Christmas at sea

Danette Dooley
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Spending the holidays aboard a Navy ship

Special to TC Media

While most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are enjoying the holidays at home with family and friends, some men and women from this province are spending Christmas in the Arabian Sea onboard HMCS Regina as part of Operation ARTEMIS.

Private Chelsie Whalen is a resource management clerk onboard the ship. Although she wears an Air Force uniform, military clerks can be called upon to serve with any of the three services: Army, Navy or Air Force.

The 23-year-old from Flower’s Cove has been with the military for two years. She’s been with the HMCS Regina since July and will remain with the ship until March.

This will be Whalen’s first Christmas away from her parents, grandparents and other relatives in Flower’s Cove.

“I’m from a small town and Christmas is generally when my other friends all come back and when we get to chat. It’s a big family event. I’ll miss that this year,” Whalen says during a recent telephone interview from onboard the ship.

When she’s not working, Whalen often passes the time by listening to Newfoundland music on her iPod, particularly songs by Bob Porter.

She’s excited about the ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange, she says, that will take place onboard the ship on Christmas Day.

She’s also looking forward to chatting with her family back home.

“I’m hoping to talk to my family on Christmas Day. I want to say Merry Christmas to all of them.”

HMCS public relations officer, Lieut. Chris Walkinshaw says there are numerous initiatives planned for the holidays to support those at sea.

The crew gathers on the flight deck on Christmas Eve, he says, for movies, caroling and a church service.

“We have the opportunity to call home to friends and family for a few minutes every few days, you can save up some of your time for a longer call at Christmas,” the Ottawa native says.

In addition to a gift exchange, Walkinshaw says all those onboard the ship will receive a gym bag full of gifts and goodies donated by Canadian companies.

Another gesture that the sailors appreciated prior to the holidays was a Hallmark initiative where the company sent crates of storybooks to the military.

“In mid-November we were in Kuwait. We got this huge box of books and everybody had three days to take a book and record themselves reading the classic “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” story to their child or a niece or nephew or another child.

Purolater supported the project by shipping the books to the children once they arrived back in Canada.

On Christmas Day officers serve the sailors a turkey dinner and clean up after the meal.

“The commanding officer will ‘relinquish command’ to the youngest sailor on Christmas Day. The youngest sailor can ‘order’ people to do fun things, which are good natured and entertaining,” Walkinshaw says.

Thanks to Canada Post, he says, friends and family of CF members deployed over Christmas were encouraged to send them parcels free of charge.

Most of the sailors have had the opportunity to return home for a visit with their families, or meet their spouse in a vacation location, at some point during the deployment Walkinshaw says.

Those onboard the ship will have an opportunity to stretch their legs on dry land over New Year’s, he says.

“And although we all miss our families in Canada, we are proud to be serving with our naval family.”

Petty Officer Second Class Mike Edmonds is a marine systems engineer with HMCS Regina.

The 38-year-old from the Mount Moriah near Corner Brook has been with CF for almost two decades.

The vessel returns to British Columbia in March, however, Edmonds says he’ll likely be posted to the ship for another year before being posted to a shore unit.

While most of his immediate family still lives in Mount Moriah, Edmonds says he doesn’t get back home often.

“My favorite time to visit is definitely during the Christmas holidays. I miss the extended family gatherings during the holidays and of course the traditional Newfoundland meals.”

While there won’t be any mummering onboard the HMCS Regina, Edmonds says the ship will be having an open mic to allow musicians to entertain the rest of the crew.

“I would like to wish my family and friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,” he says when asked if has a message for those at home.

Bombadier Levi Sheppard is a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery.  He operates HMCS Regina’s unmanned aerial vehicle.

Sheppard is originally from Poole’s Cove, near Harbour Breton. He’s been with the ship since July and will finish his deployment early in the New Year.

Sheppard has fond memories of Christmas in Newfoundland.

“I come from a small fishing village so our Christmas was very traditional. We cut our own tree and decorated it. There was lots of mummering. You had to go to bed at a specific time on Christmas Eve,” the 27-year-old said.

While he has family still living in Poole’s Cove, Sheppard lives in New Brunswick.

He recently came back onboard the ship after a two-and-a-half week leave to visit his family and his 14-month-old daughter.

What he’ll miss most about the holidays, he says, is spending time with his child.

 “It’s brutal being away from her. I’ll miss her over Christmas and I’ll miss my other family and friends. Everything else is superficial.”

Organizations: Canada Post, Bombadier, Royal Canadian Artillery

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Arabian Sea, Ottawa Mount Moriah Kuwait Poole Canada Corner Brook British Columbia Harbour Breton New Brunswick.He

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