Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Jamaican sails to success! - Clarendonian makes history after being appointed Canadian Naval Commander

Published:Sunday | April 3, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Commander Paul Smith (right) receiving a certificate from Rear Admiral John F. Newton, commander, Joint Task Force Atlantic and Maritime Force Atlantic, for his contributions to the success of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition.

When Paul Smith was about to graduate from high school 27 years ago, he learnt about the Canadian Naval reserve summer youth employment programme, where participants received basic training in the Canadian forces.

Little did he know that his signature that summer would be the first step to him becoming the first black person to command a Canadian navy ship in the 106-year history of the organisation.

The little boy, born in Lionel Town, Clarendon, a community on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, is now a big man in the Canadian Navy, but he has stayed close to his roots, talking regularly to a sibling and other relatives back home.

A month ago, during a visit to Jamaica, Smith witnessed the pride his family members feel about his achievement.

"I have wonderful memories of Jamaica, although I left here so young. I never thought I would be achieving history and it certainly wasn't my goal.

"I started focusing on the goal of becoming commanding officer of a ship, so I have achieved that goal, and I am happy. It's great," Smith told The Sunday Gleaner while he led his crew onboard the navy ship docked in Montego Bay, St James.

"I kept in touch with the family. Not being able to afford a trip back, school and the job, it never worked out. But walking around Lionel Town, I will be coming back once a year," he promised.

Smith was promoted to his current rank in 2011 after a series of exams and facing the Command Board.

TOOK CONTROL IN 2014

Once the Command Board deems a candidate fit, the next step is for the person to face a group of admirals to say he is approved to take the ship. Smith was given the ship in 2014.

Describing himself as usually shy, he said that a cousin took pride in introducing him in churches and to little children in schools, on the one day he was able to visit the community of his birth.

Smith's great hope lies in the possibility of being an inspiration to anyone from his community.

The son of Lionel Town has travelled the world on the high seas, but has not yet reached the continents of Africa or South America.

For most of his crew, who have never sailed the Caribbean Sea before, he said that they enjoyed the warm Caribbean climate, but that was short-lived as they set sail for Canada only days after arriving in Jamaica.

Smith and his 47-member crew were in the Caribbean as part of Operation Caribe 2016, a multinational campaign against drug trafficking, with his ship the HMCS Summerside.

He recalled being part of operation near Honduran waters, where drugs with an estimated street value of between US$10 and US$16 million was seized.

He spent one day, and late into the night, visiting family in Lionel Town, and enjoyed dinner with his sister before returning to Canada, where he resides in Halifax with his wife, Mary, and their sons, Colin and Matthew.

Among his greatest pride, however, is to be working in an organisation which rewards the man best suited for a job, and where race or sexual orientation are of no concern.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com