STELLARTON - When Andrew MacLeod was growing up in Stellarton, he was inspired by stories of his great-grandfather and grandfather who fought in the First and Second World Wars.
Little did he know he’d be carrying on that tradition of service to his country.
Sub-Lieutenant Andrew MacLeod, an officer in his third year in the Royal Canadian Navy, is currently deployed onboard HMCS Toronto. The ship is serving alongside the navies of 26 other nations that contribute to Operation Atremis, an international effort to ensure security in the waters around the Middle East. Depending on the mission, the ship could be deployed for six months in the busy shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa.
As of today, Sub-Lt. MacLeod and HMCS Toronto are somewhere in the Mediterranean.
“I can’t say exactly where we are or where we’re going,” he said. “At sea, our friends and those who are neither our friends nor enemies are always around us.
” His job as a maritime surface and sub-surface (MARS) officer means he has to know the ship from top to bottom and know what everyone from the cooks to the weapons technicians are doing.
He is also the ship’s diving officer and leads a team of 14 scuba divers who help maintain the ship when it’s in port. At this point in the voyage, however, the ship is getting ready for the upcoming mission. “We’ve been doing some work-ups with a crew from Gibraltar to prepare us for what’s ahead,” he said.
This involves life-like scenarios such as fires and incoming threats. Andrew was on the ship’s bridge for one man-overboard drill and led the diving team on a second drill.
Standing on the bridge of a Canadian warship was probably on Andrew’s mind, even while studying at St. Francis Xavier University.
He graduated with a degree in geology and went west on an explorative geology project. But his thoughts were never too far from the military and his family’s record of service. He joined the Canadian Forces and has never looked back since. “I needed more purpose in life,” he said. “It’s not about the money, it more about having a job that’s your calling in life.”
Andrew’s grandfather served in the Second World War and great-grandfather served with in a Scottish regiment during the First World War, during which he was a prisoner of war. These men were a source of inspiration for him.
His parents couldn’t be happier. “I was just floored when he said he was joining the military,” said Andrew’s mother, Judy. “He looked at me and said, ‘I should have joined the military after high school.’”
Their pride is tempered with parental concern however. “There’s no doubt about it, we worry about him,” said Andrew’s father, Steven. “But he’s a big boy and everyone has each other’s back in the military.” Andrew says it’s challenging sleeping in a room with seven other people, not to mention performing day-to-day duties on a platform that rocks back and forth 30 degrees or so.
But being away from home and loved ones is the hardest. He left his daughter Isabella, 6, and Jaden, 4, back in Nova Scotia.
“I keep photos of my son and daughter close above my bed,” he says. He’s able to call from time to time to keep in touch and said he feels much better on days he can speak with his children. “I really miss them.”
“Andrew having to leave the kids for the deployment was rough on all of us,” says Judy. She recalled as the ship pulled away from the dock, Isabella asked her if her dad was going to come home safe. Judy did her best to reassure her on that hard first night.
Judy bought Isabella a calendar so she can count down the days and cross them off as they go by.
It’s those same thoughts of home, friends and family that keep Andrew going. “There’s a lot of good people back home thinking of me and Pictou County has lots of people who serve in the military,” he said. “There’s no career like it. ”