Ensuring that the environment at RMC prepares officers for commissioned service
By 27832 OCdt (III) P.R. Cardona
In some ways, 20478 Colonel Chris Ayotte’s entire life has been defined by uniformed service. He was born to parents who both grew up in military families. Moreover, his father continued his family’s military tradition by joining the commissioned service.
As a young boy, the future soldier was regaled with stories of life in the military by his father, 7330 Roger Ayotte, an RCAF pilot and Class of 1967 RMC graduate. When he reached the end of high school, he decided that attending military college was a more than worthwhile path. In 1992, Colonel Ayotte became the fourth generation of his family to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces
He chose to become an Engineering Officer because he thought that it was “a great trade that would provide [him] a lot of different options, and different things to do in the future.”
Like his father, he began his career on the West Coast, attending Royal Roads Military College for two years. Afterwards, he transferred to RMC in Kingston to finish the final two year of his degree in Chemical and Materials Engineering.
While both Colleges worked towards the same goal, producing graduates who were prepared for the challenges of commissioned service, the culture at each one was distinct. This difference perhaps stemmed from the difference in size between the two schools. Roads only had 240 Cadets, divided into three squadrons and six flights, who were mostly arts students.
“The third and fourth years were primarily in arts so they had a bit more time on their hand so that meant that there was more focus on the military pillar,” recalls Colonel Ayotte, “which dominated a bit more at Roads, probably more than it should have.”
RMC, however, was a bigger school and the balance was more on the academic side, to accommodate the demands of the engineering program. In addition to academics, another important aspect of both Colleges was the emphasis on cadet leadership.
“The military colleges provide the Officer-Cadets the opportunity to experience leadership challenges” he said, “which helps to develop leadership skills and teaches them to build leader and follower relationships, including the officer-NCO command team.”
Following his graduation in 1996 and subsequent completion of his Engineer Phase Training in Chilliwack, the newly promoted second-lieutenant was posted to 1 CER as an engineer troop commander.
“You are the least experienced person in the organization” he said of his first posting, “but you are the one who is accountable and responsible and has all the authority to make decisions and to command.”
Throughout his career, the engineering officer has occupied different staff and command positions in units all across Canada. He says that having to frequently switch postings and work at new units has kept him sharp and prevented complacency.
“I kind of grew up in the army of the west, understanding how the PPCLI do business and how the Lord Strathcona’s horse do business,” he remembers, “and on my time as a DCO that switched to the RCR and the RCD and then finally, commanding in Gagetown was completely different altogether.”
Despite the constant moving around, Colonel Ayotte has made sure to keep a strong and positive family life. While military life is undoubtedly challenging for any family, Colonel Ayotte, who is also the proud father of a ten-year old daughter, says that communication is the key to maintaining a healthy home life.
“My wife and I are great communicators, best friends, and that allows us to make sure that we’re honest with one another” he said.
In July, Colonel Ayotte took on his newest job as the Director of Cadets of the Royal Military College. Coming on the heels of last year’s Special Staff Assistance Visit (SSAV) report, his first few months have been busy as he and the rest of College Command Team try to implement the report’s recommendations.
While this posting is a new experience for the veteran army officer, he is anything but unprepared for the job. In addition to being a cadet here 20 years ago, having commanded an engineer regiment and serving as a headquarters Chief of Staff, he’s become familiar with the intricacies of command.
Although RMC is unique because of its mix of young officer-cadets, diverse military and support staff and the academic wing, the principles of unit command still apply. As such, Colonel Ayotte has made an effort to be out and about, among the Cadet Wing, to interact with his troops and to have a feel for what’s going in their lives.
Pursuant to the SSAV report, the Director of Cadets has already started working to improve the lives of OCdts. Notably, he has overseen the implementation of new policies that give more time and freedom to OCdts while reinforcing important rules.
“I have a desire to make sure that the environment here prepares officers for commissioned service” said the ex-cadet.
On that note, he hopes that today’s generation of cadets can benefit from what he considers to be the College’s greatest aspect: the friendships to be made. Many of the DCdts’ closest friends are his classmates or others members of the Military Colleges, which whom he shares that common bond.
“Even some of my new friends in my life, the vast majority of them went to RMC.” He said, “So there seems to be a connection between us, that even if you didn’t have a history here at the college, you seem to have a shared experience that really allows you to make friends quickly and to bond and build deep relationships.”