Moncton native shares his experience in West Africa with the RCN

Leading Seaman Robert Bourque talks to visitors aboard HMCS Summerside during a visit to Benin, West Africa.

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By Lieutenant (Navy) Linda Coleman

Leading Seaman Robert Bourque is experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime. A native of Moncton, N.B., he’s been deployed to West Africa in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Summerside since January 26, 2018 as part of Operation PROJECTION – a strategic engagement with regional nations to support capacity building and foster relationships with partner navies.

“I’ve never been so honoured to do something like this. I would have to say that I don’t think any future deployments could possible top this one,” said LS Bourque.

During Op PROJECTION, the ship’s companies of HMCS Kingston and HMCS Summerside visited seven West African countries to conduct community relations while also promoting regional maritime peace and security. Community relations events included promoting women’s rights and equality, meeting members of the community, and donating at elementary schools.

“I feel we have a direct effect for this mission. We are meeting people and physically helping. Just doing the small jobs at the schools and daycares like painting, plumbing and desk repairs, and to see the smiles and joy it brings them, it means the world to me. I feel that I have made an important contribution to children being able to have a better education,” said LS Bourque.

When asked about his favourite experience during Op PROJECTION, LS Bourque shared a story from his port visit in Cape Verde: “While I was helping paint at a local elementary school, I saw this little boy of about seven or eight years old taking care of his younger brother who was about three, and they came by our group out of curiosity I imagine. I don’t know what got into me, but I wanted to meet these kids. So I went up to them and pulled out my note pad and pen and drew a happy face for each of them and gave it to them. The excitement in their faces just for a happy face on a small piece of paper was…no words can describe! I drew a few more pictures and they went off to give them to their parents. The older boy came back later with some friends and we kind of bonded. We played (bottle toss to be specific) throughout the day during breaks from work and he even helped paint. This is the type of memory I will never forget.”

LS Bourque joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 2011 as a Marine Technician – Electrician. “At first I joined just to do my part for Canada and serve. It was something I always wanted to do since high school. But it turned out to be more than that. I realized paid trade training and the benefits, along with job security, became of great importance to me as well.”

As a Marine Technician, LS Bourque feels that every day is an adventure at work. He’s training to attain the Engineering Officer of the Watch certification where he is responsible for monitoring and controlling the machinery plant equipment, ensuring the ship is running correctly and capable of doing its mission.

“I like that I need to use logic and reasoning, and to think outside the box when troubleshooting inoperable equipment, using my hands to repair them,” added LS Bourque.

However, like all members of a ship’s company, his first job is being a sailor. “My primary job is a Marine Technician, but I’m a sailor first, so I do line handling, small boat recovery and ship maintenance. Every day can be a surprise and emergencies can occur, so being a firefighter for fires, or getting wet to isolate or block a cracked water pipe, can get the adrenaline going. I get to experience all these great things about my job while meeting new crew members that come on board, and travelling the world seeing places I would never go see on my own.”

Although based in Halifax now, LS Bourque maintains close ties to the Moncton area. He spends weekends at a nearby trailer he purchased by Parlee Beach in Shediac, which is now his hometown escape with his wife Jill and two kids, Anika and Nathan.

LS Bourque returns from Op PROJECTION West Africa late April 2018.

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