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.