16598 Mr. J. Scott Stevenson (RRMC 1984-88)
“There was a search that started almost immediately once it was noticed that they hadn’t come back. One of my classmates, Laurie Gibbon (16545) was the flight leader in the Cadet Wing and she found that they weren’t there so a search was launched and it got to be about Thursday of that week and they still hadn’t been found. So by the Thursday night we held a vigil in front of the Nixon Block and all the windows were blacked out and the entire cadet wing assembled in front of the building and placed candles in the window of the four cadets who were missing. Frank Jablonowski had a big stereo that he was proud of and so we played Brothers in Arms, the Dire Straits song and it was really quite a haunting moment and it brought everybody together.”
Mr. Scott Stevenson is currently the Assistant Deputy Minister (Infrastructure and Environment) for the Department of National Defence. He joined RRMC in 1984, obtained a BA in Military and Strategic Studies four years later, and served as an officer in the Canadian Forces until 1998. Click here for a full biography: http://www.admie.forces.gc.ca/biograph-eng.asp
The following are excerpts from an oral history interview held during Homecoming in September 2008 where he describes his RRMC cadet experience to Royal Roads University oral history coordinator, Karen Inkster [email protected]
Karen: So what made you choose to come to military college?
Scott: I was in cadets and I was really interested in leadership and opportunities to be in a leadership situation and I knew that the military could give me that. So by the time I was 17, 18 years old, that’s what I was focused on and I participated in sports and other extra-curricular things at school – student council – largely so that I could compete to get through the selection process to go to military college.
Karen: So what was it like when you first got here?
Scott: I think it was a bit of a culture shock. We all did our basic officer training at Chilliwack from June or July through to the end of August. And then getting to Roads, it feels like you arrive in the middle of the night, you’ve been on a ferry ride coming across. You’d been met by a couple of the senior cadets who’d come out to Chilliwack to bring us on the bus but they didn’t have much to say before we got to the college and then it’s dark, it’s probably about 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock by the time you get to the college and you’re greeted by the wing training officer who is quite an intense individual – a guy named Steve Borlund (15094), who was a fourth year cadet at the time and just kind of jumped onto the bus, told us all to be quiet, gave us some pretty simple instructions that we had to follow to the letter.
And we’re all wondering about where will I find my bags, how will I know where to get my room and what’s going to happen next and we were formed up into three ranks and then just waited in front of the Grant building looking down towards the castle without really seeing it. The senior cadets formed up down below where you can’t see them and they march up the Neptune stairs and the echoing sound of their boots is really quite imposing and has quite an affect on the cadets and it’s a really chilling introduction to the place – whether it’s intended to be intimidating or not, it certainly focuses the recruits on the more senior cadets, gets them listening intently to what’s happening and it leaves them with an impression of the place that the senior cadets are acting with like clock- work, that they know exactly what has to happen when – and it puts you in a mindset where you’re going to listen to them.
Karen: It must have been hard because you were also doing university courses.
Scott: Yeah. Getting a BA in military and strategic studies was nice but it wasn’t probably my first, my primary objective. The main thing that motivated me for those four years was going and getting ready to be an infantry officer, to be a platoon commander with responsibility for 25 or 30 soldiers in the infantry.
Karen: And is that what happened?
Scott: That’s what happened and so in 1988 after I left Roads I went to Gagetown and completed my infantry training and then was posted to Germany. And I served in Germany with the Third Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment from August, ’88 through to 1991. And for those three years I was a platoon commander and I had a great experience with that.
Karen: I think your class is sort of known because the first female cadets came to RR. How did that impact you?
Scott: I think for those of us who were recruited at the same time, we didn’t have any experience in an environment without women in it. When we were all in high school I think the majority of us were in a co-ed environment and were in a co-ed environment at Chilliwack, that’s how we trained so any of the kind of gender differences weren’t obvious then. There were some of the myths and the stories about the physical fitness tests, but when you’ve only been in the forces for a month or two I think any opinions you have at that stage are still very formative and not necessarily firmly held.
I think most of the time throughout military college we looked on the women in our class as just another classmate. But I’d say, with some reflection later in life I began to realize that at times it felt that we were kind of competing with them or I know I felt I was competing with some of the women, probably more than I was competing with the men. I think the relationship with the women is something that changes with each person as they matured and there were probably stages of those relationships earlier on where we probably tolerated a level of inherent sexism that we wouldn’t tolerate today… that wasn’t appropriate but then again there was lots of strong camaraderie amongst everybody and a lot of the time the guys were very protective of the women in their flight so as recruits you would help the slowest person along, regardless of who they were. Often it was a woman and people would just kind of rally around them. But sometimes I observed there were times where there was a tendency for people to be really critical of the person who was the slowest and to kind of blame them for being as slow as they were and then if that blame was associated with their gender, that created a bit of a poisonous environment.
And I know from talking to some of the women who were in our class, particularly some who then went on to RMC, that they had a really tough time with it. And that they felt at the time the people that they went to school with were behaving in a really beastly kind of manner. So I’d say that the experience over time is something that became more normal and let’s say the norms or standards of behaviour improved, but in 1984 we were still learning.
Karen: I’m sure the staff too and the whole system.
Scott: Yeah, yeah. And I think the place had been modified to a certain extent – physically – to accommodate them and there were some second year cadets who were sent from RMC so that there could be some women at the college that the first years could turn to and I don’t know if that was effective but at least that kind of supportive environment where those supports were there for them. But those were some pretty resilient women.
But I would say even for me as a first year cadet, it did make a difference for me to have friends or classmates there who were girls. I had already been in cadets for three years, I was quite experienced at a number of the basic military things like the drill and preparing your uniforms and some of the things that are expected of you but at one point towards the end of recruit term I was the senior of the recruits and I was expected to get people organized to do the tasks we were given and things just weren’t working. I had one day that went really, really bad. We weren’t on time, there was just too much going on and I didn’t have a grip on things. And people got in trouble because I was failing to lead them.
I went and talked to two of the girls in my flight later when we had a little bit of a break and ended up kind of crying and talking to them and it was their support that turned me around. So those were special relationships and I don’t think that I could have had the same conversation with my friend from high school who was in my flight and had the same result. So I’d say it was special to have women there and it would have been an entirely different experience to have just a bunch of guys. Maybe I would have sucked it up a little bit and carried on but you know I’m really thankful for that conversation I had with those two girls. It was with Katherine Vigneau (16605) and Carol Tereposky (16601).
Karen: You were talking earlier about something significant that happened during your final year…
Scott: Yeah well for the class of ’88, – for the 20 Regular Officer Training Plan cadets who stayed from the class of 1984 who didn’t go on to RMC – our graduating year was marked by the fact that four cadets died in a small plane crash. One of the guys had his pilot’s license and it was just like any other Sunday where people had some free time. It was the 24th of January, 1988 and they went up for a plane ride together, Dan Richardson (17006), Scott MacMonagle (16979), Frank Jablonowski (17472), and Ray Coble and one of the things that marked my year was the loss of these four cadets.
There was a search that started almost immediately once it was noticed that they hadn’t come back. One of my classmates, Laurie Gibbon (16545) was the flight leader in the Cadet Wing and she found that they weren’t there so a search was launched and it got to be about Thursday of that week and they still hadn’t been found. So by the Thursday night we held a vigil in front of the Nixon Block and all the windows were blacked out and the entire cadet wing assembled in front of the building and placed candles in the window of the four cadets who were missing. Frank Jablonowski had a big stereo that he was proud of and so we played Brothers in Arms, the Dire Straits song and it was really quite a haunting moment and it brought everybody together. They were found the next day. And there were cadets who were up as part of the search and rescue effort, flying with the crews out of Comox looking for them. So it was quite a hard ordeal. But it’s being back here for homecoming that kind of brings that back. It’s one of those things that you can’t forget. It’s probably good that we won’t.
Karen: That must have hit everybody….
Scott: Yeah it did. I think when you’re that age you have kind of a sense of invincibility and that there’s nothing that can stop you and you know to lose four young people like that gave us a dose of reality or a taste of mortality.
Karen: Do you think that your time here at RR has had a big impact on your life?
Scott: Yeah, without a doubt and I think it’s something that I appreciate more with reflection. I think the time that I had at Royal Roads, the education end, the training, really prepared me well for what I did for the ten years of commissioned service that I had in the Canadian Forces after graduating. But I also think that it’s prepared me well for what I’ve been doing since then. The life that a cadet leads is really highly charged. You have to organize every minute of your day and you really have to be focused and driven at getting things done. Now I’m at a stage of life where I have a busy job, I’ve got two young children – they’re 11 and 7, and I find that every minute of my day is planned and my life is highly charged and it brings me back to how I got a grip on myself when I was going to Royal Roads (laughs). So there’s a practical aspect that carries on, but there’s also the academic legacy, the practice of questioning things, of challenging assumptions, of exploring things, and that was part of what we learned aside from the content of our classes.
Karen: So what’s the significance for you to come here 20 years later after graduation?
Scott: Oh there’s lots of different levels to it. I think having an appreciation of either being in or approaching middle age, depending on how I want to look at that (laughing). You know being at a different stage of life and career and feeling for one reason or another a need to reconnect with people who’ve been there in my life and who’ve had an important place in my development. And so coming to Royal Roads – because this is where we lived those experiences – is important.
And I’m quite happy with the fact that the university has decided to embrace the ex-cadet community as part of the alumni community of the university. The learning that went on here starting in the forties – initially those naval officers and then the rest of us who went through – served us well and I think that a lot of it is about leadership but it’s also about a civic kind of contribution that comes with that. I think that the mission of Royal Roads as a university is a lot about preparing people to make a contribution to society and so there’s a continuity in the values. And now as a public servant, working in the federal government there’s a bit of an opportunity to reflect and reconnect with those values, by coming back here.
And it comes back to kind of the question of why did I join the military and choose to come to Royal Roads in the first place and there’s this desire to lead, which I can articulate now that I’ve thought about it but had different ways of saying it when I was 17 or 18. But going into business didn’t motivate me – doing something that would be of service to others, service to Canada was what I was looking for and coming to Royal Roads really gave me that.