One of the first 32: 14510 LCol Sue Wigg

Vignettes describing the Military College experiences and post-College careers of the first classes of women are sketches for a book-in-progress, by 15566 Major Helga Grodzinski, which will tell the story of pioneering women of RMC. A brief survey of the political and social background of the decision to allow women into RMC and the early policies; recruiting campaigns, and publicity surrounding their entry will be followed by the anecdotes supplied by women of these classes, supplemented by notes gathered from interviews. The book will illuminate the value of RMC in these women’s lives and the value of these RMC-trained women to Canada.

We look forward to  more of these vignettes over the coming months – leading up to 2009 Reunion Weekend and their 25th “grad” anniversary.

14510 LCol Sue Wigg, an EME officer currently employed in Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), in Casteau, Belgium

What prompted you to go to RMC?

I was certain that I would become a police officer. Since age sixteen, I had wanted nothing else. The summer I turned eighteen was spent applying to join police forces. Every single one! By August it was clear that I would be heart broken and the response from the RCMP summed it up perfectly, “Thank you for your interest in police work as a career…when your eyesight improves please call us and we will be pleased to process your application.”

In a final attempt to achieve my career aspiration I entered the local Canadian Forces recruiting office in November 1979 because I had just learned that the military had its own police force. I felt that this was my last chance. The warrant officer at the recruiting center proposed a deal that was tantalizing as well as bewildering.

I was offered an engineering classification in an engineering university with a promise that I could become a Security (Police) Officer after my training!” Royal Military College was opening to women the following year and I was an “ideal candidate”. My recruiter did not seemed the least bit troubled by these facts: I did not come from a military background; I did not know anything about the military; I was not entirely certain how to spell the word “engineering”, let alone understand what four years of engineering education involved; and lastly, that I wasn’t even interested in a university degree as I was motivated to experience the working world.

In the end, what led me to attend RMC was – fate. Otherwise, I would not have attended. The year before I applied to RMC (November 1978), as a 12th grade student I had attended counseling sessions presented by the various universities designed to inform students about curricula, entry standards and career prospects. I recall that I drifted around these sessions going from information seminar to seminar but not actually listening because, quite frankly, I was not interested, since one day I knew that I would be attending Police College – little else really mattered. It was in this frame of mind that I entered the RMC briefing.

RMC, unlike the other universities was using the “audiovisual storage room” for its “discussion” with prospective “candidates” rather than in an open form. I could see that the briefing had just begun before entering the room. Upon entering I was greeted like someone who had forgotten to wear clothes. The room grew deathly silent as everyone turned to stare at this obvious interloper. I stopped in my tracks and five seconds went by – which is a long time staring in silence – until the latch of the door clicked closed, mimicking the crack of a rifle, and the recruiter said, “This university is for men only” – I paused and did not move …Finally, he continued, “of course you are welcome to stay and to listen to the presentation if you like but we do not accept applications from women.” The officer had started his presentation before I had time to register the obvious fact that I was not welcome. I was trapped because at that point there was no way to silently escape. Embarrassed, I left after the briefing and didn’t give another thought to RMC.

I was well along in the application process before I realized that I was now eager to enter the institution that had embarrassed me the year before.

Did the experience of RMC match your expectations?

Eventually RMC met or exceed all my expectations and my overall experience at the college was excellent, if you set aside the minor issue that I was never offered an opportunity to become a Security Officer and my attempts to achieve this career objective were not encouraged.

I learned an important lesson very early, which was: …only sign on the dotted line for the item that you want, never accept an in-lieu item pending the deliver of the item you want particularly when you are unsure of the refund and exchange policies.

I wasn’t looking for a school; I was seeking a future direction for my energies and a career when I applied to enter RMC. RMC is unique. Its real value extends beyond the faculty’s ability to provide a small student population a first-rate academic education to areas such as personal motivation, responsibility and integrity. RMC educates, trains and prepares its apprentices for the challenges they will face upon graduation.

I earned a Bachelor’s Degree that I never imagined I would have achieved. I developed an excellent work ethic and I was encouraged to assume leadership (management) positions from the first day; a much earlier stage than is afforded most other university students. Sometimes when we are just starting out we don’t realize this very significant point. Although not Police College, it is quite clear RMC filled my expectation equally well or beyond where I had set my sights and goals.

What are your most memorable experiences?

RMC was a challenging environment. It asked the best from you physically, socially and academically. Fortunately, the peer and faculty support made the challenging circumstances manageable because assistance from my professors and my colleagues was always available for the asking. As a result I have the highest respect for my classmates and the members of the college academic faculty.

The military aspects of college life generated the most unique set of challenges and there were two reasons for this: first, it was completely new to me and, second it represented the milieu where I found myself living for the first time after leaving home. There were many important moments in my four-year experience as a cadet. I recall two most vividly. The first is my own recruit term and the second was the recruit term I was asked to supervise in my fourth year. The mistakes I made in my first year I was able to watch repeated by the First Year cadets I supervised. I now know that, as Cadet Squadron Training Officer (CSTO) for Recruit Term, my character and sense of fairness, coupled with my practice of not over-reacting and a determination to apply the appropriate corrective measures fairly and with an even hand, was a developmental experience unparalleled and priceless to preparing for being successful in life.

How did your experience at RMC contribute to the person you are today?

RMC contributed to building my character. It made me diligent, forward thinking, optimistic, compassionate and mindful of others. In a short four years I became far less naïve and I had developed some excellent life skills. I am confident that my experiences at RMC have contributed to my career success and the enjoyment I derive from my profession.

What would you say to women entering RMC

I would recommend that before making the final decision to enter RMC one must conduct a realistic assessment of their aspirations and career goals because RMC leads to a military career and the profession of arms. The college has no other purpose. The Government of Canada is investing in education to develop future military leaders. A candidate has to be prepared for and willing to overcome physical, emotional and academic challenges over the four-year college term and throughout their service career. The decision to attend RMC should not be taken lightly. Having said that, nobody should be intimidated about applying. The selection process is designed to show both you and the Canadian Forces your potential. Passing through that process means you have it, what’s left is for you to apply it. RMC can lead to a very rewarding career in an extraordinary institution of service and will provide a path for you to become the finest person you can be.

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