16642 BGen Stephen Cadden: A Professional Soldier
By 27832 OCdt (II) P.R. Cardona, 12 Sqn, CSC
When Brigadier General Stephen Cadden was in his final year of high school, he was still unsure of what career path he wanted to follow. He applied to several universities, among them the Canadian Military Colleges [CMC]. Several of his peers had also applied to Military College, and after doing some research, he accepted the offer to attend CMR St Jean in 1984.
Upon arriving at CMRSJ, the young officer cadet was quickly introduced to military life and the components of officership common to the three Military Colleges at the time. In addition to his academics, he had to meet standards in physical fitness, second language training and military leadership.
“The four pillars are all important as individual facets,” remarked the CMRSJ graduate, “but they work better in combination, they taught me to organize myself and devote time to competing demands.”
According to the seasoned army officer, physical fitness, one of the four pillars of the CMCs, is vital for anyone in the profession of arms. His time in St. Jean taught him to view physical fitness as an important lifelong habit that should be practiced every day.
The highly demanding academic component of the program taught him to be organized. Furthermore, he quickly realized that memorization was not a good way to learn at the university level, so the academics also taught him to learn in such a way that he could understand concepts, rather than memorize them.
As for the bilingualism pillar, the BGen states that “bilingualism is a reality in the military, and knowing how to communicate with subordinates in their chosen first language is vital and reassuring, especially in situations where their lives may be threatened.”
Now one of the army’s senior armour officer, he once wanted to pursue a career as an RCAF pilot. Unfortunately, he was unable to pass his flight training and had to switch occupations. Inspired by one of his flight instructors, who likened his landing skills to driving a tank, BGen Cadden switched into the armoured trade.
Upon graduating the five year program in 1989, the young armoured officer was badged into the 8th Canadian Hussars and posted to Lahr, Germany, where he served as both a tank and reconnaissance troop leader.
In Germany, the former director of armour recalls the real sense that a shooting war could break out at any moment. As such, his unit had to ensure that vehicle maintenance was always taken care of and he participated in numerous exercises in tank divisions and with infantry, artillery and air force assets.
While operating in this highly tense environment, the junior officer was also faced with the challenge of being a leader, something that every new troop commander experiences. While his phase training taught him the necessary technical skills to be a troop leader, his time at the unit helped refine his people skills.
As an Armoured Officer, BGen Cadden also commanded at the squadron and regimental level. As his career has advanced, he’s learned more about his profession and has become a more skilled leader. Furthermore, he has enjoyed the armoured trade because of the powerful fighting vehicles and the team dynamic.
Over the course of his lengthy career, the ex-cadet has been deployed on operations all across the globe, including Germany, Jamaica, Afghanistan and Haiti. On his international deployments, he’s learned to overcome cultural biases and find new and unique ways to approach problems.
“It’s also easy to forget how good we are as an army, until we’re measured against other armies,” he said of his time overseas, “we have nothing to apologize for in terms of skills.”
He’s also participated in domestic operations, notably relief efforts during the 1998 Ice Storms and during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits. The army’s ability to quickly mobilize is an invaluable asset to law enforcement and local governments.
“I’m always happy to assist my fellow citizens and Canadian law enforcement,” he remarked, “Canadians are supportive of their army and they always show their appreciation for their soldiers.”
Throughout his three decades of service, the culture and face of the Forces has changed dramatically. One thing that he’s noticed is that increasingly, people in leadership roles are getting younger, due to increased attrition and faster career progression. Furthermore, the battlefield has become far more complex and requires more educated and highly skilled soldiers.
With that, he stresses the importance of both formal and practical education. The two complement one another and any professional soldiers must dedicate time to both thinking and finding ways to further their skillsets and leverage their life experiences.
“In terms of education, the more that you can get, the better,” said the class of ’89 grad, “formal education allows you to develop your thought processes and to learn to communicate your ideas.”
In 2016, BGen Cadden was appointed commander of the Canadian Army’s 4th Division, placing him in command of the army in Ontario. He oversees the Regular Force and Reserve brigades that operate in Ontario and is responsible for the training, well-being and operational readiness of the division.
Recently, the Division Commander, as well as most of the army in Ontario, has been busy in preparing for future deployments and exercises. Additionally, around 1500 soldiers from his division will be deployed around the world, including in Lavia starting this June.
Throughout his career, he’s always worked closely with the senior NCOs in his command team. Generally, NCOs tend to have more practical experience than officers, as they spend most of their careers within units. As a BGen, the Division Commander values having an experienced advisor and someone to give him honest feedback on his ideas.
His advice for aspiring officers would be for them to read and develop their professional knowledge and to ensure that they maintain a high level of physical fitness. Moreover, he advises junior leaders to learn from the NCOs and to learn about their subordinates and peers.
For Armoured officers specifically, he recommends reading the work of Heinz Guderian (Panzer Leader) as a good starting point and reading armour-focused journals.
Over the course of his career, BGen Cadden has embraced the profession of arms and striven to become the best leader that he can be. From his humble beginnings at CMR, his passion for soldiering and desire to serve his troops has taken him far.