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HMCS Winnipeg, Vancouver home for Christmas after six-month deployment

Family and friends bearing homemade signs and flowers were waiting at the jetty at CFB Esquimalt to welcome the ships’ crews, as was Defence Minister Anita Anand

Having her husband, Thomas, home in time for Christmas after a six-month deployment on HMCS Winnipeg is special for Colleen McDavid, but she says it’s the regular, day-to-day activities that she is really looking forward to.

“I’m excited to just hang out and do the mundane things together,” she said. “The grocery shopping, watching TV, just the everyday stuff that you miss over half a year.”

The couple won the shipboard lottery to have the first kiss after reaching the jetty at CFB Esquimalt on Monday, which Colleen described as an “unexpected” thrill. “It’s our third deployment and we always put a couple of bucks in the pot to see if we win, just for fun.”

Also there to welcome Thomas — a master sailor — were his two daughters, five-year-old Grace and two-and-a-half-year-old Penny. “They’ve grown a lot since I’ve been gone, but it’s nice to [connect via] Wi-Fi on board,” he said. “We get a lot of pictures, a lot of videos and get some Facetime.”

Getting home in early December is a bonus, said Thomas, whose last deployment in 2021 didn’t finish until Dec. 16. “We get some time to enjoy Christmas, put up the lights, go get a tree.”

Sara Salemink had one-year-old Oscar snug in a baby carrier when she stepped on board Winnipeg to greet husband Jeff, a petty officer second class. “We’re excited to be all back together again,” said Jeff Salemink, who described the six-month deployment as “medium-length,” noting some can be up to nine or 10 months.

Sara said she got the family Christmas tree on Sunday, cutting it herself on a friend’s property at Shawnigan Lake.

HMCS Vancouver sailed home Monday, as well, after six months away — coming in just behind Winnipeg, with a total of 470 sailors between the two ships.

Defence Minister Anita Anand was there to welcome the ships and chat to people in the crowd, many of them holding home-made signs and flowers to give to their loved ones.

Anand, a mother of four, says it’s the family reunions that make her most emotional when seeing sailors return from long deployments.“The fact that these Canadian Armed Forces members have been away since the spring from their families — I am so happy that they’re going to be reunited with their families today.”

Anand greeted returning sailors with Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, and thanked them for their service to Canada as part of Operations Projection and Neon in the Indo-Pacific, a region Canada regards as important to global peace and stability.

“Our goal in the region is to increase Canada’s presence,” Anand said. “It’s also to contribute to peace and stability in the region — that’s exactly what these two ships and 470 sailors were able to do.”

Last week in B.C., the federal government announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy, which includes four new defense initiatives aimed at promoting peace, expanding trade and investments, ensuring a green future, and increasing Canada’s presence in the area, backed by half a billion dollars in new investment on the military and security side.

As part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, a third frigate is scheduled to deploy next year in the area, Anand said.

Inter-state tensions are on the rise in the Indo-Pacific, home to four countries with nuclear weapons: China, India, North Korea and Pakistan.

Home to 40 economies and more than four billion people, it’s the world’s fastest-growing region, with six of Canada’s top 13 trading partners.

Anand noted that the Canadians sailed through Taiwan Strait with the Americans for a second straight year “and we looking forward to continuing to build partnerships like that in the Indo-Pacific.”

HMCS Winnipeg Cmdr. Annick Fortin praised her crew and said she enjoyed seeing the greetings they received from their families. “This is my fourth deployment and I was always happy to say that we’ll be home for Christmas.”

Fortin said she and husband David Nicholas didn’t have any immediate plans after the ship’s return.

“I think that maybe we’ll stop for a coffee, we’ll hug and then we’ll go home and be reunited with our neighbours and also our dogs and friends and family.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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