Naval Security Team safeguards ships in foreign ports

Able Seaman Alex Gauthier, a member of the Naval Security Team, stands sentry watch.

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By Darlene Blakeley

The safety of ships and sailors in foreign ports is top-of-mind for the flexible, scalable and dynamic team that recently deployed from Maritime Forces Pacific in Esquimalt, B.C., to Copenhagen, Denmark.

For three weeks, the Naval Security Team’s (NST) mission deployment team will take over the force protection component of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) St. John’s’ duty watch during the frigate’s rest and maintenance period in Copenhagen, so that more members of the ship’s company can go home for their designated break during Operation REASSURANCE.

Op REASSURANCE is the Canadian Armed Forces’ contribution to NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe. St. John’s began its deployment on January 18, 2018, when it joined Standing NATO Maritime Group One, a naval force made up of ships from various allied countries that work together for a common purpose in the Mediterranean Sea, the North Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s NST provides naval reservists with opportunities for real-world, expeditionary operations around the world. The training given to sailors is focused on specific operational and tactical skill sets, and is more advanced than that given during normal trade or occupation training.

“It provides challenging, interesting and unique experiences providing naval effects both on land and at sea,” says Lieutenant-Commander Jeff Chura, who took over as Commanding Officer of the NST on March 9. “This type of training and work can help re-energize the Naval Reserve by increasing not only recruiting, but also retention.”

For this deployment, the team consists of 36 reservists from 18 Naval Reserve Divisions across the country, representing every military occupation. Together, the team also speaks nine different languages.

LCdr Chura says the training varies depending on the mission type and the size of the group, but the current team conducted four weeks of diverse training including dynamic tactical shooting with the Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG); combat casualty care and first aid; firearms and ammunition training for shoot-no-shoot decision-making development; RCMP training on identifying who is carrying hidden weapons; psychology/mindset of criminal/terrorist suspects; and shipboard force protection organization, duties and responsibilities.

Once this training program was completed, the team underwent a week-long validation period with Sea Training (Pacific) to determine its operational readiness.

Team members are excited to be deploying to Copenhagen after their intense training schedule. Some common characteristics that seem to bind all the members of the team together are a yearning for adventure and travel within a structure of self-discipline and strong work ethic; a commitment to teamwork and strong friendships; a love of learning and challenging oneself to the fullest; and a desire for an active lifestyle.

Able Seaman Alex Gauthier, a reservist from HMCS Champlain in Chicoutimi, Que., speaks multiple languages and joined the NST earlier this year. He is looking forward to his time overseas, saying he enjoys being outside of his comfort zone and taking on new challenges.

“Being a part of the NST is a great challenge that touches on the values of teamwork and self-discipline,” he says. “I love the fact that it is made up entirely of reservists from across the country and demonstrates that we can accomplish great things together.”

His thoughts are echoed by AB Stephanie Vibert, a boatswain from HMCS York in Toronto, who would also like to inspire young women in Canada.

“I would like to let them know that they can, without a doubt, excel in a career that was traditionally reserved for men,” explains AB Vibert. “And I am very proud to be able to protect my shipmates and my country as part of the NST.”

She adds that she loves the idea of using the knowledge and skills learned in training to explore new places. “I was seeking adventure, travel, camaraderie and lifelong friendships. I am very fortunate to have already found these during the time that I have been with HMCS York.”

LCdr Chura believes the NST concept provides a new and unique capability for the RCN in the shape of a dynamic team dedicated to force protection and security.

“This is something that we, as an organization, have never had before,” he explains. “The training programs are still relatively new and are being refined and improved constantly, but I think they have proven so far to provide a well-balanced and effective force.”

In fact, the NST’s first deployment, designed to prove the capability of the concept, was to Busan, South Korea last year where a team of 78 personnel provided force protection for HMCS Winnipeg during its port visit. Concurrently, the team worked closely with Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) personnel to develop, practise and execute an exercise demonstration of combined RCN-ROKN operations for both Canadian and Korean flag officers and VIPs.

“Feedback from both Winnipeg and the ROKN was positive,” says LCdr Chura, who has been with the NST team since its inception. “The NST concept was proven beyond a doubt.”

The second deployment was a team of 10 NST personnel and two MTOG personnel to Suva, Fiji as a global engagement-style capability building exercise with the Republic of Fiji Navy (RFN). For a week, the RCN and RFN demonstrated techniques to each other and exchanged standard operating procedures.

“Concurrently, both LCdr Wil Lund, the Commanding Officer of MTOG, and I had the opportunity to liaise with the Canadian High Commissioner and the Canadian Defence Attaché to Fiji, as well as Fijian military and diplomatic personnel, and numerous international defence attachés. This interaction was so successful that the RCN was invited back to the region, and both NST and a Canadian ship will be returning to Fiji this spring.”

When the Copenhagen mission is over, the NST core team continues with planning and training for future operations, and the current reservists are de-mobilized and either return to other Naval Reserve contracts around the country or to their home units. Those with NST training and experience then form a pool of personnel that may be called up to participate in another NST mission deployment team in the future.

“In our current manning construct and operations tempo, there is only one mission deployment team at any one time, but as the team continues to mature and grow there is the possibility that in the future more than one team may be deployed at the same time,” says LCdr Chura. “The NST never rests on its laurels and will always push itself to be better and better.”

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