Of the 240 Royal Canadian Navy sailors who celebrated returning to Halifax after a six-month deployment Monday morning, Sub-Lt. Tristan Lapointe counts himself the lucky one.
It’s not only that he was chosen by lottery from the HMCS St. John’s crew to disembark first — and therefore give the traditional ‘first kiss’ to his girlfriend Gabrielle Lambert — that makes him feel this way.
It’s that, after the kiss, Lambert agreed to marry him.
“It should have only been just me coming off on the jetty and kissing Gabrielle and that would have been the end of it,” Lapointe said in an interview Monday evening.
“But the thing is I pre-planned at least three months in advance that I would propose to her on the jetty.”
Lapointe said that he was thinking about proposing to Lambert for a long time, but delayed until he found the perfect opportunity.
“Then I figured out, after a six-month deployment, coming back home, being all in the white uniform . . . what better occasion to make it a big deal?
“Because I love her a big deal.”
The wedding proposal came amidst a flurry of celebration, as hundreds of friends and family members celebrated reunions with the sailors who had been away for Operation Reassurance, in the Mediterranean Sea. The proposal augmented the mood of an already-cheerful crowd, which applauded the couple in their happy moment.
Even as they were the centre of attention, Lapointe and Lambert only had eyes for each other.
“I became really tunnel vision on her and I think she felt the same way, because, as I presented the ring to her, she didn’t even pay attention to the ring. She was just looking at me and saying, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ ” Lapointe said.
“But, as we sort of got up and realized everybody was around, it was nice to see that people were happy, cheerful, and not just happy for us, but happy to see everybody . . . coming off the ship.”
Lambert was told earlier in the day that Lapointe had won the “first kiss” lottery.
“I was really excited about that,” she said. “And after that, when Tristan proposed, it was very surprising for me and a really good surprise!”
The couple has experience with long bouts of separation. They lived in different cities throughout their studies, seeing each other only about once every two weeks. Now that Lambert has finished her social work degree from the University of Quebec, and Lapointe is back from deployment, the couple is living together for the first time since they started dating seven years ago.
Lambert said their connection is a sign love can prevail in the face of lengthy separation.
“To be a military wife is not easy,” she said. “So I think it’s a good image to demonstrate that love can be possible. And we love each other.”
HMCS St John’s returned after having travelled 37,000 nautical miles on deployment, including stops in 16 ports in 10 countries.
Operation Reassurance is a NATO effort aimed at deterrence and de-escalation in central and eastern Europe that began in April 2014. The Canadian Armed Forces continue to contribute to the effort, and HMCS Charlottetown is scheduled to replace St. John’s in August.
With files from The Canadian Press