Mike Kennedy remembers………

Mike Kennedy remembers………

22 November 2010

Thirty-four years ago today, I awoke to celebrate my 19th birthday at RMC. By that time, my class had been at the College for exactly three months, having arrived on 22 October 1976. Though barely ninety days had passed since we first assembled on the Parade Square, by that point in time our experiences in military college had irrevocably changed our lives. There was still a long, long road to be travelled, but in the thirteen weeks that had already gone by we had made the climb from being raw recruits to full-fledged members of the Cadet Wing. It had been an enormous and in many ways arduous transition, and one that represented the first important milestone in the path towards becoming a commissioned officer.

Like a great many others who have attended the Colleges over the years, I did not eventually make it to graduation, and that has always been one of my great regrets in life. But even so, the year I spent at RMC was an experience from which I was able to take away lessons which have helped me in my endeavors ever since. Many of the people I met at the College – my seniors, members of the academic and military staffs, and my own classmates – were remarkable individuals whose influence had a profound impact on shaping my perceptions and values. I think it would probably be fair to say that my views in this regard would be shared by almost anyone else who has ever been a Cadet, even if only for a very brief period of time.

At the request of the RMC Club, I have agreed to write a series of short vignettes that will attempt to encapsulate my memories of College life and various people I encountered during my time at RMC more than three years ago. What I plan to write will describe things as I saw and experienced them during the mid-1970’s, but I suspect that in at least some respects the stories I will share may be timeless in their appeal, and will reflect memories that Ex-Cadets of many other vintages can relate to. I’d certainly welcome comments and feedback on the various situations and people I will be writing about, and would encourage other interested readers to join in and share memories of their own. By doing so, we will be able to work together to record the unofficial, but no less important, aspects of the three Colleges’ histories, and the role they played in shaping the lives and destinies of successive generations of Canadians.

In this first piece, I will be introducing you to one of the more interesting and memorable characters I met during my time at the College. When you read about Scotty Miller, you’ll undoubtedly recognize someone that you knew at whichever College you attended; possibly you might even recognize elements of yourself. Scotty was one of those individuals who didn’t exactly fit the mould, and there were times when he had to pay the price for his misdeeds. But even so, there’s no denying that in one way or another he made an impact on just about everyone he crossed paths with, and most of the time, it was in a way that changed our lives for the better.

As far as I am concerned, RMC was and still remains a place that could use a few more Scotty Millers. The same holds true for Canada, and indeed, for the rest of the world. Now, let me tell you about my memories of him.

As every Ex-Cadet who has passed through the Colleges will know, the accolades tend to be showered on the keeners who get appointed to the high bar positions and accumulate the merit badges on their sleeves. Invariably, these cadets are the high fliers who somehow seem to coast through the system effortlessly and unscathed. They’re the guys who are front-and-centre when the Wing goes out on parade, and they’re the ones for whom great things are predicted in the future.

But the truth of the matter is, it is the lowly Cadet Section Commanders – the guys of supposedly more modest ability who may sometimes struggle mightily without any hope of ever winning one of the academic prizes or military or athletic awards – who are the front line of leadership for the more junior classes of cadets. They’re the ones who march beside us in the ranks, play alongside us on the sports fields, and deal with us on a day-to-day basis. They’re the guys who play the dual role of disciplinarian and big brother; the ones who have to haul us on the carpet when we come up short, but at the same time, are there to help guide us through the rough spots. Regardless of whether your CSC is good, or indifferent, the one thing you can be sure of is that sooner or later (invariably sooner) you’ll get to know what he is really like, and whether he genuinely cares.

Most cadets will have several different CSC’s during their time at the College, but I don’t think anyone would dispute that the most important CSC is the first – the Rook Flight CSC. He’s the guy in the strange uniform who’s waiting for you when you get off the bus, and he’s the one who tosses you and your fellow Rooks head-first into the depths of hell. You’d never realize at the time, but what the two of you are going through together is just as hard on your CSC as it is on you. And if he’s doing his job properly, in time you’ll come to admire him; maybe you might even like him. For sure, you will remember him for the rest of your life.

When I was a recruit in 1976 in November Flight in 5 Squadron, we were very fortunate to have three first-rate CSC’s assigned to us. As I look back over 30 years later, I realize that those three guys were an interesting and in some ways unique group. For one thing, we were the only Rook Flight in the Wing whose CSC’s represented the fighting arms of the three services: one was a Naval officer, the second was headed for the Armoured Corps, and the third eventually became a fighter pilot.

As well, “N” Flight was the only one where all three of our CSC’s had come from Roads. As a result, even though the fifteen of us who made it through first year were all purebreds, by the time our training had ended the 5 Squadron recruits of 1976 had nonetheless became intimately familiar with Royal Roads, or perhaps more precisely, with the receiving end of Royal Roads.

All joking aside, as I look back in retrospect, I realize now that my own CSC, 11155 Ron Thompson, was an exceptional leader, as was his colleague 11573 Dan Trynchuk. But of the three of them, the one who provided the comic relief that prevented all of us from otherwise going insane was the imitable 11530 Scotty Miller, a guy whose nocturnal excursions to Kingston frequently gave a whole new meaning to the term “drunken sailor”. Perhaps the best way to begin to describe what Scotty was like would be to refer back to a quote from Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, the eccentric but brilliant Flag Officer who literally dragged the Royal Navy into the 20th century by the sheer force of his personality.

Known for wandering the hallways of the Admiralty wearing signs around his neck reading “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO” or “GIVE ME SOMETHING TO SIGN”, Fisher had a particular fondness for officers who demonstrated an aptitude the art of naval gunnery. When once called upon to defend Percivial Scott, the talented but somewhat controversial Director of Gunnery at HMS Excellent, Fisher made his views about the man known in no uncertain terms. “I don’t care if he drinks, gambles, and womanizes” the Admiral declared. “He hits the target.”

Something tells me that Admiral Fisher would have hit it off with Scotty Miller like a house on fire.

Scotty had entered RRMC in 1973 as a reserve cadet, and he graduated from RMC with the Class of 1977. While at the College he earned a degree in Chemical Engineering and played as a member of the rugby team, and during summers undertook training as a MARS officer. As noted above, he was also well known for being a regular visitor to the watering holes of downtown Kingston, and as will be described below, he had more than a few brushes with the forces of law and order as laid down in CADWINS.

To suggest that Scotty wasn’t exactly the epitome of a “keen cadet” during his time at the Colleges would be a bit of an understatement, to say the least. I remember him as being one of those colourful and flamboyant characters who made no secret of the fact that they didn’t take the system too seriously, and who had little time and less respect for senior cadets or members of the military staff who took unfair advantage of the authority entrusted to them to belittle or abuse their subordinates. Nevertheless, whenever he was called upon to answer for his alleged misdeeds, Scotty was one of those guys who would take their punishment like a man, and who would refuse to back down when they believed they were right.

I remember him telling us about one celebrated incident that had reportedly taken place during his third year, not long before my own arrival at RMC. The story was that, believing that no one would notice they were gone, he and a few of his friends had snuck off one weekend for a bit of “unofficial” leave. Returning to the College after an alcohol-filled sojourn, Scotty was mortified to discover that he had completely forgotten about the fact that he had been scheduled to serve as Squadron Duty Cadet that Sunday. The upshot of his adventures was three weeks’ Beta punishment, courtesy of a martinet Squadron Commander who apparently didn’t see the humour in this particular episode.

Scotty himself, however, didn’t lack for a sense of comedy, and that was one of the things that undoubtedly helped a lot of the “N” Flight rooks to survive. One well known and memorable Miller innovation which appeared very early on during our training was the decision to awaken the Flight at 06:00 every morning to the sounds of the Cat Stevens’ tune “Morning has Broken”. I vividly remember the feeling of putting down my head on my pillow, dead exhausted after yet another brutal day of the recruit life, only to be awoken from a deep sleep after what seemed like just a few minutes’ respite by the opening piano chords of that song.

What I remember best about Scotty, however, was how he became a valued friend and mentor to the recruits of “N” Flight during the long and arduous grind that we endured during our first few months at the College. As his position required, Scotty demanded that his rooks measure up to the prescribed Cadet Wing standards. At the same time, however, his mischievous sense of humour and ability to see through much of the BS that represented the less admirable aspects of the system helped many of us to survive, persevere, and eventually, prevail. It is worth noting that of the eight recruits from “N” Flight that eventually made it to graduation, four had started out in Scotty’s section, and two eventually became Cadet Wing Officers. So he must have done something right !

If I were to describe Scotty as being a perfect example of anything, I would have to say that he was one of those irreverent and loveable characters who had that rare ability to make RMC feel like a fun place to be, even for lowest recruit. Maybe he didn’t always endear himself to his superiors, but no one who knew Scotty (especially if they happened to come up against him on the playing field) could have any doubt that underneath those numerous eccentricities there was a very solid individual who combined a razor-sharp intellect with both a will of iron and a heart of gold. It’s true he had his share of shortcomings as a cadet, but a lack of fighting spirit certainly wasn’t one of them. I have always believed that Scotty was the kind of guy who, if he were thrown into the middle of a crisis situation, would never fail to stand up and do something heroic.

I hope Scotty is out there somewhere reading this, because I want him to know that I remember him very well, and have nothing but good memories of him. I think I can speak for all the Rooks of “N” Flight 1976 when I say that I have never forgotten, and will always appreciate, everything he did for us during that pivotal and unforgettable time in our lives.

Scotty, you’re one of those guys who was really and truly unforgettable, and it is only with the passage of time that those of us who knew you at the College have come to realize just how much value guys like you added to our lives. So what if you spent something like two months’ on Beta punishment during your four years in the system ? Your leadership as a 20 year-old CSC left an indelible imprint on the lives and characters of a group of teenage boys who were making an extraordinarily difficult passage to manhood, and you’ve have done us all proud by virtue of your accomplishments in life after leaving the College.

I understand that you are currently hanging out in the in the depths of darkest Africa, and if that’s the case, then I can only hope that that you’ve finally found a place where you can manage to stay out of trouble, if only for a short while. But more importantly, I hope that you have managed to find happiness and satisfaction in life, because you’re a guy who deserves it.

Scotty, we hardly knew ye. It was only for a year. But it was a year we will never forget.

TRUTH, DUTY, VALOUR !

12570 Mike Kennedy

[email protected]

3 Comments

  • Lionel Boxer

    November 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I remember when Scotty was on Beta charge – I recall he said it was worth it … and I just noticed that I am in the photo posted above to proove that we played rubgy together. I wish I had been so bold!

  • Don Gates 8035)

    November 22, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Mike – thanks for sharing – perhpas our scribe on the next LCG canoe trip in 2011.

    As in your case, I left RMC after a year for various reasons about a decade earlier, but many good memories from rook year (just being in the Class of ’69 being one of them)justify my support to Club, Foundation and cadets. Reading your recollections, I am reminded, for instance, of being surprised in the wee-early morning hours on our first skylark by then-Commandant AVM Birchall on his daily (and very quiet)canoe trek. Painting a giant ’69’ in neon red and green on the old boathouse roof seemed like a good idea at the time. With only a singular booming (but friendly) “good morning gentlemen” – no other actions or penalties for being caught red (and green) handed – proved it was a good place to be, or so we thought in those first few weeks. This was in spite of the daily morning dunkings off the old pier, squadron by squadron, complete with turtlenecks!

    Perhaps only by coincidence, 10 years earlier, N flight from 5 (Brock) squadron also had winners for CSCs, (in retrospect, most of the top seniors likewise). “N” flight rookies carried the rest of the squadron’s rookies, but it was not my flight (although I can recall my 3 CSC’s who fit your bill nicely). So perhaps its your flight & squadron history that carried the luck of the draw. Two recruit boxing titles, hockey, rugby & football, and a piper, all just in N flight housed in the basement of the then- brand new Ft.Champlain. Brock won recruit sports day that year as well.

    I look forward to your next installment! Who knows what will emerge from dusty memory.
    Good job!

    Don The Historian, LCG 2000 – 2001