E3161 Victoria Edwards interviewed 2908 MGen (Ret’d) Al Pickering CMM, CD (RMC 1953), who served as Director of Cadets & Military Training (DCMT) at RMC from 1967 to 1969.
Al Pickering: I graduated from RMC in 1953 having enjoyed five years at the College. As a Mechanical Engineer, I went to Queen’s for their fourth year to obtain a Queen’s BSc in Mechanical Engineering in 1954. In earlier days, RMC, as a Federal institution, could not grant degrees, a provincial responsibility. Later, based on the work RMC graduates had done at the universities, the Ontario universities convinced the Ontario government that RMC should be able to grant degrees. Interesting, in 1992, RMC decided that we should be granted RMC degrees, and did so at a special convocation.
I had been trained as a pilot during the summers, receiving our wings in 1951, while we attended RMC for the academic, military training and physical fitness side.
e-veritas: What are your memories of RMC?
Margaret Pickering: When I met Al, I was studying Biology at Queens’ and he was one of the first 100 cadets studying at RMC after the War. I recall an active social program of concerts, stylish formal dances and dinners at RMC. Although there were many marriages in June directly after graduation, we decided to marry in September, after Al’s summer training and before his first posting.
When Al returned to RMC as a member of the staff in the 1960s, we were a family with four young children: Brian, Cathy, Linda and Ellen. With eight families of staff members living on the Point at the time, there were children of all ages to play with. Our children went to Niagara Park Public School, up the hill in Barriefield. Although Panet House had recently been converted back into a lovely residence, it retained elements of an office style – battleship green linoleum flooring and a photography darkroom with blacked out windows.
I recall that we felt proud to return to RMC in the 1990s for Al’s special convocation.
e-veritas: What was your military background prior to becoming DCMT at RMC?
Al Pickering: On graduation from Queen’s I was posted to 435 Transport Squadron, then based in Edmonton, later moved to Namao, Alberta. I flew C-119s which were the tactical transport prior to the C-130s arriving. In the fall of 1956 both 435 and 436 Squadrons were moved to Naples, Italy to provide all heavy air support to the United Nations Emergence Force, based in Egypt. Many crews were returned home by Christmas 1956, but I remained for a total of 6½ months before returning to Canada in the summer of 1957. On my return I was posted to #4 Operational Training Unit at Trenton, Ontario as a pilot instructor on the C-119. I was selected as one of the first four pilots for the Yukon pilot training at Canadair in Montreal; then the Yukon program was delayed. One year, later I instructed on the Yukon for one year.
e-veritas: You were an early ex-cadet involved in the space program (from 1962-1965).
Al Pickering: I salute 13738 Colonel (Ret’d) Chris Hadfield and the other Canadian astronauts for their courage, achievements and contribution to our knowledge base.
In 1962, I was selected as one of four RCAF people to join the USAF Space Systems Division in Los Angeles, California. For one year, I was the USAF Project Manager for the Ranger and Mariner programs. In 1963, these projects and others were transferred to NASA and our office concentrated on the Gemini Target Vehicle Program. As a recently promoted Squadron Leader and an engineer, I was fortunate to be appointed Engineering Manager of the GATV program for the latter two years of my posting. Quite an experience – 1962 was only five years after Sputnik!” A very interesting two years of effort followed, wondering how all these different parts that made up our ‘stack’ could work together. But that was the challenge.
Following this, in 1965 I studied at the last RCAF Staff College course in Toronto and then was moved to RMC as RCAF Staff Officer in 1966. Promoted to Wing Commander in January 1967, I took over as Director of Cadets and Military Training in the summer of 1967.
e-veritas: What timeframe were you DCMT at RMC?
Al Pickering: I was DCMT from August 1967 to end July 1969.
e-veritas: Who were the commandants during your time?
Al Pickering: During my first year, 2364 Air Commodore Birchall was Commandant, followed by 2576 Commodore Willy Hayes in 1967-9.
e-veritas: Where did you live?
Al Pickering: I arrived at RMC as RCAF Staff Officer and we lived for one year at 13-14 Rideout Row. In those years, the DCadets lived in Panet House with his family. As DCMT I moved to Panet House in 1967, the second resident after it was re-converted to living accommodation for the Director of Cadets & Military Training.
e-veritas: You participated in costume, in an early ‘gash’ parade at RMC, a tradition where the graduating class dresses up in costumes for parade practice.
Al Pickering: I remember an extremely busy and wonderful time at RMC. To improve the cadet drill, I instituted a parade before classes every Thursday morning, before breakfast. Thursdays became known as ‘Pick days’.
One morning, when I looked out of the [Panet House] window to see the cadets forming up for the parade, I noted they were not in their RMC uniforms but rather in a variety of costumes! Not to be outdone, I quickly put on my RCAF battle dress, pilot’s helmet, with a white scarf casually thrown over my shoulder and walked the back way to the Mackenzie Building to meet the Military Staff before going on parade. They did not have time to change uniforms. Four of them carried me out, sitting in my chair, supported by two rails on their shoulders to the dais. The CWC was riding his bicycle and rode it up to report. I asked him to dismount, got out of my chair and rode his bicycle up and down the ranks to inspect the Cadets. The CWC ran beside me. What a great day! The cadets displayed great inventiveness in their dress. (This at a time when civilian clothes were authorized on campus for fourth year only.) Needless to say, the RSM, CWO McManus, (an amazing man!) and his drill staff had left the square when they saw the dress during form up – better away than condoning! I am happy to see that this parade is now known as the Gash Parade and is still going on today. Keep it up cadets. Well Done!!!
e-veritas: What were the biggest challenges at that time – facing the college? with your position?
Al Pickering: I was appalled on arrival at RMC to find the Cadet Wing Orders were similar to those I had served under 15 years before. For example, all cadets had to wear uniform when off RMC grounds; cars were not allowed, Church parade was every Sunday; etc., etc. It became obvious that these orders were not being followed as they made no sense in 1966. As DCMT I, along with the Military Squadron Commanders started a review of the orders. We came to the conclusion that we were teaching cadets to ignore orders they did not agree with.
The Military Staff and I reviewed the Cadet Wing Orders and changed them considerably. The ones in force were basically the same as we had during my stay as a cadet! They were overdue an update.
e-veritas: What were, if any, the major changes that took place at the college during this time period?
Al Pickering: We changed the Cadet Wing Orders to more closely reflect the conditions in the mid sixties. For example, we allowed fourth year cadets to leave RMC in civvies, and the dress code for leaving the College was graduated according to year. We allowed increased privileges as the cadet matured. Many other changes were made, including having a cadet mess for fourth year. Our objective was to create orders that the reasons behind them could be justified, even if the cadets did not agree with our reasoning. I then challenged the cadets to follow the orders as more reasonable for the day.
e-veritas: As DCMT, to what extent did you follow the motto “never pass a faulter.” What discipline issues stick out in your mind? Any tips?
Al Pickering: I used my judgement in deciding whether to take action or not. I always corrected or charged a serious breach, but remembered my cadet days if the breach was minimal and not harming anyone. Good judgement in an officer is imperative and the cadets needed to develop this judgement. Sometimes they made mistakes, but RMC was the place to learn. The critical thing was that they be counselled on their action, or lack, so they could learn.
I was concerned about the standards not set by fourth year on themselves. I asked some fourth year cadets if they were happy about marching off the square with cadet X. The answer was No. When challenged about what they were doing about it, they felt the Military Staff should take care of the situation. I said that some proof was required that the cadet was not meeting the RMC standards, which they finally agreed to do. Consequently, the cadet was released from the Forces, even though he was a very good student and in fourth year. Later we released another fourth year cadet who was found to be using drugs. Standards were set and generally followed.
e-veritas: Are there any skylarks that stick out in your mind?
Al Pickering: Commodore Hayes had an MG sports car. Obviously, this was an attraction to cadets! On more than one occasion, I would find the MG, raised, without wheels, stuck in front of the Mackenzie Building for the Sunday church parade. Naturally, the Commandant was not amused, at least officially, so I was challenged to have it returned to his residence.
On one of the Ex-Cadet weekends when I was DCMT, my classmates managed to put one of the 420 dinghies, fully rigged and floating, into the pool located in the basement of Haldimand. The challenge the staff had was getting it out of there as it would not fit through the doors! The door frames had to be removed before the boat could be moved out!
e-veritas: I understand you own a silver plated pick as a reminder of your time at RMC?
Al Pickering: I was presented a silver plated pick by the 4th years just before grad which was engraved “The “Pick” from the RMC Class of 1969 “keep the nose up””. In 2004, I attended the Friday evening social during the 35th reunion, pick in hand.
e-veritas: What did you do in the CAF after this time?
Al Pickering: In 1969 I was posted as CO of 404 Maritime Patrol Squadron in Greenwood, NS. I started as a novice in this area of military activities. After three successful years as CO, I served one year as Base Operations Officer and then was promoted to Colonel and posted to the US Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The course consisted of 31 officers from 31 different countries in the world. I was the first Air Force officer from Canada to attend, due to the foresight of RCNSE54 Rear Admiral RW Timbrell who was Commander of the Navy, based in Halifax. What a marvellous opportunity to meet new people and try to understand their cultures! There was a very heavy study load as well as any social activities.
After Rhode Island, I was posted back to Greenwood as Base Commander. Two years later, I ended up in Burbank, California at Lockheed to lead the Aurora detachment. I spent three years in Burbank, was promoted to BGen and stayed in place! This was a first and was part of my strategy to have a successful program. I found that many programs had failed because good people were chosen for the program, but when they were promoted, they were moved. Thus, there was constant turmoil and thus programs ran over budget and time to completion. I asked for some leeway from the personnel people for this case. They reluctantly agreed and I was the first test case. I stayed! In 1979 I was posted to Halifax as Commander Maritime Air on the Admiral’s staff. Air Command was created in 1975 so I ended up with two bosses – Vice Admiral Boyle for operations and the Air Force LGen Carr for everything else. Anyway, we made it work. I was promoted to MGen and moved to Ottawa for my final posting as Chief Intelligence and Security, a marvellous position. I retired from the CF in 1985.
Not wanting to hang up my cleats, I was selected as Director General Information Technology at the Communications Security Establishment, where I served for 11 years until finally stopping work for pay.
e-veritas: I understand you are a former recipient “Random Act of Volunteer Appreciation” for your work with the Seniors Outreach Service; What are you doing these days?
Al Pickering: My wife and I moved to Kingston, Amherstview actually, in 1997 and here we remain. I am on the Board of Seniors Outreach Services in Napanee (www.lasos.ca), which provides Meals On Wheels, social activities and many other functions aimed at keeping seniors living at home as long as possible. I am on the Council at Edith Rankin Memorial United Church (ermuc.ca) and have served there for many years. I am on the Board of EWA Canada (www.ewa-canada.com) and have been since 1997. I am Senior Advisor to another company in Ottawa. No rest for the wicked, they say!
e-veritas: You saw the funny RMC parody of the Gangnam Style music video on Youtube – cadets danced in their Scarlets to a catchy beat.
Al Pickering: An outstanding performance!! My heartiest congratulations to everyone who participated. Obviously a great amount of planning, co-ordination and performing was required to pull it off. It is tremendous to see that kind of spirit still at our College. TDV!! www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Hl9bLHmuMA
e-veritas: Are you in touch with what is happening at the college these days? If yes, what are your views?
Al Pickering: Yes, I try to be. I am on the Executive of the Kingston Branch of the RMC Club (www.rmcclubkingston.com). We meet on the first Wednesday of every month and have different speakers after lunch. We also provide support to the College wherever we can.
I think it would take another page or two to describe how the College experience should be improved, in my view. Of course, times change, and so should the College. However, there are certain fundamental things that should not change: accepting responsibility, being honest, serving one’s country, being proud and showing it, and never forgetting: TDV!
e-veritas: Anything else you’d like to add?
Al Pickering: Bill and Rolande, Everyone owes the two of you a tremendous thank you for all your work on e-veritas over many years. You have provided outstanding service in keeping all of us informed about activities at the Colleges and by ex-cadets. Words cannot properly express the value of your work for the Colleges and for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!