26972 (III) Chantel Fortier: Little things meant a lot when times were tough

26972 Chantel Fortier (III) – Pilot – English major;  going for honours next year.

What were your inspiration & motivation to attend RMCC?

I originally learned of RMC through former members of my Air Cadet squadron (88 Airdrie Lynx). They described RMC as not only a historical institution with a legacy of pride and support behind it, but as a place to challenge yourself. Descriptions of the Arts departments in particular snagged me; as a prospective university student, positive reviews from trusted friends of the degree programs really hit home for me.

What is your most favourable memory of your time at RMCC?

 

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I was injured pretty severely on FYOP, and most of my memories of first year are centered around the recovery process that complicated my initiation into the College. It wasn’t an especially happy time; I keenly felt the loneliness of the sidelines, and I was desperate to prove myself as a positive contribution to my squadron. The CFL of Fighter at that time, OCdt Joel Wilson, did something that really changed all those negative feelings nesting in me. You see, part of the first year obstacle course is to get over a twelve-foot wall as a team, as fast as possible. At the end of our training, while I was stuck watching yet again as Fighter sweated it out, Wilson stopped my watching and helped me over the wall, too. I’ve never forgotten that moment. It might seem inconsequential, but Wilson showed me that a lot of the feelings that were holding me back were imagined. RMC’s Cadets are a team, first and foremost, and that means everyone gets through together. I don’t think it had really sunk in until then.

What is your most disappointing memory of your time at RMCC?

Seeing RMC evolve over the few years I’ve been here has really emphasized the versatility of the institution to me. While we all know that leadership will often define an experience for the troops, it’s interesting to see it in action – both good and bad. My most disappointing experience followed, unfortunately, an experience of the latter. At a very delicate time for College morale, a senior officer was sent to confront the issue of our general gloom. This took the form of a mental health brief that was less supportive than demanding; something along the lines of the infamous saying, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Though it did little for the improvement of RMC’s atmosphere, it did reinforce a feeling of inclusion in the Cadet Wing, especially for people who were struggling. Despite the event, I think that the challenges of mental health and our confrontations with it have led to the Cadet Wing becoming more aware of its members, and especially looking to provide support for those members.

What changes would you like to see at RMCC which would make it a better overall experience for those who will be following you?

RMC as a training program is largely dependent on the individual’s desire to succeed. Real improvement needs to come from troops who want it, and I don’t think that’s emphasized enough in our current state. Senior management has become so prevalent at RMC that it is edging out the creativity of OCdts as they embrace new appointments, making bar positions less of an opportunity to improve so much as “just another tick in the box” for AFAN. I think the biggest change I would like to see as an OCdt here is for third and fourth years to gain more autonomy over the junior years and themselves, free from scrutiny on the Training Wing. Allowing us to decide the pattern of morning activities, for example, or to choose and develop our own IMs with PSP staff, or look after squadron issues as senior members rather than routing it through Div and Command staff at every turn would help us develop more pride in this institution. As it is, many of us drift through mandatory duties without feeling any sort of special commitment to our squadrons or, at worst, the College itself.

What books influenced you most as a student and how?

This is a hard question to answer as an English major! Honestly, the books that have shaped my experience the most have been, intriguingly, spiritual ones. The Butterfly Mosque, Siddhartha, The Alchemist, and The Kite Runner are just a few of the stories that have resonated more deeply with me at RMC than I ever expected. Many of these books deal with cultures vastly different than our own, and it has helped to open my eyes a bit to the worlds that we, as soldiers, will be encountering. They are not cut-and-dry revelations which offer a moral map by which to guide our actions; rather, these stories challenge their readers to ask questions, to empathize with the “other” that emerges in times of conflict, both externally and inside ourselves. I think this is an incredibly important skill to develop in ourselves as we participate ever more often on the international stage.

Which senior cadet(s) and / or staff influenced you most as a I, II, III Year and how? (Try and name a couple or few – describe how they had an impact on you?

I have already mentioned OCdt Wilson, whom I regard with a deep respect for how he trained us in Fighter and later when he took command of 2 Squadron. I’m bad at looking for role models among other Cadets; I think of us as peers now, whatever the year. Staff, on the other hand, have had a remarkable influence on my notions of the military. Retired LCol McKay, aside from being a brilliant politics professor, gave me sound advice in developing myself in my future career as an officer, regardless of trade. The English department, with its incomparable faculty, has nurtured in me a deep fascination with literature, spurring my interest in graduate studies following military training (with so much support!). These people have given me ideas of how to improve myself by showing me what to strive for, something that seems endlessly more achievable than the original dream that inspired me to enroll in the first place. I can’t thank them enough.

What– in your opinion– makes a good leader?

This sounds like a 2LT trap, but I’ll give it a go. To me, a good leader is someone who gives him/herself to the troops. In some situations, this will mean pushing them to realize they can be better than they think, either physically or mentally with coursework and demanding training. This, obviously, is much easier said than done. But it also means caring for those troops, recognizing their limits, and helping to prop them up when they are at their lowest. As someone who has been astonishingly close to rock bottom, I can tell you that being that authority figure who steps in to offer a hand at the right moment – even that simple action can change lives. Again, knowing when these moments are needed can be exceedingly difficult, and for this I think the only way to get good at it is experience and keen development of empathy alongside the ever-present goal of self-improvement.

What does TDV mean to you?

Truth, Duty, Valour means, to me, watching for each other. Just as I said a good leader needs to know when to push and when to pull their troops, I think we in the Cadet Wing and the wider RMC community share a strong desire to help each other improve as people and as officers. TDV means noticing when a flight mate is sick and making sure they’re looked after, or dropping into the gym with someone struggling in fitness and helping build their confidence. TDV means introducing that nervous first year to the high brass at MOC weekend. TDV means supporting Cadets at hockey games against Queens and West Point and going wild on the FYOP obstacle course and freaking out with the fourth years when they graduate, clutching their commissions like newborn children, grinning from ear to ear. To me, TDV is pride in RMC, both for the Cadet Wing and everyone in it, and ourselves, for being instrumental in that life.

What is your ultimate goal after leaving RMCC?

While successfully completing flight training is a given, I have nurtured a developing passion for search and rescue operations. It is my ultimate goal within the military to fly S&R helicopters on domestic missions to Canadian citizens and our own military members, perhaps alongside starting a family and ending up in a place as beautiful as Victoria (I wish).

What inspires you to be the person you are today?

I still consider myself a Work in Progress. What inspires me today is, to use an awful cliché, the person I want to be tomorrow. Sometimes that inspiration can be hard to grasp, but remembering the life I want to live after I’ve earned my commission and my degree has unfailingly provided a bedrock upon which I build my RMC experience.