12 years ago, in April of 2002 I officially “retired” from the Canadian Army. This “retirement” came after an 11 year career as an officer, which followed a five year stint in both the air cadets and the sea cadets. In total, I spent 16 years of my life with the express goal of being a military officer.
When I joined the military in 1991, it was with the very definite goal of becoming a fighter pilot. To be honest, I didn’t even want a degree – I just wanted to fly jet fighters. However, it appeared that the best guarantee of a successful career as a military officer started with a degree from military college, so that is the path I chose.
I started out in August of 1991 at College Militaire Royale (CMR) in St. Jean sur Richelieu Quebec. After three years of general engineering studies, I transferred to RMC / CMR in Kingston Ontario, where I graduated with a civil engineering degree in 1996.
After 9 months of the prep year program at St. Jean, I attended air crew selection training, and found out my eyes were no longer good enough to be a pilot. However, I passed the rest of the testing and was designated an air navigator. The summer following prep year at CMR (1992), I went to Chilliwack and completed basic officer training. The experience of being in the field, with rifles and backpacks, combined with some research into what air navigators did, led me to the decision that I wanted to be anything but an air navigator. Thus, I began the long, torturous journey of re-mustering to a different trade. It took the next three years and, by half way through 4th year, I was finally transferred to the Combat Engineer Trade.
After graduation, I did 2 years of training to be a combat engineer officer, and in between courses managed to get my jump wings, and deploy to the “flood of the century” in Winnipeg. My first posting after being fully trained was as the Intelligence Officer at 1 Combat Engineer Regiment in Edmonton. I moved on to command the Heavy Equipment Troop, and then got posted to Suffield for 2 years as the Base Engineering 2IC – essentially the deputy municipal engineer. After 2 years of playing hockey and spending money for the British Army, I was posted back to Edmonton as the Planning Officer in the base construction engineering section there. After one year in that role – I left the military and moved to California to start my current career as an engineering consultant.
There’s more to the story than just the logistics of my postings. While training to be a combat engineer in Chilliwack, I met the woman who would eventually be my first wife. As a young, noble man, I did everything I could to please her (and this was my big mistake). In 1998 or so, to convince her that I put our relationship before my career, I wrote a memo that would change the course of my life. I informed my CO that I would not be continuing beyond my obligatory service period, and that I accepted this would change the progress of my Army career. I followed this “brilliant” political move with the fighting of a temporary posting to Wainwright to teach a Junior Leaders / JNCO Course. This course of action did not impress my CO at the time, and I received a severe dressing down. This also lead to my having the Heavy Equipment Troop ( I was originally slated to get the prestigious Jump troop position) and my subsequent posting to Suffield and out of the field army.
My eventual early release from the Army was also partially to appease my then spouse. Looking back, if I just consider my needs and wants, I am not sure I was ready to be done with the Army yet.
This June, I helped support Boomer’s Ride. During the ride, I met a Warrant Officer who was the Chief Clerk at 2 Combat Engineer Regiment in Petawawa. As we chatted, he told me that his Commanding Officer was the very same gentlemen who was my immediate boss at 1 CER. The Deputy CO when he was at 2 CER was a colleague who I did a lot of my training with, and who I served with at 1 CER. I was very happy to hear about them both, and especially pleased that my former boss and mentor had progressed to be the commander of a Regiment (ostensibly the pinnacle of any Combat Engineer Officer’s career). The discussions also brought back a lot of memories, and stirred quite a few emotions.
In the weeks that have followed, it seems that not a day goes by without some poignant reminder of my career that never was. Another former colleague – someone with whom I was in lockstep with as far as career progression goes – just took command of 2 CER. On my LinkedIn account, I have been connecting with many of my former colleagues from both my time at military college and my time in the Army. Most of them are either just retired, on the cusp of retiring, or probably on their last 2-3 years of service. Many of them have achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel – and I bet I personally know 1 in 3 major combat unit commanders in Canada at the moment.
This has all lead to my nostalgia dilemma. I have been seriously considering putting a uniform on again. I can’t realistically join the regular force, but joining the reserves is a distinct possibility. Granted, some other pursuits in my life would have to fall by the wayside to do this. But, I miss the military (well – some aspects of it). And I feel like I cheated myself out of something – a career, experiences and accomplishments – by sacrificing what I wanted for someone who eventually cast me aside.
The dilemma is that, at heart, I am really a pacifist. I wish – dream about – not needing a military in Canada. However, I am educated and realistic enough to know that this is not going to be possible – at least in my lifetime.
I don’t have the answer to this yet, and I wouldn’t give up the life I have had so far.