15706 Paul Wynnyk: From Army Cadet to Army Commander
By 27832 OCdt (II) Pablo Cardona
Walter Wynnyk was born to poor Ukrainian immigrants and grew up in a two-room log hut with six brothers and sisters. Like most of the young men of his generation, he served in World War II, specifically in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. After the war, he returned home with a broader view of the world and heightened passion for history. He left the Army to ultimately become a high school principal and later the Commanding Officer of 2561 Army Cadet Corps in Breton, Alberta.
Inspired by his father and several other relatives who served in uniform, Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk joined 2561 Cadet Corps in 1977. He enjoyed his time as an Army Cadet, and developed important leadership skills and a love for the military lifestyle.
“Many of the things I learned as an army cadet are still applicable in my duties as an Army Commander,” he said, observing that, even after his 35 years of service, “the fundamentals of leadership don’t really change.”
LGen Wynnyk’s Cadet career culminated when he completed the Basic Parachutist course in 1981. Most of the cadets on course with him went on to serve in either the Regular Force or the Reserves, including current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Jonathan Vance. In addition to learning how to jump out of an airplane, LGen Wynnyk made lifelong friendships on that arduous course.
Inspired by the challenge, teamwork and camaraderie of the Cadet program, LGen Wynnyk decided to join the 20th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, a local militia unit.
He joined the militia because he thought “it was a fun thing to do” and because he enjoyed the teamwork and camaraderie of a military environment.
Both Walter Wynnyk and his wife Joan, a nurse, taught their son the value of education. For Walter, who grew up with very little, education was a key to doing better.
Although his father “was a huge influence,” LGen Wynnyk recalled, “there was never any pressure to go into the military. In fact he made it very clear that a military career was only suitable for someone who truly enjoyed the unique aspects of military life.”
Given his family’s proud history of service and his desire to be educated, it’s no surprise LGen Wynnyk became an Officer Cadet at Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). In his first year at RRMC, he and Gen Vance were in the same flight. Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, the current Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, was in the same squadron and just a year ahead of them. The small number of students at RRMC allowed for a great deal of personal attention, ensuring everyone’s success.
LGen Wynnyk described RRMC as a place where it was “really hard not to go on the right path” because the professors, military and athletic staff “were very invested in the individual success of the Officer Cadets.”
When he arrived at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, he found there was less ‘handholding.’ This gave him the “self-discipline to deal with a whole bunch of issues that come at you at one time.
While studying to become an engineer, LGen Wynnyk was required to take arts courses, including military history. This “ignited a lifelong passion in military history,” something evident to anyone who looks around his downtown Ottawa office.
According to LGen Wynnyk, graduates of the Military Colleges develop a profound appreciation for Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) traditions, customs and history. They also develop a lifelong commitment to physical fitness. Finally, they are taught the importance of bilingualism and multiculturalism, something to which he was not readily exposed growing up in rural central Alberta.
After graduating from RMC, the newly commissioned Second Lieutenant completed his Engineer phase training in Chilliwack, British Columbia. With him was current Chief of Military Personnel Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross. LGen Wynnyk was subsequently posted to 4 Combat Engineer Regiment in Germany as an Engineer troop commander, responsible for approximately 60 Sappers and nine Armoured Fighting Vehicles.
“The threat posed by the Soviet bloc at the time [late 1980s] was actually quite significant,” he recalled, “and we were prepared to go to war at a moment’s notice.”
The operational focus of the Canadian Army in the late 1980s, LGen Wynnyk said, was a reminder of the CAF’s raison d’etre: to “defend Canada and Canada’s interests at home and abroad,” up to and including the application of deadly force.
This taught the young Combat Engineer that in the combat arms “you have to be prepared to fight at any time” and that as an officer, your primary duty is to ensure that those under your command are prepared to do this.
Ultimately, LGen Wynnyk’s experience in Germany helped him hone the leadership skills that he’d developed through Cadets, the Militia (as it was known at the time) and Military College.
After leaving Germany, he rose through the ranks in a variety of operational, staff and command positions across the spectrum of Army operations. His career has taken him all around the world, including deployments to Cambodia, the Congo and Afghanistan.
From 2014 to July 2016 he served as Commander Canadian Forces Intelligence Command (CFINTCOM). In this role, he was the CAF J2, or chief intelligence advisor, to the CDS.
His other responsibilities at CFINTCOM included advising the deputy minister on intelligence policy and working with Canada’s civilian intelligence agencies and our international intelligence partners.
LGen Wynnyk said, in the beginning, the world of military intelligence “was all kind of Greek to me” but it proved to be a “fascinating job.”
Now, in this new chapter of his career, he’s back at Army Headquarters as the Commander Canadian Army (CCA). As with other command positions in the CAF, his direction for the army will be “shaped by the events around the world.”
He said he looks forward to “leading the Canadian Army into the future,” and anticipates increased interest in peace-support missions around the globe. Furthermore, he intends to focus on strengthening Canada’s Army Reserves.
LGen Wynnyk offered advice to up-and-coming junior officers. First, he said, “whatever job you’re assigned, do it well,” because senior officers are always looking to identify and promote individuals who excel and possess leadership potential.
Second, he urged them to be selfless leaders and to always “put the training and the welfare of your soldiers first. Soldiers are very good at detecting who’s sincere in that regard and who’s not,” he said.
With this comes the responsibility of developing strong professional relationships with his Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) counterparts. Throughout his career the CCA has worked closely with senior NCOs and said “we are absolutely blessed in Canada with a fantastic [NCO] corps and we always have been.” It is important for troop leaders and platoon commanders to embrace the Officer/NCO command team dynamic, LGen Wynnyk added.*
Finally, the CCA stressed the importance of having fun and constantly learning to be a better leader. There is no “better environment in which to hone your leadership skills at a very young age” than the CAF, he said.
“I had no idea that I would be Army Commander,” LGen Wynnyk said. “I had no aspirations to be army commander; quite frankly I just did whatever job was assigned to me and enjoyed doing it.”
* Author’s note, LGen Wynnyk demonstrated the importance of this dynamic by unexpectedly arranging for me to meet the Army Sergeant Major after our interview. It was a pleasure to have the chance to speak with the energetic CWO Alain Guimond. When we spoke, I found myself on the other end of the interview as he took an interest in my training, education and career path. Although our meeting was brief, meeting the accomplished senior NCO was a great experience and I thank him for taking the time to speak with this e-Veritas reporter!