HALIFAX -- It was a small departure ceremony without the usual fanfare for 250 Canadian Forces members who departed Halifax Saturday on a six-month NATO mission.

Many families and friends of those leaving aboard HMCS Fredericton watched the departure online after their loved ones said goodbye at home before heading to HMC Dockyard.

"I had to say goodbye to my husband this morning," says Master Sailor Holly White. "I made it short and sweet, so I didn’t get as emotional."

"But he gets it," she adds, "he’s military, so he understands.”

This deployment on Operation Reassurance is Lt. (N) Jackie Kavanagh’s second mission, after spending her first on HMCS Charlottetown.

"Really excited," she says, "beautiful weather for us to depart and hopefully get to wave to some of our families as we leave."

On Monday, HMCS Halifax returned from its NATO deployment with cases of COVID-19 on board.

The Navy has confirmed three cases in total after the entire crew was tested several times. The third round of tests was to be conducted Saturday.

The Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia says those cases are asymptomatic and have been self-isolating since testing positive.

He also says the entire crew of HMCS is fully vaccinated as of two weeks ago and will follow strict COVID protocols on the mission.

"We consider the state of vaccination on board the ship," he says.

"We consider the prevalence of COVID in the port that they’re going into, and we consider the regulations of the port that we’re going into, and we build a specific plan of whether they can go ashore at all, and (if they do) what measures they’ll take before, during and after to protect themselves."

The commanding officer of HMCS Fredericton, Commander Andrew Graham, says the ship has the capability to do COVID testing.

"We have rapid testing capability, and if there is a positive on a rapid test, we have a full PCR testing capability onboard the ship, so we have plans in place if we do get a positive, to minimize the spread on board and to respond to it."

Crew members are hoping to be able to have some opportunity for time onshore.

"Hopefully COVID restrictions will be lifted so sailors who are on their first time, they can actually get ashore and actually see the places that we're going," says Petty Officer First Class Kelly Spicer.

It has been a difficult year for HMCS Fredericton, not only because the pandemic broke out worldwide during the last mission, but also because of the tragic death of six crew members last April.

The ship’s Cyclone helicopter, known as Stalker 22, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on that deployment.

Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Brenden MacDonald, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin and Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke died as a result.

Those on board who suffered the loss are not on HMCS Fredericton this time, although a Cyclone helicopter is part of the mission.

Rear Admiral Santarpia says the crew was changed out as standard procedure, regardless of the tragedy.

"Even when tragedies occur, it’s a very resilient group," he says. "So while we recognize the tragedy and while we are conscious of its effect on individuals and on teams, we also at the same time need to build that kind of resilience, so that no matter what happens, in crisis or in conflict, we'll always be able to carry on with the mission."

HMCS Fredericton and the crew are expected to return to Halifax sometime in late December this year.