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  • 10970 Karmin McKay: Secondary Duties Can Either Make You a Temporary Hero or a Permanent Zero

10970 Karmin McKay: Secondary Duties Can Either Make You a Temporary Hero or a Permanent Zero

Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth in a series. Future articles will include: Generals and RSMs are people too, What is TDV, you are your own career manager, and several more. Common themes intertwine between them all.

Article by 10970 Karmin McKay

Secondary duties come in many forms and can cause sleepless nights, stress and trouble if not completed correctly. They can also deliver personal benefit and influence. You will have many of them in your career. As a Lt, you can expect to be voluntold that you will be the sports officer, mess secretary, United Way unit rep, unit safety O, unit drug and alcohol O, complete summary investigations, be the unit, base, or command duty officer and the list never ends. It comes down to the question” how many secondary duties do you have today?” asks the boss.  If your answer is 4 and the Lt beside you says 2, they would normally get the next one. My additional two at the time were acting as the CFB Lahr Pest Control Officer and as well the CFB Lahr Rod and Gun Club supervising officer. I asked for and was given these two secondary duties by an officer from my regiment that was returning to Canada. Another troop leader who wanted to be a veterinarian was the base rep to the local SPCA in Germany and later Oromocto while in CFB Gagetown.

The Pest Control Officer in plain language means Game Warden. The ammo depot issued free 12 gauge ammo to the 24 other hunters that I selected each month. I had a long list of volunteers.  Our job was to shoot pests that may cause a CF 104 to crash. In Lahr that meant pheasants, ducks and all other birds. Mammals such as 5 kg jack rabbits, and deer were also fair game. All pests were to be within the Bases fence lines and not outside in the nearby German hunting preserves. While in 4CMBG HQ, I was told several times that my leaders wanted to go hunting. That meant I was to go fetch ammo, scout the airfield for game, meet them at the normal RV point and take them to hunt the game I had spotted. My regimental RSM liked hunting as well. He was now an ally not just the RSM. Some received a license more often than others. I had to hunt in order to ensure the pests were being controlled and as well as to ensure hunter safety.

In my first six months in Germany, (76-77) I had five additional secondary duties. I was the aide decamp for an armour corps 3 star general, organized a regimental mess dinner, completed a summary investigation, was a train conducting officer and organized a regimental officer’s dinner during a gun camp near Hamburg. Each taught me important lessons related to dealing with senior officers.

While in 4CMBG HQ, I had 5 main secondary duties: Bde Tasking Officer, build an obstacle course and co-ordinate umpires and equipment flown over from Canada for the 4 CMBG exercises. I was still the Base Game Warden.

I was the CFE duty officer, CFB Toronto duty officer, Entertainment Officer 5 times, NDHQ Fire warden 10th Floor South Tower and NDOC duty officer for 10 months before and after the first war with Iraq (90-91).  I also commanded a parade for the Army Commander, sat on a court martial board, acted as a unit safety officer and ordered to mentor (babysit) to two officers from very warm countries that were attending a long course during Canadian winter. I had many others but each of these comes with a story. Some were significant to my career. How can a secondary duty change your career?  Many of the stories related to these secondary duties will be told in follow on articles. Actions taken during secondary duties can make you a hero or a zero depending upon your decisions, no matter your rank.

There is an important rule related to Summary Investigations. If you are a witness to the event, you cannot be voluntold to be the SI Officer. I was told, if you see a fire run to watch.

The CFE Duty Officer had a critical job. In the event that WW3 started suddenly, he/she would be alerted and once authenticated with a series of code words etc (just like the thriller movies when the nasty villain is inputting the codes to launch the nuclear missiles). The DO would initiate the recall at dark thirty in the morning. A brigade of soldiers, an air group of airmen and 2 bases were driving at the same time through those tiny gates to get to work within 2 hours from home to go to war.   It was called a snowball and we all prayed. Please no snowball for me. Pretty please no snowball. The process was all laid out. And I prayed again and I am not religious. Most snowballs were known ahead of time and were rehearsals of staff procedures. After a minute, snowball over. The plan also exercised mistakes being made and to stop us from launching a false alert. Once a year a full practice was conducted to measure the KPI’s: did the unit have the required % of soldiers at their duty station with the required equipment within 2 hours? There were no block leaves. Within 2 hours, vehicles were started, moved and running (expense). Troops were fed ( expense).  Snowballs never happened during work hours. At least 14,000 hours of sleep lost (583 days, that’s a lot of mad people if the young Lt. made a mistake). Please no snowball.

By now, you guessed correctly. Snowball for me. I followed the process correctly waiting for the cancellation phrase. Please no snowball for me. Cancel, cancel, cancel. Now what, it was not cancelled by the first minute. Crap, now what? I’ll give them more time. Not cancelled, double crap. Thirty seconds late, I hit the snowball button and all those soldiers were woken up and drove faster than the speed limits to their units to go to war. Most of the rest of that morning is a blur. Long story short, it was a practice alert but whoever was supposed to tell me to stand down did not and so CFE snowballed while others did not. They never asked me to do that job again.

My mountain climbing partner from RMC was also the CFE Duty Officer just after he arrived in CFE. He prayed just like I did, please no snowball to me. Wrong prayers. These are his words” August 1985. I had just arrived in Germany. I was posted to Canadian Forces Europe Headquarters. My brother had already been working in Germany in a different location for two years. One of the not so fun jobs that all of the officers in CFE HQ got to do on occasion was to serve an overnight stint as the CFE Duty Officer. My opportunity arose just shortly after my arrival and I don’t mind admitting that I was more than slightly nervous being so new to the environment. Back then the threat of war with the USSR was very real and I was fervently hoping that it wasn’t going to happen on my shift. I was just getting settled in when the telephone rang. I answered it and a man with a southern drawl said, “This is CENTAG EAC, stand by for FLASH traffic”. I was dumbfounded. I knew that CENTAG was Central Army Group and I also knew that whatever they had to tell me was super important. I instantly broke out in a cold sweat and my heart started beating a hundred miles a minute. I looked for a pen to write down the message but I couldn’t find one. Then I wondered if there was some sort of log book I was supposed to write the message in. Then the voice said, “Are you ready to copy”? Just then I found a pen and a scrap piece of paper so I stammered, “Y…yes”. Then the voice started reeling off words of the phonetic alphabet. The voice said, “Hotel” and I wrote “H”. Then it said, “India”. I wrote “I”. Then it said, “Sierra Hotel India Tango Hotel Echo Alpha Delta” and I wrote each letter in turn. And then the man with the southern drawl said, “Read that back in clear”. I took me a moment. I stared at the letters for a few heartbeats and I realized the letters spelled, “Hi Shithead”. And then I heard my brother laughing.

I was tasked to organize a mess dinner a few months after I arrived in Germany. I had to take a menu of potential meals on offer for the dinner to the CO. He asked me for my recommendations, and I suggested the seafood option which included surf and turf. We also selected the best wines (means expensive).  We both loved a great seafood feast. Everyone loved the meal and knew that it was my choice as the CO told them that I had organized the dinner. I received several compliments related to the meal.  As a single Lt living in the shack, my meal was already paid for from my rations. The married officers had to pay for themselves and their wives. The bill arrived and the whining and gnashing of teeth commenced.  I was never asked to organize a mess dinner again.

I was the tasking officer at 4CMBG. On behalf of the BGen, I assigned various jobs to all ten units in the Bde. I enjoyed calling my regimental operations officer (means senior Captain) and telling him what he was going to have to do next. These senior captains certainly advanced my skills in negotiation, thinking outside the box and when and how to say no to someone very senior to me. Just like being the game warden, I had influence far above my rank and experience.  Taskings were usually assigned in rotation. I received an order to assign a unit to form an honour guard for Princess Anne on her visit to CFE. It was the Signals Squadron turn so they received the tasking. 30 minutes later, they tasked the HQ troop to provide the Parade Commander. As the only Lt in the troop I was suddenly the parade commander. I should have tasked the Field Ambulance instead or the Engineers. Wrong answer. It turns out that Princess Anne is the Colonel in Chief of The Royal Canadian Signals Corps. I did not know that (no google back then) and I guess the Signals Operations Officer forgot as well.  I had luck on my side that the Signals Squadron was next in line for a tasking. It was bad enough that a black hatter was commanding the parade. It did myself in on this one. I would have preferred walking the obstacle course (means hunting) than rehearsals with the honour guard.

I was tasked to build an obstacle course for 4 CMBG. My major dropped some books related to obstacle courses on my desk, told me that I had an engineer troop to build it and to get on with the job. The engineer troop leader was from the class of 75 and in many ways acted like myself. Get the job done, full speed ahead. If possible, finished early and under budget. Please leave me alone to get the job done. We selected a thick wood with huge trees in the south of the airfield. We designed the course, presented the plans to the staff and conducted a walkthrough on the ground with the Bde Major. He said yes and the course was built. A month later an SIU investigation was conducted against myself and the engineer troop leader. We had been accused of stealing very large and valuable walnut trees. The German lumber company that had owned the right to harvest the trees had arrived to take them and poof they were gone. Who knew that a German lumber company owned specific trees on a Canadian Base. We were successful in our defence by showing the authorities that the missing trees were now large stumps in the ground and made into other obstacles.

While posted to CFB Gagetown I became the CFB Gagetown Scuba Club supervising officer. Not only was I able to improve the safety standards in the club as the supervising officer but became the club’s chief instructor. As such, the base paid for my examination fees and weeklong TD expenses to Montreal to become a PADI scuba instructor.

While in FMCHQ, I was ordered to watch a HQ parade for the Army Commander. I did and was commenting at the bar about how terrible the parade was and that I would have done a much better job. I received a tap on the shoulder to find the FMCHQ unit commander (a LCOL) looking at me. He stated, Captain you will command the next parade. Yes sir was my reply. I had tasked myself again.  More on this parade later.

By the time I went to FMCHQ, I was advanced EW trained. I had completed two EW courses while posted to the tank squadron in Gagetown. My advanced EW course was four days of training long crammed into three weeks in Bavaria in October 1984. Wednesday’s were 2 hours of discussion and then skiing for my group.   I viewed it as my reward for hard work for the last 2 long years. I had just finished my Army Staff College course prior to my posting to FMCHQ. I had two main jobs: write the After-Action report for RV85 (an army wide divisional exercise in Wainwright and Suffield that I had not attended) and plan a CPX to test 5 Bde. That is when I discovered that the EW section of the divisional signals order had to be approved by an advanced EW trained officer. As I was the only qualified officer in the divisional HQ (Captain, Armour Corps), I had to visit the Divisional Signals Officer (LCol) and approve a portion of his orders for the CPX that I was writing.  He was not a happy camper. Eventually we became friends. We were both in NDHQ (each at a higher rank level) and attending a conference in Virginia with several other Cols and Generals. Long story short, I was able to invite him as my guest on a private guided tour of the USS Enterprise. Our absence was noted and when asked where I had been by the MGen, I told him on a private tour of the USS Enterprise. I was in the crapper again. Not for being AWOL but for not being AWOL with the General as my guest.

In NDHQ, I was a fire warden. The bell rang one afternoon and the drill commenced. I put my yellow helmet on and ensured that all from my floor had vacated prior to descending 10 flights to ground level and crossing the bridge over the Rideau Canal to the assembly area in a nearby field. I was supposed to count those present to ensure that all were accounted for. Give me a break. Over 200 staff of all ranks in a line. Who was elsewhere? Sick, on leave, on TD?  I did not know. How many total cubicle occupants on the whole floor? No idea. As it was 14:30, the sun was finally shining and the birds were singing, I told my group that if their cabinets had been locked and documents secured that they could go home. By the time that they all went back to work it would have been time to leave for home. They never asked me to be the Fire Warden again. The troops on the other hand loved me that afternoon. Home earlier with a seat on the bus. Almost a miracle. (Getting a seat on the bus, not leaving early.)

I had a secondary duty that I inherited in NDHQ that I detested. I was the Army representative on a committee from all services. As it was the Army’s turn to chair the committee, I was also in charge of organizing the meetings, taking the minutes and all that other time-wasting stuff. At the first meeting I chaired, I read minutes of the last meeting. They were approved. The minutes had stated that there was no new business to discuss. I asked if there were any new items to discuss and there were none. Meeting adjourned. A month later, same thing happened except that I had new business. My new business was to state that this committee was now dead. No further meetings as no new business had occurred in the last 6 meetings. One attendee told me that I could not cancel the committee as it was his only meeting. My answer was that I have 100 meetings and the committee was done. If the committee started up again, they never asked me to participate.

Perception is reality. I did not volunteer to be the Entertainment Officer five times. I was voluntold by my peers or leaders. I somehow earned the reputation as a party organizer. On the other hand, I did my best to organize the best parties when tasked as well. Be careful how you complete this task. It can once again make you a temporary hero or permanent zero depending upon the outcome.

You will be assigned secondary duties. Knowing that, do some research ahead of time and volunteer for secondary duties that you may enjoy. In my time, if you volunteered for Duty Officer on Christmas Day or New Years, you did not do duty officer again for the next year. One day vs 3 or 4. The meals served by the mess on these days were always outstanding. If single, why not?

When you are given a secondary duty, make sure that you understand the roles, responsibilities and conditions of the role. By now, you know that I have had interesting experiences as a duty officer. In FMCHQ, as the SO3 OPS, I had the responsibility of briefing the daily FMCHQ (Army) duty officers as I was the full-time duty officer when I was in garrison. The duty officer arrived to spell me at noon so that I could go to the mess for lunch. I came back late 1315 vs 1300 to find her in the duty officer’s bed. I did not think that she would try to sleep while I was out to lunch. She was still in bed because the minute that she stripped and climbed under the covers, a never-ending stream of men started entering the other door to my office which had 4 desks, 5 phones, one of them red, living room for 300, 2 TVs, VCR, bed and a shower with bathroom. They used the duty officer’s shower as a change room before, during and after lunch for their noon hour run. I had never had a female DO before, didn’t think she would go to bed at lunch so never told her about the showers at lunch. I assumed that she knew because everyone knew.  She neglected her duty by going to bed at noon while I did not brief her properly.  I never made that mistake again, other mistakes, yes. Brief properly and ensure that those briefed understand. Make sure that you understand the duty.

I volunteered for secondary duties because I wanted them. I learned by accident that secondary duties can dramatically alter a career. Take them seriously. Even if only for one day. Just because things never happen, I can tell you that they will and do happen at the worst time. I volunteered often and early for many things in my career and very rarely did I get bit from it. I also tried to hide when volunteers were being selected for jobs that I wished to avoid. Some of my best experiences resulted from me putting my hand up to say, Put me in coach. Especially for things like EW training which became not only a secondary duty but a passion which later turned into a major portion of my work. Are you wrong for bidding for and receiving better training, jobs and tasks? Not in my books. You might as well enjoy your work when you can because there are too many nasty jobs waiting in the wings for you. On occasion, the others volunteer first and you get the task rejected by all the others.  Volunteer to change the status quo if you believe that it is wrong. Prove the concept before trying to change it if you are not the leader with the responsibility. Take the risk, volunteer for secondary duties. Or wait in the wings to be voluntold. I assigned secondary duties often to the scouts in my scout troop(42 of them, all acting like young RMC recruits). They never understood that if everyone has 2 of them, it’s the same as no one having anymore than the other. Yet, they were all equally punished when it was deserved.

For Part 3 of this series please see here

For Part 2 of this series please see here

For Part 1 of this series please see here

4 Comments

  • Layne Larsen

    June 22, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Great Article. I’m a lot older than Karmin, but like him, I learned quickly to
    volunteer for secondary duties you would/might like to avoid those that are more likely to trip you up…..in his words, to turn you from a hero to a zero!

  • Dave Casarsa

    June 22, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    Karmin,
    I remember the obstacle course incident very well. I still have a copy of the letter sent from CFEHQ CIMIC to the Regional Forest Ministry that got us off the hook as we were “executing our official duties” in constructing a “genuine defence installation”. I enjoy reading your missives. They bring back great memories.

  • 10979 D.B. Murray

    June 22, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    Thank you Karmin for including my CFE Duty Officer story in your article. To give credit where credit is due, my brother, 12218 Wayne Murray, was the architect of the “Hi Shithead” prank.