It’s Complicated…

I had a young officer, non-RMC graduate, whom I quite admire ask on a social media platform what should be made of the RMC graduates changing their profile pictures to their RMC grad photo in support of the institution. They asked if these people were hanging onto their past over a more inclusive future. It’s a fair question. Since then, a news article by Teresa Wright of Global News was released, “‘Profoundly immature’: Senior officer sorry for post on military colleges after damning report.”

For me, the answer to that question initially posed on Twitter is, “It’s complicated.”

On the heels of the Deschamps Report, I started to write. I had felt silenced and marginalized in a manner I hadn’t been before. And though I tried very hard to speak about it in a way that was not dismissive of the very real problems and awful personal experiences the report highlighted, I am not certain I succeeded. I am very reluctant to make that same mistake again, but I find myself having similar feelings.

Hindsight has shown me, unequivocally, that I was blind to certain problems. I can also say unequivocally that I do not believe that anyone would make up or exaggerate the awfulness of their lived experiences. When people are brave enough to report harmful or criminal behaviour, they deserve our support and belief. I also want a CAF that is inclusive and diverse and welcoming, and recognize that there needs to be significant, broad changes for that to happen. We will have to be prepared to let go of things that are most sacred to us for that to occur.

To stress the importance of my last statement, I say again:

We will have to be prepared to let go of things that are most sacred to us if we are to succeed with the level of culture change required.

That isn’t where I struggle, letting go of things we value greatly.

I struggle with rationalizing my own personal feelings, and figuring out how to allow the space for dialogue of those differing view points, or differing perspectives on very similar experiences. I want it to not be so binary as “dinosaur, part of the problem, blind, arrogant, hanging onto the past,” or being the opposite of those things. I feel we ought to be able to allow people the chance to express themselves without branding them the moment they speak. Do we not need that if we are to get as many allies as we can to move this change forward? I don’t think we will get to where we want to be if everything is framed in such an antagonistic fashion.

In one of my more personal articles, I speak about my commitment to the grey zone, how I do tend to avoid seeing things as black and white. It was partly spurred on by reading Kate Armstrong’s book, The Stone Frigate, The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out.

I had some eerily similar experiences at RMC as Armstrong, but my outlook upon them is very different. How can that be? How can two people have such a different perspective? To be clear, I am talking about the more low level incidents and b.s, and not criminal or predatory behaviour. Some of what Armstrong faced is downright appalling, and I am fortunate I did not have to contend with that extreme. Nevertheless, the issues I faced I attributed to one of three things:

  • Systemic Issues
  • Self-inflicted problems due to immaturity and stupidity
  • Individual incidents of poor leadership or decisions

What I didn’t chalk it up to was the institution writ large. I didn’t come to the same conclusions as Armstrong. I also didn’t think my issues had much to do with my gender, if anything. Rather, it was more that I was a leader moving in the wrong direction, and challenged the system in a way that didn’t conform to my year and experience.

Some of the things I went through have changed at RMC. Some more hasn’t, and needs to. In the past, I wondered if I didn’t have the resiliency to deal with and address some of the things I did at RMC, would I have had the resiliency required to deal with more serious issues later in my career? That may have been a fair question to pose then, but now I find myself asking if there are better ways to teach resiliency. Nevertheless, I still can see the value, the lessons, I took away from my time there in dealing with the good and the bad. This is the sort of personal turmoil and reflecting that many of us graduates are grappling with, while still wanting to see the College continue in some manner.

RMC needs to change, but so does the CAF. I think we would be remiss to focus too closely on any one portion of the institution, which is why I was pleased to see the Arbour Report highlight that. The CAF needs a holistic look, but in news reports, and on social media, what seems to have garnered the most attention, created a divide already, and raised doubt as to leadership’s motives or willingness to change, is RMC. That makes me sad. To me it seems to overshadow the depth and breadth of the problem. It’s creating churn which is distracting to what we ought to be focused on – forward movement.

There have been a lot of really hard days in uniform for the past few years. It is exhausting and emotionally taxing to experience the range of emotions that the successes of my soldiers and unit bring me, to the high profile failures in leadership we have seen. Despite those days when it is a struggle to find the same sense of pride I once had, when our failures are punching us in the face, if I take a moment and pull myself out of that headspace, I can still say that I am proud of my service overall. I am still proud of the CAF, and the many fine people that serve in it. I think when you see people changing their profile pictures to their RMC pictures, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than pride in their service, for all the good, the bad, and the ugly. It need not equate to anything else than a belief that the institution can change, a desire to see the College perpetuate, even if in an altogether different manner than it has been all along.