lowthers, the operations department and training chief of HMCS St. John’s. “This was definitely a compressed readiness program,” he said. “Our junior leadership played a very important role, and everybody stepped up, from the newest sailor up to master seaman.” He suggested that the reason for the success of the program was that the crew wanted to be deployed and that the senior leadership was quite experienced and knew how to achieve the necessary milestones. CPO2 Lowthers also credited the strong Newfoundlander presence on board.

While HMCS St. John’s new crew never would have expected to be in the Caribbean, helping with hurricane relief instead training for their deployment, they are working together admirably and doing so as a cohesive unit. There is more preparation to be done, as everyone is well aware that an extended deployment is in the ship’s near future. That said, given the very active hurricane season of 2017, and the ferocity of the storms to date, it is fortunate that HMCS St. John’s’ sailors have proven themselves capable, adaptable, and able to overcome the challenges presented by their rigorous training schedule.

Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA is delivering a rapid Canadian Armed Forces response that is flexible enough to make an immediate positive impact at the scene of the disaster, and to continue helping people as the situation develops. HMCS St. John’s is pleased to support the Government of Canada’s efforts to support partners in providing relief to countries affected by the recent meteorological disasters.

Image gallery

  • Two people in a parking lot move crates with a helicopter carrying a water sack hovering in the background.
  • A group of men carry a cylindrical object. There are houses in the background.
  • Ship on water with flag in foreground
  • A diver at the surface of water with a buoy nearby.
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