A Sea King helicopter hovers near HMCS Vancouver as the crew prepare to pick up a basket stretcher (in orange) during a drill in the Mediterranean Sea.

A Sea King helicopter hovers near HMCS Vancouver as the crew prepare to pick up a basket stretcher (in orange) during a drill in the Mediterranean Sea.

Remembering at Sea

Victoria airport-based Sea King crew part of multinational mission in Mediterranean

Aboard HMCS Vancouver, crew will form up on the flight deck for a small ceremony at sea to mark Remembrance Day today.

After a few words from the padre, a wreath will be tossed into the Mediterranean Sea.

Among those remembering is Maj. Don Phillip, commander of an air detachment crew at 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron.

“It’s a reminder of people way before me who sacrificed their lives, and sacrificed a lot in order for me to get to do what I do. I’m just thankful for that,” he said. “I hope I can live up to their expectations as a military officer.”

The detachment is aboard Vancouver during Operation Mobile off the coast of Libya.

“In the middle of the Mediterranean you still remember Canadian soldiers and you still take the time out to remember and honour them,” Phillip said.

The Victoria International Airport-based 443 contingent includes 11 technicians, four pilots, three navigators and two airborne sensory operators.

While the ship was slated to return to Canada in February, Phillip wasn’t in a position to speculate on future roles for Vancouver in the area, or comment on any of the recent developments in Libya following the death of the country’s deposed dictator, Muammar Qadhafi.

The Victoria pilot could, however, give a little insight into their work that stems from the training often visible on the Peninsula. The work is routine.

“This is, for us, normal. We train with the navy all the time, and the missions that we do, we practice with the navy on various exercises. Nothing we’re doing out here is really different,” he said. “We patrol every day. We look for vessels and report vessels — from positioning boats to container ships — back to HMCS Vancouver.”

The days are often hot, with 30 to 38 C temperatures the norm and 80-per-cent humidity.

Eating, working out and hanging out together allows for little privacy aboard the ship.

“You’re living with 250 to 260 people with various personalities in very close quarters … Believe it or not we all get along well, because we have the same focus,” Phillip said.

“You find your quiet spot on the ship to read a book … but you actually end up hanging out with everybody. You develop a bond that you end up supporting people. They’re not your family members, but they’re almost close enough to be a family member.”

Through good times and bad, they celebrate such festivities as Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas. And spirits are lifted via video, email and letters from home.

“We still have that little connection from home,” said Phillip, who’s fond of Oreo cookies in his care packages.

“It gives a little reminder that there’s still somebody out there thinking about you that you have a close connection to. You get a little touch of home.”

And while they’re at sea, home awaits.

“With my family we’re going to celebrate Christmas when I get back,” he said.

While a delayed holiday season may appeal, it’s not the first thing he’s looking forward to upon return.

Phillip looks toward cooking his own meals and to sleeping “in a normal bed that does not move and bob up and down.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing greenery, grass and trees and stuff. The stuff that we take for granted.”

reporter@peninsulanewsreview.com