From fighting terror in the desert to fighting terror on the ocean: how Sailor 1st Class Cindy Veilleux is making a difference again

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Navy News / July 16, 2021

After a career fighting insurgents as a combat engineer with the Canadian Army in Afghanistan, Sailor 1st Class (S1) Cindy Veilleux is back. This time she is fighting terrorism with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) as Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary sails in the Middle East on counter-smuggling operations.

S1 Veilleux grew up in Saint-Georges, Que., and attended Polyvalente De Saint-Georges before moving to Sherbrooke, Que., and attending Polyvalente Le Phare. In 2006 at age 20, she joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a combat engineer, following the choice of a close friend.

“He talked to me about the teamwork and the close bonds you make in the CAF. He also told me all about being a combat engineer. The science and technical knowledge really appealed to me. That, and working with explosives!” said S1 Veilleux. Her eyes light up as she talks about the explosives component of the job.

S1 Veilleux served in Afghanistan for seven months patrolling with an infantry unit. Her job was to search for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and help breach entranceways into buildings. She was frequently the only woman working in her camp. Her unit found that local women were hesitant to speak with men, and especially men who were soldiers. Because of these particular cultural sensitivities, S1 Veilleux frequently interacted with local women on behalf of the team.

“It happened a few times that there was a group of women in a room and they literally grabbed me because they were so curious. They wanted to know about my tattoos and why a woman was marching with these men,” she said. “My time in Afghanistan changed my perception of life. I’m grateful to be born in Canada.”

S1 Veilleux left the CAF in 2013 to work in the railway industry but she re-enlisted in 2018 – this time as a material management technician in the RCN. Why this job and why a change to the RCN?

“In the civilian world I discovered that I really like to do paperwork. Also, I thought as a combat engineer I was wasting my biggest skill which is to be really social. As a material management technician I get to deal with everyone. It’s a great fit for me,” she said. “Joining the RCN was symbolic for me since I retired from a combat trade I felt it was best to not wear the Army uniform anymore.”

S1 Veilleux’s job includes storing and distributing a variety of items ranging from critical parts for multi-million dollar weapons systems to HMCS Calgary-branded ball caps.

And what about the serving in the Navy versus the Army?

“Both are different. What I really like about the Navy is the opportunity to travel to so many different places, and you have a warm meal and bed every night as well. A lot of people don’t realize this, but in addition to our main trades, in the Navy we also learn a lot of general seamanship and that is incredibly rewarding as well,” she said.

HMCS Calgary had great success on its recent deployment, Operation Artemis, a counter-smuggling and counter-terrorism operation in the Middle East with the multinational Combined Task Force 150, which operates under the 34-nation coalition known as Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). The ship now moves on to the second leg of Operation Projection.

In April, within days of beginning the operation, the ship made a record-breaking heroin bust, the biggest in the history of CMF. In June, the ship set another record for most individual seizures by any ship on an operational rotation in the history of the operation. The intention of the drug seizures is to dismantle the revenue streams of regional terrorists and criminal organizations.

“It’s great to be out here making a difference again,” said S1 Veilleux.