Ed note: It’s not every day that Officer Cadets have a chance to speak with the senior officer of the RCAF. It is even less rare that an Officer Cadet has the opportunity to sit down and talk one-on-one with the Commander of the air force. This is exactly what 27832 OCdt (IV) PR Cardona, e-Veritas Senior Correspondent did just prior to returning to RMC following summer training. We at e-Veritas, are very appreciative to Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger for taking the time to participate in this exclusive interview.
16888 Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger (Class of 1989): From Cadet to Commandant to Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force
By 27832 OCdt (IV) PR Cardona
Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, who recently became the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, began his military career in 1985 when he enrolled as an officer cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC).
As the son of an RCAF loadmaster, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger grew up with the influence of the RCAF; he spent 10 years living at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario. He realized that he wanted to join the RCAF, however, during a ceremony in Ottawa, when the Governor General presented his father with a medal of military merit.
“During the reception that followed, my parents met the Principal of RMC, who then spoke with Dean of Engineering and RMC varsity hockey coach Dr. Wayne Kirk,” he recalls. “It was this serendipitous conversation that led to a visit to the College, and my eventual enrolment in the CAF [Canadian Armed Forces]. I recall vividly my visit to the College and my opportunity to practise with the varsity hockey team. Thus, my decision to apply to be a member of the RCAF was very much linked to my family, my upbringing, and a good bit of luck.”
Shortly after arriving at RMC, then Officer Cadet Meinzinger began to play for the varsity hockey team and, demonstrating the influence of the team’s coach, found himself rooming with another first-year member of the team during his “recruit term”, now called First Year Orientation Program.
Apart from his career as a varsity athlete, the Commander of the Air Force further distinguished himself in the military and academic pillars. In 1989, his final year at the College, he held the position of Deputy Cadet Wing Commander, and earned the Governor General’s Medal for academic excellence. Following his graduation, he earned a Master’s degree in economics at Queen’s University, and then proceeded to complete his pilot training in 1992.
In his opinion, the four pillars of the ROTP-RMC [Regular Officer Training Plan-RMC] helped to set him up for a successful career. The College’s emphasis on creating well-rounded graduates with leadership experience has resulted in it becoming the prime entry route for members of the CAF’s officer corps.
His education helped to put him on the path to success. He says that he believes “higher education serves to broaden your base, providing you more knowledge and a different lens, or perspective, to critically assess problems or issues. All of this makes you a better officer and leader.”
“In my view, my time at RMC set me up for success early in my career,” he says. “I understood how to succeed on a team and as a good teammate, and I had the confidence to act in junior leadership roles such as Section Commander and Flight Standards Officer.”
After two decades in the air force and shortly after attaining the rank of Brigadier-General, the former varsity athlete returned to RMC as Commandant in 2013. Being one of the most coveted postings in the entire CAF, the ex-cadet was grateful to have the chance to return to the College.
Upon his return, he noticed that the College had changed dramatically since his time as a cadet. As Commandant, he was now also responsible for overseeing the various parts of RMC that make it a singular, proud institution.
“I was struck by the number of wonderful new activities occurring at the College, such as post-graduate education, ALOY [Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year], the NEPDP [Non-Commissioned Member Executive Professional Development Programme], and whole-of-government cyber training, to name a few examples,” he remembers, “not to mention the supervision of a nuclear reactor.”
During his tenure as Commandant, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger made interaction with the college community one of his top priorities. He regularly hosted buffet lunches at his house on campus, attended sports events, and made a point of being a visible leader.
In the summer of 2018, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger began the next phase of his journey – as Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, succeeding Lieutenant-General Michael Hood. This appointment is no doubt the culmination of three decades of education, professional development, and personal growth, all of which began when a young varsity hockey player passed through RMC’s famed arch.
Moving forward, the Commander hopes to realize his vision for the organization, with four key anchor points: People, Policy, Program, and Posture. Each of these points is vital to the success of the CAF’s second-largest command and, together, they help to ensure that the RCAF is established for a strong future.
Posture” refers to the organization’s ability to deliver its vital assets wherever needed. It is complemented by “Policy”, which speaks to the actual critical importance of air power in Canada’s defence strategy. “Program” refers to managing current capabilities, and bringing in new and advanced capabilities, to position the RCAF to meet the future challenges it may face.
Although each of these anchor points is key to success, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger notes that people come first and foremost. Command is, of course, fundamentally about human interactions. Without well-motivated airmen, airwomen, and officers, the RCAF would not be where it is today.
“Our people,” he says, “are the foundation upon which our other anchor points are built. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it: the men and women of the RCAF are our most important resource, and all our successes are due to their amazing efforts.”
This theme has echoed throughout his career. During his time at RMC and as a varsity hockey player, he learned the importance of teamwork, of forming professional relationships, and of being a people-centric leader. One of his key pieces of advice for current cadets and young officers is to take advantage of the opportunities to develop relationships, because they will come in handy down the road.
Integrity is also a critical quality of a strong leader. According to the former Commandant, “While we will all experience errors in judgment throughout our careers, it is important that we use these moments as personal ‘lessons learned’ for continued personal development. Subordinates will judge their leaders based upon their integrity.”
Furthermore, after 30 years and counting, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger can say with absolute certainty that a military career is a marathon, not a sprint. Progress, although it may be slow at times, will be made, and everyone will have the opportunity to grow and develop as an officer.