Blyth native shares stories from 34-year Canadian Forces career
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Earlier this year, Chief Petty Officer Second Class Mark A. Bearss CD2 retired from active duty after 34 years of service.
The Blyth native, who now makes his home on the east coast, put pen to paper and recounted some of his experiences, dating back to when he first enlisted in the Armed Forces in 1981.
• June 9, 1981 – Enrolled at Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre – London, Ontario: I joined the Canadian Armed Forces (Unified Services) and left for basic training while Grade 12 final exams were being written. I was exempt.
I travelled by car from Blyth to London, to Ottawa from London by train, by military flight to Greenwood, Nova Scotia from Ottawa and again on a bus where I was removed from any civilian thinking for 11 weeks.
• June 12, 1981 – Canadian Forces Recruit School Cornwallis – Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia: After joining the military so I wouldn’t have to be in any classes, I was immediately put into a classroom. After 11 weeks, I was no longer Sally (we weren’t as politically correct in those days), but an untrained Private, soon to be re-educated as an Ordinary Seaman.
• August 28, 1981 – Canadian Forces Fleet School – Halifax, Nova Scotia: With basic training successfully completed (a term I would learn to love for the next 34 years) I began my Naval training with four weeks of Sea Environment training. Knots, how to flip over an upside-down life-raft, seamanship, etc – always a sailor first, then a tradesman.
Following the course, I started the seven-week Weaponman Surface course where I fired the 3”/50-calibre gun for the first time. I was now a qualified tradesman.
After finishing school in June, I started military training and was in classrooms until November with a break.
• November 16, 1981 – Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Athabaskan – Halifax, Nova Scotia: The HMCS Athabaskan was my first ship, which will never be forgotten. I met my best friend there and though we are separated by a couple provinces, we still remain close.
I practised and continued to learn my trade for two years under the guidance of experienced sailors. I embraced the life of a sailor and I learned all about secondary duties as a member of the Naval Landing and Boarding Party.
• November 10, 1983 – Canadian Forces Fleet School – Halifax, Nova Scotia: After completing on-the-job training to become a Naval Weapons NW Technician, I went back to school for two 13-week semesters of academics, which consisted of seven hours of classroom instruction followed by several hours of homework each night.
Twenty-one students began the course and only eight graduated.
Finally, the equipment phase had been successfully completed.
• November 12, 1984 – HMCS Athabaskan – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I returned to my first ship as a journeyman qualified Able Seaman. During this posting I was a member of the Naval Landing and Boarding Party and we took over the Spanish Fishing Trawlers during the Turbot War of the 1980s.
I was recalled from my honeymoon and sent to sea for an unknown duration on an unknown mission. It wasn’t the Cold War this time, but Tamil refugees trying to sneak into the country.
• January 8, 1988 – Canadian Forces Fleet School – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I went back to school as a student for three 13-week semesters of academics and equipment training – a course that 26 people started and 12 finished.
I was the course’s top student and was able to be home for the birth of our son. In those days, being home for the birth of a child was considered a luxury.
• May 12, 1989 – HMCS Nipigon – Halifax, Nova Scotia: This was my second class of ship with a completely different equipment group to learn.
It was back to sea for me as a Master Seaman on the first fully mixed-gender frigate in the Royal Canadian Navy. While here, I went on course and became a Ships Team Diver Supervisor, learning to work underwater.
• May 31, 1991 – Canadian Forces Fleet School – Halifax, Nova Scotia: Back to school I went, but as both staff and student this time.
I served as an instructor for three years. Part of this time was teaching both senior and junior personnel at the PARAMAX facility in Montreal for two years.
• July 4, 1994 – HMCS Toronto – Halifax, Nova Scotia: As a Petty Officer Second Class, I sailed for a week after joining the ship for Operation Sharpguard off Bosnia. My wife and son learned that the Navy will take me away for Christmas.
• July 28, 1997 – Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I returned to school again as a NW Tech CPF Instructor.
• July 15, 1998 – Canadian Forces Base Halifax – Halifax, Nova Scotia: The military attempted, and succeeded in teaching me French.
• May 30, 1999 – HMCS Montreal – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I spent a one-month posting at sea along with a promotion and a new ship.
• July 5, 1999 – HMCS Charlottetown – Halifax, Nova Scotia: As a Petty Officer First Class and Senior Naval Weapons Technician, I was deployed to the Persian Gulf to work with the U.S. Battle Group for six months. I returned home and was re-certified as a diver.
We then deployed again for Operation Apollo after 9/11. That was the hardest year on our family with just 60 days home over the next 15 months and another Christmas spent at sea.
• July 26, 2002 – Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I returned to school once again as a NW Tech Senior Instructor.
• June 28, 2004 – Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Scott – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I was promoted to Chief Petty Officer Second Class, Trials Co-ordinator for HAL/IRO/PRE Class Ships.
• May 24, 2005 – HMCS Preserver – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I was named Combat Systems Engineering Chief Petty Officer for another short posting, but the occupation had other plans for me, as on July 11 I was named Assistant Project Leader Submarines.
• May 1, 2006 – HMCS Montreal – Halifax, Nova Scotia: I was named Combat Systems Engineering Chief Petty Officer for the second time.
We deployed north to exercise our Canadian sovereignty.
• June 16, 2008 – DGRMC D Mil C – Ottawa: I managed personnel and attempted to fill in the positions required during a time when the occupation was between 20 and 30 per cent below the required staffing levels.
Working at the national level was an enlightening time and changed what I once thought were poor decisions by senior staff.
The picture of what needs to be done and what is a priority truly changes according to your outlook and position at the time.
Here, I had a direct effect on not only the men and woman I managed, but also their families.
• July 20, 2011 – Canadian Command Fleet Atlantic – Halifax, Nova Scotia: As a Fleet Combat Systems Engineering Chief Petty Officer, I was back to the fleet and briefing the Commodore on the technical status of the fleet.
This was another interesting and busy posting. After several years of being a key member of yet another occupation re-organization, I was now the coastal Occupational Advisor and our new trade came into effect.
• July 16, 2012 – Sea Training Atlantic – Halifax, Nova Scotia: My final posting was extremely busy and had me sailing and flying about the world.
I got to spend my last three years training my fellow sailors at sea, preparing them for their next deployment.
It was a rewarding time that took me to five continents.
Of course, a summary of over 34 years of service could easily go on for many pages, but one of my commanding officers used to say, “Ship, Shipmate, Self – in that order.”
I have learned over the years that his view is not mine, as balance is the most important, for if you don’t take care of yourself, you have less value to your shipmates and the ship.
The Canadian Armed Forces provided me with many adventures, allowed me to support and care for my family and it was a good life.
Military life does take a great deal from you and your family as well, but I can say I am a proud father whose son followed in his footsteps and is currently serving.
General Rick Hillier told us that as senior personnel, it was our duty to recruit for the miliary – I told him we raised our replacement.
Chief Petty Officer Second Class Mark A. Bearss CD2 (Retired); Weapons Engineering Technician – Manager and Sea Training Atlantic W Eng. Tech. Mgr. CPO.
Proud husband, father, grandfather and sailor – Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.