The Maple Leaf
Vol. 15, Issue 07
My Role in the CFDS: Representing the CF with Distinction
Petty Officer, 2nd Class Jim Leith
Photo: Cpl Nedia Coutinho
PO 2 Jim Leith laughs with CDS Gen Walt Natynczyk at The Decorated unveiling ceremony June 14 in Ottawa.
My Role in the CFDS features military and civilian personnel and occupations throughout the Defence Team. Featured profiles use real-life stories to illustrate the dedication, excellence and professionalism of personnel and employees in their day-to-day jobs under the purview of the Canada First Defence Strategy.
Petty Officer, 2nd Class Jim Leith: Representing the CF with Distinction
Defusing an unexploded bomb following a Taliban ambush was the last thing Petty Officer, 2nd Class Jim Leith ever thought he would do when he joined the Navy in 1986. Yet, 20 years after he completed basic training, PO 2 Leith found himself defusing numerous IEDs as a key player in 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group’s tour in Kandahar Province.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, PO 2 Leith immigrated to Brampton, Ont., with his family at the age of five. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy at the urging of his twin brother.
PO 2 Leith fills a valued role delivering the Canada First Defence Strategy as a clearance diver with Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic [FDU(A)] in Halifax. His contributions to Canada and the CF place him in a unique class of individuals: PO 2 Leith is one of the most highly decorated members of the Forces.
He was awarded his first decoration for meritorious service following his work recovering human remains and the flight data recorder from the Swiss Air Flight 111 crash site off of Peggy’s Cove, N.S., in 1998 as part of
Operation PERSISTENCE. “I was one of the first divers at the site, and I’ll never forget what I saw,” he says. The massive recovery operation took weeks, and PO 2 Leith and his colleagues worked tirelessly day and night to ensure the integrity of their mission. Although he was one of a select few members of his unit to be awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, he brushes off the accolade, saying, “We didn’t deserve it; we were just doing our jobs.”
Following Op PERSISTENCE, PO 2 Leith focussed his career on refining his qualifications as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) and IED Disposal technician. His ordinance disposal qualifications would serve well beyond the call of duty when he operated with the Canadian Task Force in Afghanistan, first during Op APOLLO in 2002, and then again in 2006, during Op MEDUSA.
It was in Pashmul, in September 2006, where his greatest test of skill, ability and determination took place. Moments following the launch of Op MEDUSA, PO 2 Leith vividly recalls the IED blast that blew his vehicle in half when acting in his role as an EOD team leader. “I remember seeing the vehicle in bits, with the smoke filling the area… next thing, I saw an IED up the road. Since all my equipment was destroyed, I thought the best thing to use was my bayonet, so I went to the bomb and dismantled it.”
For risking his own life to prevent the further loss of life, PO 2 Leith was awarded the Star of Courage by former Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2009. “It took me about four hours in total to finish the job, but I actually dismantled the bomb in about 20 minutes,” he says.
Returning to his unit following his deployment, PO 2 Leith continued as a clearance diver and began instructing would-be clearance divers. “It was a very rewarding experience, teaching young divers-in- training.”
In late 2011, PO 2 Leith received the Order of Military Merit for meritorious service with devotion to duty. “You certainly don’t get to a place like this on your own,” the soft-spoken sailor says. “A lot of people have helped me along the way so I can’t take credit for these trinkets [medals] just because it was me acting alone; it wasn’t.”
The Defence Team recently launched The Decorated programme to increase awareness of the outstanding achievements of highly decorated CF members such as PO 2 Leith. The Decorated recognizes CF members who display the ultimate example of devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy or who willingly and knowingly place themselves in harm’s way to save or protect others. PO 2 Leith is among those featured at dt-ed.mil.ca.
An inspiration to his peers at HMC Dockyard and to members of the greater Defence Team, PO 2 Leith continues to serve FDU(A), remaining a key player in delivering the Canada First Defence Strategy.