Chief cook helps warship prepare for emergencies

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Navy News / June 8, 2021

By Captain Jeff Klassen

They’re called “section bases” – emergency response teams that gather in different parts of the ship during emergency situations. While most other commissioned ships in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) have four, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary is the only one with a Section Base 5.

Section Base 5 is the nickname given to HMCS Calgary’s Chief Cook Petty Officer 1st Class (PO1) Kurt Arnold, from Charlottetown. Officers and senior chiefs he has worked with found him to be so fast and so capable at responding to emergencies that they compare him to a whole team.

“It’s really rare to see sailors attain his level of knowledge for damage control and general seamanship. Through sheer determination and putting in extra hours, his knowledge is equal to or greater than some hard sea trades at his rank,” said Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO1) Arvid Lee, one of the most senior and experienced non-commissioned members in the Canadian Armed Forces, who was PO1 Arnold’s Coxswain when he first came to Calgary in 2018.

Part of the reason for PO1 Arnold’s success is that he has spent a lot of time at sea, much more than the average cook. By the end of 2021, PO1 Arnold will likely have earned his Gold Sea Service Insignia – or gold anchor – signifying he has served 1,460 full days at sea (he currently has over 1,300 sea days). It’s rare. Out of the roughly 11,000 members in the RCN, only around 340 have their gold anchor. It’s especially rare for cooks because they are a “purple trade”, meaning even if they wear a Navy uniform, they can also be posted across Canada to any army or air force base.

“As always there are exceptions but largely because of their limited amount of sea time we don’t often see support trades, like cooks, take on this level of seamanship expertise – and he did all of it on his own. It wasn’t pushed upon him. He studied, got into the books and familiarized himself with everything on this class of ship,” said CPO1 Lee. “We’re just lucky enough to have a dedicated person like Kurt stay in the Navy lines for most, if not all, of his career so that he could gain that knowledge and experience.”

Section bases report to various spaces on ship when an emergency alarm sounds, most often as part of the frequent training conducted on ship. Emergency situations typically involve putting out fires, stopping floods, shoring bulk heads, or helping with casualties. PO1 Arnold’s area of responsibility includes the galley (Navy-speak for kitchen) and adjacent areas.

“Whenever I have a job to do on ship, I give it my all – that’s just what I’m here for,” said PO1 Arnold. “If I detect a problem in one minute versus five minutes, that can have an exponentially larger effect on how much damage is done to the ship. I need to get the problem solved as fast as I can so my team can get back to providing the vital function of feeding the crew.”

PO1 Arnold tries to pass on his expertise to the cooks who work for him.

“The cook trade is an integral part of the ship. Besides feeding people, we are at our best when we can perform secondary duties and responsibilities with confidence,” he said.” I’m hoping the work I do inspires junior cooks to take on duties in the same way I did and continue to inspire sailors into the future.”

PO1 Arnold also assists the ship’s chaplain when one is embarked, and he will take over holding a Sunday service when one is not. He is currently studying to accomplish a Master’s degree from Masters College and Seminary. After 24 years of service, his plan is to retire from the military in 2022 and settle on the East Coast as a pastor in the Pentecostal church.

HMCS Calgary is currently deployed on Operation ARTEMIS in Middle Eastern waters and having great success in combatting terrorist-supporting maritime smuggling. The ship recently made a drug seizure of 1,286 kg of heroin, the single largest heroin seizure in Combined Maritime Forces history.