West Africa 2022

Captured at a chimpanzee sanctuary in Sierra Leone, c. February 2022

Operation Projection West Africa was my second deployment to the continent from January to April 2022. However, it was my first major sail post-pandemic and it was my first sail “back in the saddle” after attempting civilian life. I took a little over a year away from the military to try and figure things out. I went back to college and completed a post-graduate certificate in corporate communications and tried to find a career in PR or marketing… but to no avail.

I had two run-of-the-mill jobs before deciding to return to the Fleet. Construction being one of them, in the other I briefly worked at an automotive shop doing tire and oil changes. Working on people’s cars is the worst. Especially in privileged Oakville, Ontario where people expect their cars to be done in 10-minutes. And as for my tenure as a construction labourer, although I had no problem putting in the demanding physical exertion and doing what I was told (I’m in shape and the military experience helped), I did mind getting paid minimum wage with no benefits or pension.

It’s rough out there. People across our country are struggling to make ends meet. Combine the competitive job market, high commodity and housing inflation, and an ongoing pandemic stagnating global economic recovery… what I’m seeing on the streets I do not like. I volunteer with a local church here in Halifax to feed the poor and I’m seeing more homeless folk around the city. It’s a running theme. Back in Toronto and Hamilton, it’s the same story. It’s more than likely the same out in the Prairies and Rockies too. Our nation is hurting.

Maybe it was bad timing… re-adapting to normal life during extraordinary times did not work in my favour. Maybe if I had built a better network, or was born into wealth like some of my friends in my hometown (Burlington, Ontario). Or maybe this was just destiny placing me where I needed to be… either way, I found myself in Africa for the second time around.

A street in Freetown, Sierra Leone c. February 2022

West Africa is hot. The sun seems twice as large as back in Canada. It’s a good thing my ancestors are from the Philippines, I was able to adapt better to that type of climate. Although I did miss cozying up to a fireplace with hot chocolate and a marshmallow on top.

I had a lot of time to work out. I don’t lift weights: I run, do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, and planks. I’m in the best physical shape of my life and I’m eating healthy. I even kicked alcohol consumption mostly because it was a vice for me in the past and I want to live the healthiest life I can live. I made friends with shipmates who shared a common interest in fitness and I bonded with them quite well. I think that’s the best part of military service… the lifelong friendships I’ve made over the years.

This sail was the first time I saw sea turtles! And of course, the dolphins playing and doing flips in the wake (ripples generated by a ship underway) are always amazing to witness as well. The night sky is something else once you get out of the city and away from artificial light pollution. You can see the stars and milky way galaxy in all of its glory, the same way our hunter-gatherer and farming ancestors must have seen it. Sometimes, there is bioluminescent plankton in the water too, so the lights at night engulf you.

Most of the West Africa deployment is public affairs related. We built diplomatic relations with African nations and Western allies via cocktail parties and interacting with children. One of those “shake hands and kiss babies” initiatives. We worked closely with our allies in the United States Navy and Marine Corps to secure Western interests in the region. We conducted anti-piracy patrols, helping the local population deter piracy threats. I’m not sure what kind of impact we made. The Chinese own the continent nowadays, they are there for oil and fisheries access.

The more hopeful side of me thinks that maybe there was one little girl out there who saw our women in the Canadian Navy (we were in Ghana for International Women’s Day) and thought to herself, “Maybe I can do the same for my country one day” or, “Maybe I want to sail the oceans or be the woman who engineers complex machines like ships”. Or maybe there was one little boy we played soccer with who we inspired to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. These things are seed planters, events that happen decades from now… if we even had an impact. But at the end of the day, our impact is not up for me to decide.

All in all, I’m glad to be back in Canada. And if only for the friends I have, I’m glad to be back in the military for the time being. I think I’m at a crossroads. I’m closer to 30 than I am to 20 these days. My generation was hit by the 2008 financial crisis and once we were recovering, we were hit again by a global pandemic that has killed millions worldwide… and has set the global economy into a slump for the second time in a row.

Since the beginning of human civilization, there have always been those who “have” and those who “have-not”. I am just one man trying to navigate his way around the world. “History repeats” as they say… same play, different actors. Whatever part I have in this unpredictable yet beautiful play we call Life, I’ll be sure to play my role to the best of my ability.


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