Father-daughter duo deploy together onboard HMCS Calgary

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Navy News / June 8, 2021

By Captain Jeff Klassen

It took seven years. Learning the language, job hunting, trying to make friends – all the various hardships a new immigrant family goes through. Finally, the Vanegas family walked out of their long-awaited citizenship ceremony in Montréal as full Canadian citizens. They were ecstatic and headed off to a restaurant to celebrate.

But they didn’t go straight there. On the way, they stopped at a Canadian Armed Forces recruiting centre where mom and the kids sat in the waiting room while dad applied to join the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). It was his lifelong dream and it became an experience that inspired his daughter to join shortly after.

Another seven years have passed and now Sailor 1st Class (S1) Ivan Vanegas Lopez, 53, and his daughter S1 Susana Vanegas Tobon, 20, are serving together in the same Canadian warship – Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary.

It’s rare for families to sail together in the same ship and it makes this deployment special for both of them. The ship is currently sailing throughout Middle Eastern waters as part of the multinational Combined Task Force 150, combatting smuggling used to fund terrorism.

As a child in Medellin, Colombia, Ivan wanted to join the Colombian National Navy as an officer but his financial circumstances after high school led him to becoming an electrician. Over the years he married, had three children, and in 2007 they immigrated to Montréal. During his first months in the country he attended a job fair and saw that, if he became a Canadian citizen, he would be able to join the RCN and actually fulfill his childhood dream.

While awaiting his citizenship, he continued working as an electrician until, on the same day as the family attended their citizenship ceremony in 2014, when he was finally eligible to apply, Ivan applied to be an electrical technician in the RCN. In 2016, at 49 years old, he was the oldest person out of all the platoons to graduate at his final ceremony after basic training.

Susana saw her dad’s successes and was inspired to join the Navy as a human resources administrator with the Montréal-based Naval Reserve Division HMCS Donnaconna. When she graduated basic training in 2018, at 17 years old, she was the youngest person out of all the platoons.

When the chance to deploy with HMCS Calgary came up, Susana put her name in immediately and now father and daughter are sailing together during the ship’s current seven-month deployment.

The two are happy to have each other for support, especially after the recent death of Susana’s grandmother on her mother’s side.

“I’m just so grateful to be able to be here for my daughter after the death of her grandmother. If she were alone during this time it would be very difficult,” said Ivan.

In 2021, one of the sons in the family, Acting Sub Lieutenant Sebastián Vanegas Pizarro, began his Basic Military Officer Qualification Course to become a Naval Warfare Officer. Mother Jenny Alexandra Tobon Alvarez is also considering joining the military.

“I feel that – for my family – it started off as my dad’s dream and then it became every one of our dreams. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have joined. He inspired us all,” said Susana.

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.