E3161 Victoria Edwards (RMC 2003) interviewed 15907 Colonel J Sylvain Sirois, O.M.M, C.D, P.Eng. (RMC 1987) who was appointed Commander 5 Area Support Group on 3 June 2011.
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: From Montreal, I joined the Canadian Forces in June 1982 as an Officer Cadet at the College Militaire Royal in St-Jean (Québec) from 1982-83. I graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston (Ontario) in 1987 with a degree in Civil Engineering.
e-veritas: What were your main extracurricular activities while at the colleges?
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: In Saint-Jean, I was the goaltender for the varsity handball team. Upon transferring to Kingston, there was no handball at the varsity level, so I joined the “varsity” Unarmed Combat team. This team trained and travelled with the bands and the Highbox team, showcasing the colleges around Ontario and Québec. In addition, I was a drummer (tenor) in the Pipes and Drums. Like most cadets, I organized parties and dances. I was also the cadet deputy class leader in first, second and third year, handing tasks to other cadets. Let’s just say that I was not very popular…
e-veritas: What have you been doing since you graduated? Any highlights/lessons learned?
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: I have been very fortunate in my career. I have had the opportunity to command at every level, including command at troop and squadron level overseas. I was lucky enough to serve in two combat units, 2 CER Petawawa and 5e RGC Valcartier. I served in Croatia, Bosnia and Afghanistan. I went on a disaster relief operation, before the advent of the DART. I have served at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. I have served in very influential positions in the Army and in NDHQ. I have been able to develop several different facets of my career – combat engineering, infrastructure engineering, trade and operational training. I have been involved in the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, and camps. It has been and continues to be fun.
e-veritas: You deployed to the Caribbean in 1989 for two months after Hurricane HUGO.
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: My key lessons learned from that deployment is do not mess with logistics. The British Engineers had made a mistake with their ration supplies. They had three months worth of 10 man rations. Consequently, their personnel ate nothing but chicken and rice, for every meal. This deployment was phenomenal. As a young lieutenant, I was charged with supporting the Island authorities on behalf of the Canadian government. We rebuilt the airport infrastructure, the tower and the runway lights. We installed generators to restore their water system. The Authorities were very pleased with our support.
e-veritas: You were involved with the Aboriginal crisis in 1990 in Akwasasne (Ontario).
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: This was a very “timely” event. The regiment was on a bridging camp in the Prescott, Glengarry, Barrie area of Ontario. We had most of the Army floating and bridging equipment when we were called to build a raft to access the Akwasasne site. One day we were on pontoon on exercise with all safety precautions, including wearing personal floating device. The next, on the same rafts, we were wearing flak vests.
e-veritas: You deployed in 1995 as a staff officer in the Engineer Branch of the United Nations Peace Force in Zagreb (Croatia) and later in Sarajevo (Bosnia). You redeployed to Bosnia for a six-month tour under OP ALLIANCE, the Canadian operation in support of IFOR.
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: The shift in mentality was immense. Under a UN Chapter 6 operation, we had to request permission from the various factions to go anywhere. Under NATO and a Chapter 7 UN mandate, we ordered the factions where to go and we had the might and the will to employ forces. It was a huge shift for our soldiers in terms of force management.
e-veritas: In February 1997, you were involved with the Quebec ice storm.
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: You have to keep an eye on the mandate and make sure that great ideas do not turn into commitments for the CF. It was also surreal to walk downtown Montreal with no lights. It reminded me of Sarajevo, without the holes in the buildings and the pavement. (Well, there are holes in the pavement in Montreal but from a different source…)
e-veritas: In June 2002, you were appointed as Commanding Officer of 5e Régiment du génie de combat. During your command, you deployed to Operation ATHENA in Kabul as the National Command Element Chief of Staff.
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: Most of my regiment was deployed but I did not have command of it. The squadrons were parceled between the various units. We had a doctrine to employ Engineers within a Bde and a Div but we decided to stray from it. We could have achieved a lot more with the Engineer resources at hand. We also had a very different structure within the National Command Element. We were sort of NDHQ Fwd. There were some advantages and disadvantages. It worked well from my vantage point. The Canadian Bde Comd had a different point of view…
e-veritas: You completed a Master’s degree in Security and Defence Management Policy. What are your research interests?
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: My thesis was about ways to improve the project management and the decision cycle for infrastructure projects in DND.
e-veritas: Concurrently to your formal assignments, from April 2006 to October 2009, you also filled the duties of Director Engineers. What does that position involve?
15907 Col Sylvain Sirois: It involved a lot of extra work in terms of career planning, succession planning and force development. You work from the strategic to the tactical levels. It was most enjoyable when I was able to help the lives of my fellow Engineers either with their career progression or accommodating their life needs for posting and operational pauses.