A Touch of CLaS: Passion, people, and performance on board HMCS Calgary

October 10, 2019 — Defence Stories

Author: Lieutenant Chelsea Dubeau

It isn’t every day that civilians are afforded the opportunity to see inside a warship, let alone sail with its crew and basically have the run of the place.

Yet that’s exactly what happened from Sept. 14-18, when 10 intrepid people, leaders in their respective fields from all across Canada, embarked in HMCS Calgary as part of the Canadian Leaders at Sea (CLaS) program.

The CLaS program invites leaders to experience an operational warship at sea, the goal being to “show why Canada’s navy is relevant, important, and professional, and why our sailors are the best in the world,” according to the joining instructions.

One CLaS participant, Mark Blevis, is the Director of Public Affairs and Marketing for Commissionaires. For him, the CLaS experience was more than just learning about a warship – for him, it was about the people.

“To me this is a four-day university crash course in leadership, teamwork, organizational structure, cooperation, and passion,” said Blevis. “The level of passion I’ve picked up from everyone on the ship is incredible; how passionate they are to be here, how passionate they are about their jobs. Hearing the stories about what led them to be here to join the forces and hearing what makes people tick has been incredible. You don’t often hear people talk about their jobs with such a sense of purpose.”

Each CLaS participant received a temporary set of Naval Combat Dress, was assigned their own bunk, and had the opportunity to eat in every mess in order to gain the most exposure to Calgary‘s diverse roster of sailors. From high-speed maneuvers, boat transfers ashore, damage control Olympics, .50 cal machine gun and pyrotechnic demonstrations, ship tours, and even a fire escape drill, little was left to the imagination. Throughout the four-day sail from Prince Rupert, to Haida Gwaii and Alert Bay, participants quickly learned how vital it is to have a cohesive team on board.

“It’s over 200 people working together and sustaining each other, and after being with the people on board you have a better appreciation for how important this work is,” said Blevis.

Calgary CLaSmates and crew had the opportunity to go ashore a few times during the sail, including a visit to the Haida Heritage Centre in Haida Gwaii and Alert Bay. Both visits gave Calgary’s Commanding Officer, Commander Jonathan Kouwenberg, the opportunity to meet and connect with Haida Gwaii elders and Namgis leadership, respectively, as well as members of 4 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group and the Junior Rangers.

“That was an unexpected gift as part of this trip,” said Cdr Kouwenberg. “It’s been the best CLaS sail that I’ve been able to participate in. The participants were amazing, unique, collaborative and they really did exactly what you want them to do, which is get to know the crew. The crew did a great job of getting to know them, such that I learned some things about my crew from the CLaSmates because they took the time to get to know our sailors. The uniqueness of the program and the territory that we covered and the relationships that were built… I think it’s a testament to the value of the CLaS program.”

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