On September 7th I was given a great privilege. I took command of 42nd Field Regiment, Lanark and Renfrew Scottish (RCA). It represented a significant milestone for me. When I enrolled in the military just over 25 years ago, the highest rank I could envision was that of Lieutenant-Colonel, or a Commanding Officer. That represented the pinnacle of one’s career. It was the goal I set out to achieve.
Within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), there is an expression that command is command, meaning that all types of command at the various levels are created equal. It briefs well, but in terms of the impact to your career progression, it is false. The CAF still places primacy on “line” command, or operational command if you will. Command of an infantry rifle company is reserved for those whom we want to command the battalion. Command of the support companies are for those that are on a different path. Support company commanders may go on to command at the unit level, but it may be a training facility or a garrison, and not an infantry battalion or battle group. There is always an odd exception who manages to cross off the path they have originally been set upon, but it is rare. Given that we are raised in a culture of believing in the supremacy of operations, and that most of us joined the military as an officer so that we could lead troops in our chosen occupation, the philosophy of command is command, and that all commands are created equal is not always easy to accept at face value.
I commanded a Headquarters and Services Battery, combat service support folks – supply, transport, communications, maintenance and clerical support. If anyone would have dared to suggest that they were any less of a soldier, or any less critical to operations because they were a support trade vice an operator, the mama bear would have come out in me something fierce. To not subscribe to the philosophy of command is command would be a slap in the face to those soldiers and officers under my command. They deserved the very best leadership, as much as anyone else, and why should I suddenly doubt that I was less capable of giving that, just because I wasn’t selected for something different? It took a bit of introspection to realize this of course, because it is hard to ignore the culture that you have grown up in, but I am extremely thankful that I had that opportunity. I worked with a diverse group who all knew their jobs better than me. I translated artillery needs to them as best I could, and they made magic happen. I trusted them, and they rewarded me by exceeding my expectations.
Ultimately, I believe that command is command, regardless of the fact that the CAF does not necessarily reflect that in their succession planning processes. Anytime that you are entrusted with the care and leadership of soldiers, it is a privilege. It should not be taken for granted, and the responsibility is worthy of your best effort. I’m not going to lie. It was disappointing for me to not be selected for command of a field battery as a Major when I knew that it translated to the chain of command not believing I had the potential to command a field regiment. That was a tough pill to swallow. But that personal disappointment is not mutually exclusive of the pride that comes with the honour of being trusted to command.
I have once again been entrusted with command. I have been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and appointed as a Commanding Officer. I am very proud of that. I am invigorated by the challenge, and motivated to make some small impact that may not reverberate anywhere beyond our own unit lines. I can only hope that I can lead our unit appropriately, give the members what they require and deserve. I hope that I can provide the guidance and mentorship required to make a difference for the men and women who have opted to serve in a part time manner as part of our fine unit. A reserve unit is a different beast. It isn’t a lesser unit because of it’s size or part-time nature, it simply has an altogether different set of challenges than a field regiment of the regular force. I have had many kind words and congratulatory words offered. A few have said that 42nd is lucky to have me. I appreciate sincerely the sentiment behind those words, but ultimately I believe the opposite is true. They, the unit, are not lucky to have me, I am lucky to have them. I am fortunate to have this opportunity.
7 thoughts on “Privilege of Command”
Hi Jen. I’m the editor for the RCAA Canadian Gunner News. Our former Executive Director brought your blog to my attention. With your permission, I will be mentioning you and this blog in the October newsletter. I am not sure you subscribe to our newsletter. If you don’t, please visit our website and subscribe that way. http://rca-arc.org. On a personal note, I am always pleased to find women in the RCA and love to read other writers’ work. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Catherine, by all means, please make mention. I’m flattered that it is even considered. thanks for reaching out and commenting.
Wonderful article Jen!
I really enjoyed this article Jen. It really was a good eye opener for me as a civilian (without close family/friends in the military) to get such an inside perspective. I found it quite curious that I was scrolling through my emails and noticed I hadn’t read it yet — today of all days. Thank you — to you, and all, for your service.
Btw… I believe you are BOTH very lucky 😉
Thank you so much Lesly 🙂
I read your blog on assuming command of the 42nd Field Regiment, Lanark and Renfrew Scottish (RCA) with particular interest. I was a member of its predecessor, the 59th LAA Regiment of the RCA. After an honourable discharge from the Regiment as a Bombardier, I joined the “dark side” and served 33 and a half years with the RCN, during which time I was a UTPO student at RMC. Your comments on command are in keeping with what I have heard many of my colleagues talk about-it is the pinnacle of your career, although I think there is as much ahead of you as behind you. Congratulations Colonel…
Thanks for your comments Ray, much appreciate them 🙂 It would seem you likewise had a very full career of service. I’m pleased to hear your roots started with our fine regiment!