They got to have the first kiss, then they got engaged.
Leading Seaman Nathan Durette won a lottery among HMCS Toronto sailors to be the one to enjoy the traditional welcome-home first kiss with his loved one. And the crowd waiting to welcome the frigate home from overseas deployment cheered as he planted a good one on Alexandra Levesque on Sunday morning.
Then he surprised everyone when he took her hand and got down on one knee.
He had the ring stashed under his hat and there was a heart-stopping moment when he dropped it but quickly recovered. Then a tearful Levesque nodded, cheers drowning out any audible question and reply.
The Halifax-class frigate was returning from six months of service in Operation Reassurance in the Mediterranean Sea, an ongoing NATA mission supporting security and Allied solidarity in central and Eastern Europe.
Afterward, Levesque said she almost passed out at the surprise.
Durette said he had been playing it cool with some misdirection.
“I was planning it for about four months, so I came home about three months ago and kind of played it off,” he said. “I told her it would probably be about year after I get back, we’ll see, we’ll go out, select some rings, maybe get a ring size but I wanted to surprise her (today.)”
“It’s worth it,” she said. “Yes, it’s hard but at the same time, once he’s home, everything’s worth it. Just stick to it, be strong, communicate, love, just encourage yourself, just be there for each other.”
Durette confessed to feeling some nerves once he got to the jetty. And then the ring fumble happened.
“I want to say I practised, but I sort of lamed out there, I guess. The box was too big to fit in my tight pants.”
“We visited nine countries,” Fluet said on Toronto’s flight deck after the return ceremony. “We’ve engaged with over 13 nations to complete Operation Reassurance. The mission was to reassure our allies of Canada’s safety and security in Eastern Europe. We patrolled twice in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea. We patrolled in the east Med off the coast of Syria as well as Libya. We’ve participated in seven major exercises, six minor ones. We’ve done defence diplomacy, hosting two presidents, ministers of defence, heads of nations and really successful with the mission.”
Fluet said the Black Sea patrols were highlights as well as challenges with the Russians maintaining a fleet presence.
“They’re putting pressure on NATO, but NATO is also putting pressure on them,” Fluet said.
“It is a significant milestone for Canada and also for NATO,” Fluet said. “It’s the first time we have a woman in charge of a task group deployed at sea. It’s quite an honour and it shows how much Canada is progressive and (forward)-leaning. We’re really proud of Commodore Kurtz and she’s doing a very good job.”
Toronto served as the flagship for about a month-and-a-half before HMCS Halifax resumed the role and Toronto headed home, Fluet said.
“A lot of the crew will be turning over,” Fluet said. “Not everybody, but a lot of them. And then the ship will enter a work period. And following that there will be some more training in the fall and deployment next year.”