Having a “ball” at the Royal Netherlands Naval Academy
By: 24414 NCdt Anna Dupuis and 24425 NCdt Daniel Kuzmicz
On the 21st April 2008 NCdt Daniel Kuzmicz and I, NCdt Anna Dupuis, set off to the Royal Netherlands Naval Academy in Den Helder, Holland. The two of us were among seven other foreign delegations to attend a one week exchange to attend their annual ball, the Assaut 2008. We were accompanied by cadets from the naval academies in Turkey, Poland, Portugal, Great Britain, Belgium and Denmark. All of the cadets from the foreign delegations were hosted by a committee of five enthusiastic and outgoing midshipmen from the Royal Netherlands Naval Academy for the week. As members of the foreign delegation, we were hosted together in large common rooms which allowed us to develop international friendships with the other exchange students.During our stay we toured downtown Amsterdam, we visited Mme Tussaud’s wax museum, went aboard a museum ship, stayed at the Naval base in Amsterdam, and were privileged enough to be invited to the Royal Netherlands Naval Academy Annual Ball, Assaut 2008. Our third night was the first night of the Assaut. On this first night of the ball, the parents of the midshipmen are invited to the festivities and travel from all over Holland to be at this renowned ball. The second night of the ball, the midshipmen are able to take dates and the senior officers are in attendance. The third and final night of the Assaut is a private party attended only by the midshipmen to celebrate the success of the Assaut and their achievements throughout the year. The Assaut is a laborious event where the entire Academy works for a week and a half, 24 hours a day in order to complete the restructuring of buildings to put together an outstanding ball. The Naval Academy spends over 200 thousand dollars on the Assaut and every year the midshipmen of the academy try to outdo the previous years by building a more grandiose venue. This year the midshipmen built at second story to the banquet hall and had canals running through both the indoor and outdoor parts of the ball. They also had a Turkish belly dancer and a reptile act including snakes, alligators, spider and scorpions.
Part of the trip included a tour of the HNLMS (Her Netherland Majesty’s Ship) Johan de Witt, which is brand new landing platform dock. This tour was extremely interesting because the Johan de Witt provided us with a preview of what our Joint Support Ships were slated to look like.
Another tour took us through the Royal Netherlands Navy’s dockyard in the town of Den Helder, where naval vessels and components of the Netherlands and various other European NATO nations are constructed, maintained, and refitted. Our tour took us through a massive garage which contained a Royal Netherlands Navy frigate in drydock that was being refit and repainted to be sold to the Portuguese Navy.
To the average RMC Naval Cadet, NATO is merely an ambivalent concept, fraught with inaccuracies, many of which this trip corrected. As the foreign delegation included naval academy students from Britain, Poland, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, and Turkey, the trip provided the means to obtain a unique insight into a wide variety of junior naval officer training and education systems. For example, the Turkish Midshipmen were in their eight and final year of their naval academy, as they begin their naval officer training at age thirteen. The British naval college, however, only trains its Officer Cadets for less than a year, as they are expected to enter with an undergraduate degree from a civilian university.
It was interesting to tour the dockyards and ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy, one far more similar to ours than the U.S. in size. Like the Canadian Navy, the Dutch fleet consists of a backbone of frigates, four diesel-electric submarines, a few replenishment ships, and about a dozen smaller minesweepers. One benefit of the trip was learning that the problems of the Canadian Navy are not unique. All the midshipmen from the seven other nations at the event indicated that their navies too faced challenges in funding, recruitment, and workforce retention.
Perhaps the greatest benefit, however, was obtaining a new perspective of RMC, the Canadian Navy, the CF, and Canada. The midshipmen from Europe and Turkey were baffled by the fact that I had to travel one full day by jet to get from RMC to CFB Esquimalt; all of their naval colleges are attached to a naval base. Then I told them that I would soon be travelling fourteen hours by car to go from RMC to CFB Halifax; most European nations have only one main naval base-definitely not two separated by 4500 km. The best reactions, however, came after I told them that I was in the navy for two years before seeing an ocean. Undoubtedly, the first things to strike their minds were the disadvantages of land-locking our Naval Cadets for years.
Only after this trip, however, did I begin to understand the tangible benefits of having hundreds of friends in not only the Navy, but all three elements, a product of the only fully-unified military college at the event. This trip was an absolutely outstanding opportunity and a great way to end the school year. The Dutch were thrilled to have Canadians participate in their Assaut for the first time ever and were anxious to make this an annual exchange.