The Importance of Training in Crew Readiness

A sailor checks the temperature of the motor bearing onboard HMCS YELLOWKNIFE during Operation CARIBBE on April 10, 2019. Photo: Captain Annie Morin XC54-2019-0008-075 ~ Un marin vérifie la température du moteur de traction à bord du NCSM YELLOWKNIFE, au cours de l’opération CARIBBE, le 10 avril 2019. Photo : Capitaine Annie Morin XC54-2019-0008-075

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By Captain Annie Morin, Public Affairs Officer for Op CARIBBE

To Note: On May 6, 2019, HMC Ships Yellowknife and Whitehorse completed their deployment on Op CARIBBE. The current deployment began on June 24, 2019.

Have you ever thought about what it takes to deploy on an operational ship? You quickly realize that there are many steps to go through before a ship can leave for a specific mission in the maritime environment. However, when we look at any mission, there is one common element that remains the same whether it is an army, navy or air force operation. Training.

The mission of the Royal Canadian Navy is to prepare combat-effective naval forces that support Canadian interests at home and abroad. There is a great deal of training to achieve this. In the case of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Yellowknife and Whitehorse, the two last ships to deploy on Operation CARIBBE, they required the same high standard of readiness before their deployment.

But what does readiness really mean?

Well, it can mean two different things in the naval environment: individual and collective. Individual readiness is self-explanatory. It’s the training a sailor requires to perform their duties, such as trade qualifications, but it also includes weapon handling, first aid, and damage control. It is all about what is necessary for the sailor to be fully employed in their trade and rank level, to accomplish the Ship’s mission.

Collective training, on the other hand, refers to the ship’s company as a whole and the crew’s ability to accomplish the mission given by the Government of Canada. Each ship is given an expected level of readiness. It starts from the lowest level, Extended Readiness, which includes a docking work period. Then, it goes to the highest level at High Readiness.

These levels speak to the overall capabilities of the ship. They are predetermined based on assigned tasks. This means that a ship may be deployable or not for specific operations based on specific readiness levels. Ships will therefore go up and down levels as needed, but they will always sustain a specific readiness state.

“Collectively, training is crucial for the ship to ensure that all the sub-teams are able to complete their specific tasks concurrently with other sub-teams onboard the vessel. The ability to be part of the ship leads to overall level of combat readiness. The force protection team, for example, can work by itself. However, it can also work concurrently with the casualty clearance team, navigation team, the bridge warning organization to assess threats and, finally, the damage control team to deal with damaged caused by enemy action. Each one of those teams has distinct training that was completed in the two months of preparation before deployment. There is a direct correlation between training and overall effectiveness for the ship”, explained Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Donald Thompson-Greiff, Commanding Officer of HMCS Yellowknife.

The endeavor to have a ship ready for operation is significant. It requires the involvement of additional organizations to provide oversight on the expected standards. The group responsible for providing this control is the Sea Training Group. They will put a ship through rigorous training called “work ups”, a systematic evaluation that will assess the entirety of the ship’s equipment, the crew’s ability to use the equipment and the team’s ability to work collectively. This ranges from the basic seamanship needed to operate the ship to the ability of the crew to be efficient during Damage Control incidents onboard, like fire or flood.

As a Commanding officer, LCdr Thompson-Greiff explained what his priorities for training were, like knowledge of the ship.

“You need that foundational level. Then, each sub-team must be proficient with their responsibilities such as damage control, navigation or force protection. The final aspect is the collective training of the ship’s company. I approach this in building blocks, from the basic to the complex. The order of priority for Yellowknife is our ability to float, move and fight,” he explained.

To be considered ready to go to sea, ships will go through this program and work to obtain their assigned level of readiness. The ship’s company will then go through Mission Specific Readiness Training.

In the context of Op CARIBBE, this includes boarding operations, command and control functions, and intelligence management. Once a ship has reached the expected standards determined by the Sea Training Group, the ship will be fit to deploy and fit to fulfil its assigned mission.

Yellowknife and Whitehorse both had a United States Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (USCG LEDET) embarked onboard to perform boarding of vessels suspected of smuggling narcotics. Although standard operating procedures (SOP) dictate how each party will operate, there is practice needed for a seamless integration and operation. For example, over the horizon training for boarding operations. This is a situation where the small boat and the ship cannot see each other, but must work together to intercept a target of interest. To ensure that the operation has the desired effect, training may include table top discussions on how things will unfold, briefs, review of SOPs, and live training. This is part of the collective training that occurs while at sea.

From an individual point of view, there are on-the-job performance requirements. Supervisors evaluate and monitor tasks that come from the training establishment of each trade. These requirements could be demonstrating knowledge on a specific topic or performing a specific task. For example, a Naval Warfare Officer working as the Officer of the Watch must be able to demonstrate that they can conduct a gun shoot. This task includes selecting targets, determining threats, assessing for collateral damage and ensuring weapon effectiveness in applying deadly force.

Onboard ships, the Executive Officer (XO) is the training officer and oversees that collective training is done. Each ship has Combat Readiness Requirements that must be completed and that are monitored by Sea Training Group and Naval Force Readiness. They must be kept up to date routinely as they expire over time. Such requirements for the ship’s company can include lectures, exercises that to be performed, and small arms shooting. The XO will prioritise specific training for the mission based on the Commander’s intent and are included in the daily schedule of the Ship, known as the flex.

Crewed by 45 personnel, including members of the United States Coast Guard, HMC Ships Yellowknife and Whitehorse completed their deployment on Op CARIBBE. Canada’s contribution to Operation MARTILLO, a U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South operation responsible for conducting interagency and international detection and monitoring operations and facilitating the interdiction of illicit narcotics trafficking.

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