Top Headlines

lawsoninterview1.jpg

…”This year, four senior cadets per squadron of 50 recruits have earned the opportunity to wield authority and get in on early recruit training. Orientation is an excellent opportunity for the senior cadets to prepare for command since there is a fine line between challenging military discipline and pushing the recruits to rebellion. RMC recently held a recruit camp workshop to prepare these senior cadets for their leadership positions.”…

E3161 VICTORIA EDWARDS (RMC ‘03), AN E-VERITAS RESEARCHER SPECIALIZING IN HISTORY PROJECTS RECENTLY SPOKE WITH BGEN TOM LAWSON ON HIS TIME AS A CADET AND HIS EXPERIENCE AS THE COMMANDANT FOR THE PAST YEAR AT RMC.

12192 Brigadier General Tom Lawson OMM, CD ADC (RMC ’79) enrolled in 1975 and graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1979. After flying CF104 Starfighters, he returned to RMC in 1985 to complete a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and to serve as a lecturer on the Electrical Engineering staff. After flying CF-18s and Challengers, BGen Lawson was posted to 8 Wing in 2006 in command of CFB Trenton before being promoted to his current rank in May 2007 and arriving back at RMC for a third occasion, this time as Commandant.

E-veritas: Describe your recruit orientation in comparison to what is now happening at RMC.

BGen Lawson: Although my father was a fighter pilot during WWII, he was not a military man by the time I joined the family, so I arrived at RMC in the mid-1970s with no experience of military culture. I will never forget the senior cadets who did a great job leading my flight at recruit camp. They were sympathetic, yet firm: 11061 Mr Donald DL Desbienne (RRMC RMC 1976); 11111 LCdr (Ret’d) Kevin KJ Macdonald (RRMC RMC 1976), 10923 Lieutenant (ret’d) Robert JAR Chenier (RMC 1976) and 10894 Major (ret’d) Luc JYC Tremblay (CMR RMC 1976). By the late 1970’s, a new system was developed where cadets arrived at recruit camp having done basic officer training before their arrival on the peninsula. This year, the leadership school at Saint-Jean was unable to take cadets before arrival at RMC, so we are back to the system we saw here pre-1980’s. This year, four senior cadets per squadron of 50 recruits have earned the opportunity to wield authority and get in on early recruit training. Orientation is an excellent opportunity for the senior cadets to prepare for command since there is a fine line between challenging military discipline and pushing the recruits to rebellion. RMC recently held a recruit camp workshop to prepare these senior cadets for their leadership positions.

E-veritas: What is your view on skylarks at RMC?

BGen Lawson: Skylarks provide a release of pressure during RMC recruit camp life, and a chance to entertain the cadet wing with acts of ingenuity and courage. During my years at RMC, one of the most creative skylarks was one carried out by a classmate named 12249 LCol (Ret’d) Terry TJ Wood (RMC 1979), who climbed the Memorial Arch and painted “4 SQN” in the gravel on its surface. A squadron-mate, 12207 Major Kevin E McCarthy (RMC 1979), memorialized the skylark by flying over the Arch in a Cessna and taking a photograph, then posting the photo in the dining hall.
There used to be a Spanish bell that hung in front of the Stone Frigate. One night, we strung dental floss from the third floor of the LaSalle dormitory to the clapper of the bell. Once in place, we could ring the bell from the safety of our room. After the bell rang, the senior cadets from the Frigate huddled around the door looking for the culprits. The fun lasted until they found the floss. [ed. During one ex-Cadet weekend some overzealous recruits from 2 Squadron rang the bell a little too vigorously and cracked it. The bell is now in the Martello Tower Museum inside Fort Frederick.]  As Commandant, I was pleased to re-emphasize the concept of Skylarks as “useful mischief”. I encourage skylarks as long as they are novel, funny, damage no property, and endanger no one. To execute a successful skylark, cadets practice skills that are related to more serious, operational tactics. I suspect that cadets who excel in leading skylarks will also excel in army flanking manoeuvres, naval boarding parties, and air force tactical drops behind enemy lines.

E-veritas: What skills did you learn at RMC that have since been of great value to you?

BGen Lawson: In recruit camp, I learned to work well with a group and to take on either a leadership position or a supporting role willingly. I learned to value carrying out each role, whether leader or follower. I also learned that groups frequently became dysfunctional when individuals try to play both leader and follower roles simultaneously, or play either role incorrectly. I also learned much about the art of negotiation. For example, in Fourth year when we discussed which of the 3rd years should be selected for the most important leadership positions, the cadet who spoke first, or most forcefully, did not necessarily win the day. The cadet who criticized another’s position weakened their own. The cadet who brought his argument forward respectfully, and who listened carefully to other points of view, was more convincing.

E-veritas: Did your recruit camp friends become friends for life?

BGen Lawson: My first roommate was 12221 Mr Robert “Bobbie” North (RMC 1979). While I later realized that he was a truly golden-hearted person, and remains so to this day, we did have some rough spots along the way. At first, since I was bigger my views normally prevailed. But by the time the term had ended, Bobby had put on twenty pounds of muscle and I was more open to his suggestions. As a cadet, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with cadets from all over Canada and I cherish the friends I made at military college. Recently, my wife Kelly and I went on a canoe trip with two recruit camp flight buddies from 2 Squadron LaSalle: 12162 Brigadier-General Dwight A. Davies (RMC 1979) and Kevin McCarthy, and their wives. It seems remarkable that all three of us had girlfriends back in College who are our wives today. Down the hallway in LaSalle building, my buddies in 3 Squadron Pontiac were Terry Wood, who now works for JDS Uniphase (JDSU) and 12240 Major (ret’d) James “Jim” P. Sullivan (RMC 1979), who is now with Air Canada.

E-veritas: How do you enjoy living in the Commandant’s Residence?

BGen Lawson: The Commandant’s residence is a lovely home. It is the cosiest 6000 square foot house one could imagine, and Kelly and I enjoy living there. So does our beagle, who spends many hours hunting squirrels and ground hogs, never successfully. Although we enjoy the house, it would be nice to have the neighbours who once surrounded the residence. Until recent years, many squadron commanders, the Director of Cadets, and Principal all lived on the RMC peninsula. Ridout Row was recently renovated and now houses offices for the Canadian Defence Academy.

E-veritas: Does the Commandant’s Residence play a role in the social aspects of cadet life?

BGen Lawson: Indeed. My wife Kelly and I have the opportunity to hold four commandant garden parties per year, thanks to the generous support of 6513 Captain (Ret’d) John T Bart (RMC 1965), who has donated money to the RMC foundation to carry out such social activities. At present, the Commandant garden parties are planned to celebrate the new bar slate in September, high academic achievers in November, top athletic achievers in February, and graduates in May.

E-veritas: When you were a cadet, how were cadets disciplined? How does it compare to the present?

BGen Lawson: Recruits ran circles for their sins, up to eight quarter-mile circles each evening. We could also be assigned “Drill Squads”, to be carried out on the weekend. For more serious misbehaviour, there was a form of College charge called “Beta”. Guilty cadets dressed in 4s with gaiters and were inspected three times a day. The chief facet of this punishment was the drain on cadets’ precious discretionary time.

There is a bit more variety in the discipline system at RMC today – from traditional things like room inspections and confinement to barracks, to administrative processes that use the power of mentorship. The challenge is to deal with misbehaviour fairly quickly. Where the cadets merely have missteps, neither systemic nor chronic, small punishments are more suitable than an administrative process. In the unlikely event that a cadet does not respond to increasing self-awareness and goal setting, the process can escalate all the way to counselling, probation and release. Punishments are ineffective if a cadet does not want to be at RMC. The loss of a cadet from RMC is not always tragic. Some alumni who have left RMC without graduating have gone on to more appropriate and successful careers. Cadets who thrive at RMC are generally those more suited to a structured environment of high challenge.

E-veritas: Have you found yourself concerned with any facets of cadet discipline since returning as Commandant?

BGen Lawson: Generally, I have been pleased with the level of discipline at the College. Clearly, it works best when senior cadets demonstrate ownership of the disciplinary process. I am somewhat concerned with the number of disciplinary incidents involving alcohol. I don’t want to give the impression the problem is out of hand – no doubt, most university presidents would envy the RMC record. But RMC cadets are only a short time away from leading in the field so our stakes are higher. Although RMC could make the peninsula dry; it is my intention to develop in cadets the ability to socialize responsibly, including responsible alcohol consumption. This year, we will increase education efforts, encourage enhanced buy-in from the senior class, and follow through with appropriate sanctions when the alcohol policy is violated.

E-veritas: When you were a cadet at RMC, your commandants were 2816 BGen (Ret’d) William W Turner (RMC 1940) and 4860 General (Ret’d) John AJG de Chastelain (RMC 1960). What do you recall about them?

BGen Lawson: My first impression of BGen Turner was of a strong, competent man in the same mould as my father. I invited my father to my first year mess dinner, imagining that General Turner and my father would get along since they were gentlemen of the same age and had both served during World War II. Since I had forgotten that neither was a conversationalist, I died many deaths as they merely looked at each other in the receiving line. In second year, however, I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Mexican Army Military Academy with BGen and Mrs Turner at which time I found he was far more sociable than a cadet may otherwise have perceived. When General de Chastelain served as Commandant, he was not more than forty years old. Consequently, he demonstrated active engagement with cadets by running the obstacle course, playing rugby, and playing the bagpipes. As Commandant, I aspire to have the same positive effect these two former Commandants had on me. To that end, I teach an engineering course, run the obstacle course with the senior class, run in the Harriers race, and I have rekindled my bagpipe talents, or lack thereof.

E-veritas: How do you feel about change in such a storied institution as RMC?

BGen Lawson: If it looks as though change is required, it should happen. There is, of course, a need to first consult stakeholders to avoid damaging traditions with innate worth. I found it interesting to observe that cadets no longer march through the Memorial Arch other than on entry in first year parade, and then on graduation day. On all other occasions, cadets march around the Arch with arms checked. At first, I wasn’t happy with this new tradition since I felt cadets were missing out on the full experience of the Arch, as the builders had envisioned. After consulting with the Principal, Director of Cadets and RMC Club President, I was prepared to order a return to the original practice; however, after consulting the Cadet Wing Commander, 23984 Scott Blakie (RMC 2008), I learned that cadets had put far more thought into the tradition than I had realized, and I became convinced that respect for what the Arch represents has never been stronger. I have left the ‘new’ tradition alone.

E-veritas: Did you play on a RMC team? Are you a fan of any RMC sport teams?

BGen Lawson: One must realize that varsity teams were easier to make in the 1970s than they are today, owing to the quality of modern recruiting efforts. I had visions of playing varsity football but, at 5′ 11″ and 148 pounds, I found that university football players were bigger and hit harder than in high school. So, I swam on the swim team, and ran on the varsity running team. I didn’t set any records, but I did get better over the years. Now I am a fan of all RMC teams – intramural and varsity. I attend as many varsity home games as I can and never miss intramural finals.

E-veritas: Did you participate in any RMC clubs?

BGen Lawson: I was a piper in the RMC Band, and that gave me no end of pleasure. I was a member of the flying club and one spring completed a seaplane rating on Navy Bay. I served as editor of the RMC Review in third year, and I was a member of the Bible study group. As Commandant, I am a fan of all clubs as they provide opportunities for cadets to express themselves outside the four components. I am amazed and heartened by the number of clubs at RMC, and the amount of effort expended by PSP staff to make them successful.

E-veritas: Copper Sunday is the name for the annual RMC church parade into Kingston. In May, RMC paraded the greatest number of cadets into Kingston for this year’s event. Could you comment on this?

BGen Lawson: A CF officer may need to serve as assisting officer to the family of a fallen soldier. It is RMC’s duty to ensure they have seen the inside of a church before carrying out such duties, and feel comfortable in venues in which religious ceremonies are conducted. Copper Sunday provides us an opportunity to do just that, as well as to exercise RMC’s Freedom of the City, with colours flying and band playing. This year, Mayor Rosen welcomed the cadets at City Hall before they broke into groups to attend one of eight churches. For anyone who expressed discomfort with attending a church, the RMC padres had organized a multi-disciplinary symposium back at RMC explaining the typical rites of four major religions.

E-veritas: Please comment on the changes that have occurred at RMC since your time as a cadet.

BGen Lawson: The inclusion of lady cadets has been very successful for RMC and the CF. In fact, this year’s fall term CWC is 24446 Officer-Cadet Jaclyn Power. The Athletics Program remains extremely important in the training of officer-cadets for effective service. With the efforts by RMC coaches in the off season, it is more challenging for cadets to walk on to varsity teams. The RMC coaches bring an atmosphere of knowledge, support and professionalism and possess a wide range of qualifications.

With the closure of CMR and RRMC, a wider variety of additional academic programs are offered at RMC. All degree programmes are available in both English and French. The subjects in the curriculum are selected for their value to future officers in the CF. Science and engineering Programmes have a high proportion of time devoted to the Arts, and the Arts Programme has a high proportion of time devoted to mathematics and science. Making the undergraduate and graduate programs open to serving officers and selected civilians serves to make RMC the average military member’s university of choice. The addition of business education programs has been valuable as they have a desirable recruiting effect in addition to practical application.

E-veritas: RMC has launched a new one year programme called the Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year (ALOY) on behalf of Canadian Defence Academy (CDA). ALOY offers Aboriginal People the opportunity to develop sound leadership, to serve Canada and to continue the proud tradition of past Aboriginal leaders such as Brigadier General Oliver Milton Martin and the current service of Lieutenants Gilbert Monture and Cameron Brandt. How is RMC working with CDA to ensure that the first ALOY class is successful?

BGen Lawson: The ALOY program has been in the works for some years. RMC will oversee twenty-two members in the first ALOY class. We shouldn’t forget that Aboriginal cadets have studied at military colleges in the past. Unfortunately, however, the ROTP program has not attracted Aboriginal cadets in representative numbers that we would like to see. ALOY may help Aboriginal candidates overcome RMC’s challenges and to bridge cultural gaps. ALOY may also help prime the pump; I would love to see ALOY lead to a handful of Aboriginal candidates applying directly as ROTP candidates to RMC, or joining as non-commissioned members. The cadets in the ALOY program will have access to RMC’s recently renovated dormitory, Fort Haldimand.

E-veritas: Comment on the University Training Program Non Commissioned Members (UTPNCM) program at RMC.

BGen Lawson: The UTPNCM program is excellent in that these former NCMs and NCOs tend to make very good officers and to move relatively quickly through the ranks to Captain and Major. The program is also economical since UTPNCMs live off-campus and do not require dorm or dining hall space at RMC. In September, RMC will welcome the largest first year UTPNCM class in recent memory. Since UTPNCM candidates offer a tremendous amount of real life experience, I foresee increased integration into the ROTP training program as trainers and as instructors. In fact, OCdt Black, a UTPNCM in his fourth year, is now the cadet leader of the new Recruit Camp at RMC.

E-veritas: Outline the mentoring program at RMC.

BGen Lawson: This is an excellent new program that is paying dividends. Lieutenant-Colonel Janine Knackstedt, CD, PhD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Military Psychology and Leadership was instrumental last year in helping senior cadets develop the mentoring program at RMC. The program paired third year cadets with first year cadets with the agreed-upon goal of helping the first year cadets grow and develop specific competencies. In 2008, the program will be expanded to include fourth years paired with second years.

E-veritas: In your first year back at RMC, what was your favourite special event?

BGen Lawson: There were many, but the Christmas Ball, West Point Weekend, and Graduation BBQ at the Commandant’s Residence stand out as quite memorable