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20802 Andrew McCorquodale on RMC and the Highs and Lows of 23 Years in the Air Force

“I’d never want to do it all again – haha – but I’m immensely proud of having done it once!”

Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt

20802 Andrew McCorquodale (RMC 1997) recalls being at the College during a difficult time in its history. “I was at RMC during the Great Christmas Food Fight of ’95,” he said. “This might not be a ‘favourite’ memory, although I certainly tell the story as a humorous one these days. It provided insight into group dynamics and disorder in an atmosphere of perceived hardship and frustrations. There was certainly a lot of tension at the College that Christmas, particularly between the Military Wing and the Cadet body and when the lights went out on the Christmas Dinner the top blew off the pressure cooker. Considering things more than twenty years later, I think it’s remarkable that the worst that happened was something as innocuous as a food fight – undisciplined, silly and undignified perhaps, but a pretty harmless form of protest in the face of several frustrations and challenges for all sides. In an interview with e-Veritas the DCdts at the time, LGen Marquis Hainse, gives some of his perspective on this event, and uses it as illustrative of the need for Cadets to be honest and forthright. I’m not sure I agree with the lessons he took away from that event, but it was interesting to me that it stuck in his memory just as it has in mine, and I’m sure of many of my classmates.”

Andrew came to RMC from Toronto in 1993. “Toronto is my hometown,” he said, “although we did live in Fairfax, Virginia, for three years where I completed grades 5 to 7.” His interest in the military actually began there. “My family had no previous military exposure,” he recalled. “My father was in the insurance industry and although his father served as a Sgt-Maj in the Toronto Scottish Regiment during World War 2 he passed away when my father was very young.  I was strongly influenced by the social-political environment of 1980s Washington, DC. My parents didn’t know it when they purchased our home there, but we lived in a feeder community for the Pentagon so many of our neighbors and my friends’ parents were active-duty US military.”

“When my family moved back to Toronto in 1987 at the start of my Grade 8 year,” he went on, “I began researching Canadian opportunities to pursue a military career. I began Air Cadets at the same time, and refined my interest in a career flying in the Air Force throughout high school. At the end of my OAC year (Ontario still had five years of high school at the time) I applied to seven different post-secondary institutions – Queens, U of T and Trent University; three Ontario colleges that offered Aviation programs, and RMC.”

Andrew enrolled in June 1993 at the Canadian Forces Staff School on Avenue Road in Toronto. He left for his Basic Officer Training Course in Chilliwack, BC, and entered RMC as an ROTP Cadet in August 1993.

“Running the Recruit Obstacle Course and completing Recruit Term is a life-long highlight,” he said. “I’d never want to do it all again – haha – but I’m immensely proud of having done it once!”

“Things were very different at RMC in 1993 – that’s a common sentiment I’m sure among ex-Cadets from all generations. Discipline at that time was enforced largely without staff intervention, with Fourth Years applying the Cadet Wing Instructions and all but the most serious infractions addressed by the Cadet Wing in isolation from the National Defence Act. The potential for abuse was undeniably high and there’s no doubt that ‘breaches’ were handed out inconsistently, to say the least. This is nearly unimaginable today, but the dynamic that existed at that time set the framework for many of my (mostly unshare-able) memories. It’s unforgivable that some people were hurt – and some were, seriously and permanently – by others who took advantage of this dynamic. The environment of pranks against individuals facilitated too much harm, and while my experiences were positive, the lasting damage done to some of my classmates had no place at RMC or anywhere in our society.”

Andrew has a number of fond (and “share-able”) memories from his four years at the College as well. “I remember the toasted western sandwiches the CANEX coffee shop made during my First Year, which I absolutely was not eating with 20754 Chris Haines while all those coveralls needed to be washed,” he joked. “And in fourth year I had the opportunity to travel to Belgium for a short exchange with the Belgian military academy, and that was a life-long memory as well. I still keep the photo album from that week on my bookshelf. That was my first exposure to northern Europe and the experience was tremendous.”

He continued, “My first two or three years at RMC the fitness test included a mile and a half run. The route went along Point Frederick Drive, past Fort Champlain, Yeo Hall and Fort LaSalle; the new dormitories were yet to be built. I still look back fondly at sitting outside the shacks cheering – or jeering – our friends as they ran by! I also remember the all-nighters writing papers, the early morning inspections and running up and around Fort Henry. In the warmer months I once or twice finished a Fort Henry run with a swim into Navy Bay.”

Like most ex-Cadets, Andrew had his share of challenges as well. “RMC itself faced serious challenges in the 1990s, but the four pillar structure – academics, military, second language and physical fitness served me well.  I arrived at RMC with a leg up on the first two pillars – I was comfortable academically, and the discipline and structure of the military had a natural appeal. But I was a poor example of physical fitness with no appreciable skill in French. No other school I can imagine would have motivated me to overcome those challenges and allow me to grow in ways my friends from high school would not have imagined.”

There is one staff member in particular that stands out for Andrew. “Our Drill Sgt Major, then MWO Brent Mills, is someone I’ll never forget. He balanced strict discipline with a true sense of humour and demanded the best of all of us. He demonstrated respect for RMC and its traditions, the Cadets and our youthful exuberance, and the Canadian Forces he was preparing us for. He somehow took his role seriously, and not seriously at all; we lived in a degree of low-level fear of the DSM, balanced with a desire for his attention and approval.  His outlook was perfect for us, given the circumstances of the day. I’ll never forget when he taught a small group of us how to tie our ties – a “class” he began by yelling “THE KNOT!” just as he would begin a drill class that was broken down into squads. He received his undergraduate degree, I believe, at the same time as us at the Grad Parade, and I’m exceptionally happy that we can consider him a classmate.”

Following graduation he went to Moose Jaw for pilot training but things didn’t exactly go as planned. “Although I enrolled as a pilot when I joined the Air Force, formation flying in the Tutor proved too challenging for me on the Advance Jet course, and I was ceased training in the spring of 1998,” he explained. “At the time, once you failed an advance flying course, there was no option to be re-streamed to another airframe type, like multi-engine. I spent nearly a year doing OJT in Winnipeg before re-starting my career as an Air Navigator in 1999. Once I achieved my Nav wings in 2000, I was posted to 405 Maritime Patrol Squadron as a NavCom on the CP-140 Aurora.  I was drawn to the Aurora at the time as it was one of just two weapon-carrying platforms operated by the CF which also had navigators as part of the crew.”

Over the next sixteen years he moved around between postings to Greenwood, Winnipeg, and Comox among others. Andrew left the Air Force as the Commanding Officer of 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron in Comox, BC, during which time he also served as Commanding Officer, LRP, Air Task Force Iraq, OP IMPACT.

“I consider the pinnacle of my career to be my six months commanding the LRP Detachment from Kuwait, flying missions over Iraq.  These were ISR missions over a combat theatre well behind enemy lines during a challenging period during this conflict against ISIS.  I had a great staff in my Detachment HQ – including several other Ex-Cadets – supporting and leading motivated, professional LRP aircrew and maintenance personnel, as well as mission support and intelligence personnel from Greenwood and Comox and the rest of the country.”

Other highlights for Andrew include establishing an Air Component Command at Wainright for EX MAPLE GUARDIAN 2011, acting as Deputy Project Director of the Heron UAV Acquisition (“a high profile high pressure period which had a successful result and offered a truly rewarding staff officer experience”), participating in an OP CARIBBE mission (before such missions were part of a named Operation) which resulted in the capture of a significant shipment of cocaine headed for the US in 2006, and acting as Scene of Action Commander from my NavCom position on an Aurora during an exercise of Jacksonville, Florida, coordinating simulated attacks against a submarine target for four separate helicopters, an S-3 Viking, and his own aircraft.

As Andrew explains it, he left the Air Force at the right time. “My experience the year I was promoted to lieutenant colonel was an important motivator in my decision,” he said. “I felt at the time of the initial merit board results in 2013 that a message had been sent to me that I was plateauing where I was as a major. My mentor and others reassured me that this was not the case; however the initial results of that merit board were sufficiently disheartening that I began a serious effort to find a post military career. If my ambition did not match the Air Force’s outlook for me I needed to seek opportunities elsewhere. I was further motivated by my belief that in life the journey is the destination, and if you’re not enjoying the journey, you will be disappointed no matter where you end up. I’d had bad days in the Air Force before, and disappointing, frustrating experiences, but the winter of 2013/14 was the first time I truly was not enjoying the journey.”

His journey with the Air Force wasn’t over just yet, however. “It was during that initial period of exploring options outside of the Air Force, through the winter of 2013/14, that I came to reimagine my professional self as something other than a career Air Force officer.  As it happened, things changed in the ACSO occupation and I also believe some special effort was expended on my behalf, and I was ultimately promoted and offered command of 407 Squadron in the spring of 2014.  However, the seed had been planted.  I have little doubt that without that experience as a result of the merit board in 2013 that I would still be in the Air Force today.”

Andrew is now two and a half years into a new career as a Regional Manager on Vancouver Island for BC Hydro. “Through a friend and RMC classmate I became aware of this opportunity at BC Hydro.  Although I had no experience in the utility industry, I was exceptionally fortunate that BC Hydro was willing to take a chance on me, and allowed me to employ the leadership and management skills that I learned at RMC and in the Air Force in a new environment. The men and women who are the employees, management and professionals of BC Hydro rival the Canadian military in their dedication, motivation and professionalism. As a result, my transition to civilian life has been surprisingly easy. I regret not completing the final months of my command tour, and I miss the national level impact of the Air Force and its operations, but the benefits of stability for my family as well as the new and exciting opportunities that BC Hydro and the utilities industry offer outweigh those factors. I believe the Air Force and I parted ways at just the right time and I’m exceptionally proud of my time in uniform.”

And as for where he is now, well, as he says, “I am fortunate enough to have joined a very operations focussed organization with BC Hydro.  Within my first year I was running an Operations Centre coordinating the restoration of power for up to 130,000 BC Hydro customers on Vancouver Island.  In the military my job was to deliver Air Power; as a civilian my job is to deliver actual power.”

One Comment

  • Brent Mills

    November 23, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Thank you for the kind comments, Andrew. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the College when I was there as the DSM and it’s very gratifying to see so many of the cadets having successful and satisfying careers, be it in the military or in civilian life. Reading about your memories of what you experienced at The College rekindled my memories too, especially the food fight (I think (then) LCol Haines handled it appropriately, you wouldn’t believe the discussion that was had on the “legality” of imposing CB on the whole Cadet Wing). I try not to have to wear neckties these days but when I do, I still follow use the same knot and the same “drill” to tie it! Best of luck to you at BC Hydro.