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Families of HMCS Fredericton crew members prepare to welcome them home

A social media campaign is underway to welcome home the crew of HMCS Fredericton. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

The crew of HMCS Fredericton and their family members are counting down the days until the frigate returns home to Halifax.

Over 200 service members are aboard the ship affectionately known as the “Freddie” and the six-month deployment has come with unprecedented heartache and challenges for the crew.

“Since March, the crew has not been off the ship. You add to that the terrible tragedy of the Stalker 22 crash in April and we have a crew that’s gone through a lot of strife and they’ve show exceptional resiliency,” said Cmdre. Richard Feltham, the commander of the Canadian Fleet Atlantic.

Read more: CAF Cyclone helicopter crashed ‘at low altitude, was unrecoverable,’ report finds

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During the deployment, a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea on April 29 within sight of the Halifax-class frigate as the vessel participated in a NATO training mission.

All six service members on board were killed.

The recovery operation that was being conducted by a combined CAF and United States Navy team concluded at the beginning of June after the helicopter and remains of the service members were located.

Six Canadian Armed Forces crew members were killed in the Stalker 22 helicopter crash on April 29. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Feltham says it was important for the frigate to carry on with its mission, despite the traumatic event. He says the decision to continue the NATO mission is part of Canada’s commitment to being a “stalwart ally” within the NATO alliance.

Typically, when military vessels return home there are hundreds of friends and family members awaiting the arrival of the crew.

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However, with COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the arrival of HMCS Fredericton will look very different than it has in the past.

Instead of crew members being welcomed directly after they depart the frigate, they’ll be bused to Windsor Park in Halifax where they’ll be able to meet their loved ones with public health protocols in place.

Click to play video: 'Recovery mission for Cyclone helicopter crash officially over' Recovery mission for Cyclone helicopter crash officially over
Recovery mission for Cyclone helicopter crash officially over – Jun 3, 2020

Feltham acknowledges these changes to the arrival ceremony may be disappointing for some families but says it’s a necessity in order to keep people safe from potential virus transmission.

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“Well, my heart goes out to them because I’m a sailor too. And I grew up with my family meeting me on the jetty and there’s not a better moment as a sailor to come and to see your family waiting for you,” Feltham said.

“We don’t want to take that away but we always have to keep in mind that we are in the middle of a global pandemic.”

HMCS Fredericton’s planned arrival date is July 28 at 10 a.m.

There will be places along the Halifax waterfront for families to watch the arrival.

Read more: HMCS Fredericton resumes NATO deployment after fatal helicopter crash

Feltham is encouraging loved ones of crew members to participate in a social media campaign leading up to the arrival of the vessel after six months at sea.

“In an effort to recognize this really unique deployment, and recognize the resiliency of that crew, there’s been a campaign that we can all participate in to welcome the Freddie home. So, if you want to get on social media and welcome Freddie home using the hashtags #WelcomeHomeFreddie, and #FreddieStrong, the crew would appreciate it,” Feltham said.

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