Boatswain overcomes challenges to deploy on Op CARIBBE

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Navy News / April 15, 2021

By Lieutenant (Navy) C.E. Grant

Before joining Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Moncton for Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s participation in U.S.-led counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean, Sailor 2nd Class (S2) Samantha-Lee Epstein had only one sea day, gained from a day sail aboard HMCS Oriole.

Volunteering to sail with HMCS Moncton and heading south for the Caribbean, S2 Epstein, a boatswain, found herself aboard a maritime coastal defence vessel for the first time.

The naval reservist from HMCS Scotian in Halifax dove feet-first into Mission-Specific Readiness Training (MSRT), and while this alone posed a significant challenge for the junior sailor, the story leading up to that moment speaks volumes about her perseverance and character.

In August 2020, her mother suddenly passed away of a heart attack. In the wake of her loss, she traveled to Toronto to be with her father and spent a month tending to family matters, which were made all the more difficult because of COVID-19 restrictions and isolation requirements.

Coming back from Toronto and having to quarantine alone was difficult, but getting back to work with the support of my crewmates on Oriole was a tremendous help,” she said.

However, it was not long before she was offered a chance to join a new ship about to head out on deployment.

“Having the opportunity to come on Op CARIBBE with HMCS Moncton felt like something I needed – a change of pace, different scenery and a new challenge to keep me going,” she said. “But it was also terrifying. I was extremely anxious before going on this sail that I wouldn’t be mentally capable of doing this yet. Also, doing something completely different from anything I had done before left me unsure of what to expect.”

However, her therapist, social worker and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) helped ensure she was mentally ready to go.

“There was a lot more support from the CAF for my mental health than I expected. Having the doctor call me the day after Christmas and the routine follow-ups from the team really helped reassure me that I was in good hands and that I was ready to go on deployment.”

In fact, S2 Epstein acknowledges the positive impacts the CAF mental health process have had, saying, “After my mother’s passing, I’ve been very pro-mental-health and would want others in the CAF to have support similar to what I received. Life happens – the key is being part of a CAF community that is caring and supportive.”

While getting on board Moncton represented a significant milestone for her, S2 Epstein still had challenges ahead. The first week of Moncton’s deployment program included a week of MSRT with Patrol Vessel Sea Training (Atlantic) on board.

“It felt like I was always waiting for the next event to happen,” she said. “For the first few days it felt like I didn’t have a chance to relax or calm down, but by the end of that week I realized how much support I had, both from the crew and Sea Training staff.”

“One thing I keep telling my father is that I’m blown away by the amount of support I have on this ship – I’ve never met people who give me this much support. They care so much about me and I care so much about them: it’s a little family. I truly believe the people in Moncton and on this deployment have helped me with the grieving process over the loss of my mother.”

As a Dalhousie University alumna who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology in 2019, S2 Epstein says one of the most interesting aspects of sailing in the Caribbean has been all the marine mammals and bird life she has been able to observe and interact with.

In discussing her reason for joining the CAF, and in particular the Royal Canadian Navy, she explained that, being from Toronto, the Canadian Army is the face of the CAF in that city.

“Most of my friends were in the Army, which is how I heard about the Reserves,” she said. “When I went through the recruiting process, I learned about the Naval Reserve, and since I was studying marine biology, thought – water, boats, biology – perfect!”

Aspiring to commission as an officer in the future, S2 Epstein says she is enjoying life as a boatswain for the time being and hopes to continue learning and gaining experience in her current trade.