PROJECTION and Reflection: Three Sailors’ Experience Deploying to Africa During Black History Month

February 26, 2020 - Defence Stories

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This month holds special meaning for Lieutenant(Navy) Greygory Wagner-Conserve, a Naval Warfare Officer deployed aboard HMCS Glace Bay. He and his shipmates continue a long and proud tradition of Black Canadians serving in Canada’s military, at home and abroad.

There are many ties that bind Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members together, and attributes that they have in common. Commitment to Queen and country, strong work ethic, dedication to physical fitness, and many more, are traits that CAF members far and wide share. But what specifically do a Cook, a Naval Warfare Officer (NWO), and a Naval Combat Information Operator (NCIOP), have in common? In this case, it is the fact that they are all Black Canadians sailing in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Glace Bay as part of Operation (Op) PROJECTION – Africa, the first stops of which took place during Black History Month.

Op PROJECTION – Africa is a mission in the Gulf of Guinea aimed at capacity building and fostering relationships with like-minded partner nations, while helping to support stability and security in the region. For the sailors deployed on this operation, it means getting the opportunity to work alongside partner navies during two major training exercises, OBANGAME EXPRESS 2020 and PHOENIX EXPRESS 2020, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and led by U.S. Naval Forces Africa. They will also be interacting with local communities during outreach events, furthering efforts towards sustainable development, empowerment of girls and women, and overall conditions for peace and stability.

For Able Seaman (AB) Dyneh Allen-Buckmire, Lieutenant(N) (Lt(N)) Greygory Wagner-Conserve, and Ordinary Seaman (OS) Lennox Peprah, it means much more. For them, it is a chance to represent their country and to carry on the long tradition of Black Canadians serving in the CAF. It is also a time to reflect on what Black History month means to them.

For AB Allen-Buckmire, who serves as a Cook, being deployed during Black History Month is a chance to “represent my people and past – how we overcame and how we keep pushing through obstacles” and to “show my people, and everyone else, that no matter how much we’ve been put down in the past, we’ll always rise up.” AB Allen-Buckmire says that, while her family is from Jamaica and Trinidad, she looks at this experience in Africa as one of learning, saying “it’s awesome getting to see more of our history and where it all started. It’s where the first slaves were taken from, on boats.” When asked how her family felt about her being deployed on this mission, she said that they were “proud, but pretty bummed that I’m missing an annual barbecue that my family runs for Black History Month at our community centre.”  For her, being deployed to Africa during Black History Month is a learning opportunity, and a chance to show to her community that no one should “be afraid to step outside of their own pre-conceived notions of what jobs they should be doing.”

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Continuing a long and proud tradition of Black Canadians serving in Canada’s military are Able Seaman Dyneh Allen Buckmire and Ordinary Seaman Lennox Peprah. A Cook and Naval Combat Information Operator respectively, they’re currently deployed aboard HMCS Glace Bay on Operation PROJECTION – Africa.

To Lt(N) Wagner-Conserve, an NWO onboard, being deployed to Africa during Black History Month is a “good occasion to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions that Black Canadians have made for this country.” The location of the mission, according to Wagner-Conserve, is important because it is an eye-opening chance to see what this part of the world — a part that is often forgotten — has to offer, and to learn from our allies in the region. Wagner-Conserve describes his experience as a Black Canadian in the CAF as a positive one, and that, as an institution, the CAF are doing a “great job at encouraging and promoting diversity among their members.” For him, Black History Month is a time to “remember and highlight the important people and moments that have marked Canada for this community, especially those who have served in the military.”

Being deployed to Africa during this time is an opportunity to reflect on a history, a community, as well as gaining the experience of working alongside partner navies. Lt(N) Wagner-Conserve is also a key planner for exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 2020 interactions, and is serving as the Port Liaison Officer for the Task Group’s visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Freetown was founded in 1792 by British Naval Lieutenant John Clarkson and approximately 1,000 freed American slaves who were residing in Nova Scotia, giving the sailors on deployment a reminder of the province they call ‘home’.

For OS Peprah, an NCIOP, this deployment hits a little closer to home, literally. While Peprah was born in Canada, his parents grew up in Ghana, where they still have family living in Accra. His parents moved to Canada when they were 26 and 30 years old respectively. For Peprah, deploying to Africa during Black History Month is “an honour, seriously, to be able to go to my parents’ homeland.” It is also a chance for his family in Ghana to see him in action, something about which he and his family are very excited. Peprah visited Ghana as a young child, but says he remembers “only the heat and my family,” so he is “happy to get the chance to go back as an adult, with a mission, to do something and give back.” He says that he hopes “to be a part of more missions and deployments and that the CAF continue to do missions in places like Africa, to show who Canada and the CAF are, what we do, and to show the world how diverse we are as a country and institution.”         

This operation is a meaningful experience to all of the sailors involved. However, for Peprah, Allen-Buckmire, and Wagner-Conserve, it means a little bit more. For these three sailors, it’s an opportunity to remember, to reflect, to learn about and honour a long history of both suffering and progress. For OS Peprah it is even a chance to return to a place his parents called home. For these three sailors, it is a chance to carry on a long and proud tradition of Black Canadians serving in the CAF.  

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