May 6, 2021 – They’re two of the toughest guys in the RCN. One was originally going to be an underwater archeologist. The other, a bass clarinetist.
Lieutenant Steve Dyck RCN and Petty Officer 1st Class (PO1) Ryan Hart, both from Winnipeg, are making a real impact against international crime and terrorism as they lead a specialized tactical unit with a Canadian warship currently deployed in the Arabian Sea. Their Naval Tactical Operations Group (NTOG) boarding team, call sign Reef, is embarked with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary. Reef directly contributed to the ship’s recent seizure of 1,286 kg of heroin – the biggest heroin seizure in the operation’s history.
If you asked them years ago, neither would have seen themselves in this position.
Dyck was born in Swan River, Man., but grew up on Eaglemount Crescent in Winnipeg’s Linden Woods neighborhood. He worked at Toledo Food Service as he made his way through Kelvin High School in River Heights. After graduating, he obtained an anthropology degree from the University of Manitoba and he went on to work at maritime museums in Florida and Bermuda, and then as a professional shipwreck diver, conducting research and salvage. He joined the Navy in 2013 because he had a “pretty solid five year plan” to gain experience then retire early as an underwater archeologist. However, during his early career sails, he worked alongside NTOG members and it influenced him to change his path to become one in 2016.
“I was pretty intrigued seeing a group of highly motivated individuals working as a team and bringing a new skillset to the Navy, something that could have a direct impact in the world,” said Lt(N) Dyck, who is now the Reef Team Leader in HMCS Calgary.
PO1 Ryan Hart grew up in Selkirk, Man., and then in the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg. His first love was music and after high school he went to the University of Manitoba, majoring in bass clarinet. It took one year for him to find out it wasn’t for him so he did a complete 180 and became a crane operator at the Gerdau Ameristeel steel plant in Selkirk. Seven years later, he wanted more. He wanted to travel. His grandfather was in the British Royal Navy in the Second World War. In 2006 he followed in his footsteps and became a boatswain in the RCN because he “liked the grunt work and doing the tough stuff.” He has since traversed the circumference of the world with the RCN and visited countless locations with various ships.
“I think about Selkirk quite a bit still. Every year I visit and on the drive from the airport I pass the rolling mill – that’s what we call the steel plant. I will always carry a piece of it with me,” he said.
PO1 Hart got into the NTOG tactical unit as the team’s first boat coxswain in 2014, and then as an operator in 2017. He is now the second-in-charge of HMCS Calgary’s Reef NTOG team.
NTOG teams are not Special Forces, but they are an incredibly unique group in the RCN and specialized in (using laymen’s terms) weapons use, hand-to-hand combat, rappelling, boarding ships, investigation techniques, intelligence gathering and tactical mission planning. Unlike some of the other sea trades, they normally work with different ships going from mission to mission around the world. They are a new capability for the Navy, forming under a different name in 2014.
“We are a very small unit that mostly specializes in protecting a ship and maritime interdiction. However, I will say, we are incredibly good at the set of things we do,” said Dyck.
It’s pretty normal in the military. You train for years, preparing, honing skills, participating in exercises, improving yourself and your team’s capabilities. On HMCS Calgary’s current mission, Operation ARTEMIS, Dyck and Hart are, for the first time, able to really show what their team can do when something is on the line.
“Operation ARTEMIS is the NTOG operator’s Holy Grail. This is what every NTOG operator fights to do. This is actually putting all the hard work that every operator has gone through from the selection process and right through all the training to get to the level that my team is at right now. This is what NTOG was designed to do, this specific mission. We are so ready for this,” said PO1 Hart, a man that is passionate about his work.
HMCS Calgary has had amazing success on its current operation, which is part of the counter-smuggling operations of the multinational Combined Task Force 150. Within days of beginning patrols in April, the ship made its record-breaking heroin bust, the biggest in the history of Combined Maritime Forces. As the ones who actually searched for and seized the drugs, Lt(N) Dyck, PO1 Hart and Reef played no small part in the ship’s success.
“It’s amazing to be out here making a difference. I can’t stress that enough,” said Dyck. Hart agrees.