• The Low Down

From the Hills to Hawaii, Indonesia and onward

By Captain Christine MacNeil

Special to the Low Down for Remembrance Day

A long way from home, Sailor Second Class (S2) Willow Rose Nelson is currently somewhere in the South China Sea as part of a six-month deployment on board HMCS Winnipeg.


Raised in Farrellton, 27-year-old Nelson graduated from Philemon Wright High School in 2012. She then attended CEGEP Heritage College, where she studied Fine Arts and worked at the Royal Canadian Mint during the summer. In 2015 she took an Outdoor Adventure Naturalist course and worked various jobs across Ontario. A friend of hers was in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF); after seeing second-hand what life was like in the CAF, and as someone who has always liked a change of scenery and an adventure into the unknown, she decided to give it a try.


In the winter of 2020, Nelson was sent to St. Jean, QC, for Basic Military Qualification Training (BMQT), more familiarly known as Boot Camp or Basic Training. After completing Basic Training, then-Sailor Third Class Nelson was sent to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt, B.C., for her four-month Qualification Level 3 (QL3) Naval Communicator (NavComm) training course.


“As a naval communicator, I am the ears and eyes of the ship. I process, write and distribute message traffic, I communicate by Ultra High Frequency (UHF), Very High Frequency (VHF), High Frequency (HF) and speak to foreign nations, and patch circuit as well as operate legacy communications dating back to the cold war era,” said Nelson. “I am able to communicate visually by flag hoist, flashing light (Morse code) and semaphore, and encode and decode tactical signals. Naval communicators also are responsible for all Information Technology (IT) on ship as well for communication security (COMSEC).”


After completing her QL3 course, Nelson was then posted to HMCS Winnipeg. When asked about her most memorable experience or opportunity in the CAF, she said travelling and meeting new people were high on her list.


“Since joining the CAF, I have had the opportunity to travel to five different countries, with many more coming this year. Working with so many different navies has also given me the opportunity to make friends around the world,” she added. “I am also the ship’s artist, designing last year’s deployment coin, the Combined Force Maritime Component Command Coin and this year’s deployment coin.”


The Royal Canadian Navy is certainly meeting Nelson’s desire for adventure and a change of scenery. She deployed on Operations PROJECTION and NEON last year, and this year, she set sail in HMCS Winnipeg on her second deployment. This six-month sail includes exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) and Operation PROJECTION. In early August, the ship completed RIMPAC, which takes place every two years off the coast of Hawaii and is the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise.


HMCS Winnipeg then chopped over to Op PROJECTION, where it will conduct forward naval presence operations in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as conduct cooperative deployments and participate in international naval exercises with partner nations. Operation PROJECTION shows Canada’s ongoing commitment to global peace. The deployment of sailors, ships and submarines shows how the Royal Canadian Navy is ready to defend Canada’s interests worldwide.

Captain Christine MacNeil is with the Public Affairs Office for HMCS Winnipeg.