Another Classic Convocation Speech

Feature photo: 5992 Dr. Allan James (Jim) Barrett May, 2012 Convocation

Chancellor, monsieur le commandant, monsieur le recteur, Dr Mozetich, Dr Haycock, distingués invités, fellow graduates, colleagues, parents and familles, et les amis du Collège: I don’t have to tell you how proud I am, how tremendously honoured to be standing here, in this distinguished company, and on this celebratory occasion.

Surtout, je profite de l’occasion pour parler à la classe de finissants, qui probablement en ce moment se réveillent à la réalisation qu’au moment même où vous imaginez que les cours sont terminés pour le bon, vous allez avoir à supporter ce dernier cours de la part de ce vieux professeur.

When I asked the Principal, “What should I speak about?” he told me that I should talk about what is important to me. I spoke to the Commandant, and he told me I should have fun with this talk. Then I asked Corrie, who told me, “Tell them about RMC, of course.” And so this afternoon I am going to have fun talking about something that is important to me, and I’m going to listen to my wife. I am going to tell you a little about RMC, and it won’t be the view from the parade square or from the classroom that you know so well.

I spent 6 years observing RMC from the Canadian Defence Academy, the College’s immediate headquarters. The Canadian Defence Academy was created as part of the transformation of Canadian military education, and in 2002 it was a visionary, exciting and productive place. That was a privileged experience, one that provided a wider view of the world of military education on the one hand, and a sense of how RMC fits in the greater scheme of the Canadian Forces on the other. In the next few minutes I hope to share just a little bit of that with you.

L’éducation militaire canadienne est un monde riche et complexe, un monde souvent pris pour acquis. La haute qualité des officiers et les membres du rang qui ont passé par notre système est partout reconnu. Mais peu de gens savent qu’après l’affaire somalienne, l’éducation militaire a été un instrument de la réforme pour les Forces canadiennes. Peu de gens savent que l’éducation militaire canadienne sert de modèle pour la réforme de la défense dans des démocraties émergentes. Je n’aurai pas le temps de vous raconter toute l’histoire, mais si je peux vous laisser avec un sens du rôle du CMR dans l’éducation militaire, je serai content.

To begin, we need to understand what military education is. My fellow honorary graduate Dr Ron Haycock has given us a very useful definition, illuminating military education by contrasting it with military training. Where “training [aims to develop] a predictable response to a predictable situation- [the right reflexes under fire]; education [seeks to develop] a reasoned response to an unpredictable situation- critical thinking in the face of the unknown”.

The ultimate purpose of both military training and military education is to prepare soldiers for action- by soldiers I mean all military personnel. Not unlike medical education, military education is education with a purpose, education in anticipation of action, and moreover action within an established ethical framework. Military Education prepares the Canadian Forces to face unforeseen and unexpected challenges.

“Unexpected challenges” is the norm for an armed force. Canada’s armed forces are designed and shaped to be responsive to rapidly changing events. Military traditions and military ethos endure, but each application of military force is different; each new mission brings new tactics, new operational procedures, and new thinking.

RMC too, as a unit of the Canadian Forces, is part of this universe of persistent tradition and changing processes. The point I would like to make now is that, seen through the eyes of the Canadian Forces Training and Education system, RMC is not a small college, but the main academic engine, the intellectual motor of a national, $20 B enterprise. Now, the academic engine of a national, $20B enterprise has some real advantages not available to other universities. In return, it also has some unique responsibilities and expectations that are not faced by other universities. This vital fact is revealed in the written history of RMC, which documents a long list of adaptations to Canada’s changing military requirements. Time and again, as the educational needs of Canada’s armed forces have changed, RMC has responded magnificently, re-inventing itself as the times and circumstances demanded.

Ces changements n’ont pas été faciles-ce sont les résultats des négociations prudentes qui respectaient les deux cultures- militaire et académique. Mais, au cours des années, le CMR est devenu l’un des plus agile et souple des universités canadiennes. Pour moi, il ya deux exemples remarquables. L’exemple par excellence est l’établissement du Collège après la Seconde Guerre mondiale comme une université aussi respectée sur le plan académique que sur le plan militaire. Le deuxième exemple, l’histoire que je tenterai d’esquisser pour vous, est le rôle du CMR dans le développement d’une capacité de formation à distance pour les Forces canadiennes. Cette histoire est un des meilleurs exemples d’un cas ou des nouveaux développements dans le monde civil de l’éducation s’alignaient bien avec les besoins des Forces canadiennes.

Pendant des décennies, les universités civiles canadiennes luttaient, et la plupart luttent toujours, avec la demande croissante pour l’éducation permanente. J’entends par celà la demande par des adultes pour mettre à jour leurs formations scolaires face à un travail de plus en plus complex et en évolution rapide. Un second défi pour ces universités est la prolifération des cours sur l’Internet qui permettent une distribution facile à un vaste clientèle.

In the Canadian Forces, the educational challenges were a close parallel to those of the civilian universities. The spectrum of conflict had become increasingly complex- think of Bosnia and Rwanda- and the demands for professional military education were growing fast. Like the civilian universities, however, resistance to distributed learning models was strong, because of an enduring commitment to an in-garrison training model.

But in 1995 there was yet one more study of officer professional development, and as one result, RMC was tasked to offer university courses by means of distance learning. We were given the mandate in February 1996, and with strong support from the Commandant and Principal, launched the program in September of that year with 120 students. While we planned, we asked literally hundreds of people, in and out of uniform, what the program should do. Let me give you just one of those conversations:

“Honestly, sir” the Chief Warrant Officer said, “I have tried, but I’ve never been able to make it work. I was doing well at the university, but then, you know, I’d come to work one morning thinking that I’d be having supper with the wife, but at 1100 I’d be getting my shots and lined up to be on the Herc’ at 1500.” So I called the university and told them ‘I’ve got an exam next week, but I’ve just been sent to Bosnia for six months. Can you do anything for me?”

“Sorry”, they said, “you’ll have to drop the course.”

“I understand”, I said, “Can I get a refund?”

“Sorry”, they said, “You’re past the deadline. No refund.”

And so when RMC established its Continuing Studies program, we bent over backwards to provide a user-friendly learning environment for Canadian Forces personnel.

The creation of RMC Continuing Studies unleashed a surprisingly large and pent-up demand for continuing education. Within a few short years, participation had grown to several thousand students. When, in 1998, I found myself correcting a mathematics assignment- sent to me by e-mail from a corporal in Bosnia- I felt that the College had fully accepted its role as the University of the Canadian Forces.

Today, RMC is one the few traditional Canadian universities that is at the same time a successful distance learning university. Building on Ron Haycock’s pioneering efforts with the War Studies program, RMC has become one of the most successful providers of graduate programs at a distance in the world. And we have accomplished this in both official languages. There are even more exciting opportunities and economies yet to be found in extended networks of learning institutions.

Au Canada, le programme d’enseignement à distance élaboré au CMR a montré la voie pour les programmes de formation à distance au Collège des Forces canadiennes à Toronto, et au Centre de Développement des sous-officiers à Saint-Jean sur Richelieu. L’apprentissage à distance est aujourd’hui un modèle accepté pour de l’entrainement ainsi que pour l’éducation à travers les Forces canadiennes. La leçon est que le Collège doit toujours être attentif aux besoins militaires et aux tendances éducatives.

Internationally, Canadian success in the oversight of military education has attracted the attention of a NATO that seeks to promote interoperability. Canadian expertise has drawn the attention of nations from the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and from South America, who see military education as the necessary first step in the creation of democratically responsive armed forces. A growing collaborative network of defence education institutions reveals an unexpected face of military power, and that is the power to influence democratic growth through the establishment of national defence educational institutions.

There is great potential here, a fact recognized by NATO when it launched its Action Plan for Defence Institution Building at the Istanbul Summit in 2004. For nations that contribute, there is no better opportunity to learn the business of military education. Whatever the outcome of this ambitious project, the ever-expanding community of uniformed and civilian defence scholars and military academics is without question the most exciting development in modern military education.

En 2008, j’ai co-dirigé une visite d’experts en Arménie. Un des membres de notre équipe multi-national était un officier turc. Comme vous le savez, l’Arménie et la Turquie partageant une histoire très difficile, et la frontière entre les deux pays est fermée. Néanmoins, la réunion s’est bien passée, et parmi mes souvenirs est une photographie prise lors du dîner d’adieu. Dans cette photographie le colonel arménien danse avec l’officier turc à la musique d’un groupe folklorique. Nous ne devrions pas faire trop de cela, sauf peut-être d’observer que l’éducation militaire offre un terrain commun et sûr pour établir des contacts préliminaires entre des nations en conflit.

I have tried to give you some sense of this place as more than a simple schoolhouse. It is, of course, primarily a schoolhouse, but it is a living schoolhouse, one that continually adapts to the greater needs of Canada, and one that reaches out. When you return in a few years to relive your cadet days and savour your memories, take a few additional moments to reflect on how this proud institution has supported and sustained the Canadian Forces in its larger mission. Reflect too on its continuing contributions to Canada and to a better and more peaceful future for the world.

Nous célébrons aujourd’hui votre réussite scolaire. Votre diplôme est reconnu et respecté partout dans le monde, mais n’oubliez jamais que votre éducation est une éducation militaire, une éducation qui vous a preparé pour l’action, pour créer une réponse raisonnée à un événement non prévu. Le son aigu des cornemuses, la brume qui monte du Navy Bay rappellant la brume du matin sur mille champs de bataille – ce sont des souvenirs éternels. L’esprit du Collège militaire royal du Canada sera toujours avec vous.

The names of those who have gone from here to serve Canada are written on the walls, and on the Memorial Arch, memorials made vital by the men and women who have seen the new face of battle. Years from now, when time and experience have brought their gifts and exacted their price, you will feel the power of those embedded memories, often when you least expect it. Though you might always not be aware of it, you will ever measure yourself against the standards of “Truth, Duty, Valour”. You have become part of the bright scarlet ribbon that is the living history of the Royal Military College, a part of its proud legacy.

Je vous félicite pour tout ce que vous avez accompli ici. I welcome you to the challenges that await in the Canadian Forces, and in the wide world.

Godspeed.

2 Comments