Lieutenant-General (Ret’d) Scott G. Clements, 5868 (RRMC 1959-61, RMC 1961-63)
Mr. Clements had a long career in the Canadian Air Force. A fighter pilot, he held progressively challenging positions and became, as Lieutenant General, the Commander of Canada’s Air Force from 1993 to 1995. He served for a further seven years as Honorary Colonel of the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake. Having recently retired as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Aviation Alberta, Mr. Clements is currently Chair of the Board of the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems. He formerly served ten years as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority. He holds directorships of several public and private sector boards that include: the Alberta Economic Development Authority (AEDA); Vice-Chair of the Royal Roads University Foundation; Wenzel Energy Services; the Strategic Advisory Committee to the GOA; and, Vice Chair of the Transportation and Logistics Committee of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. He is CEO of his own personal services company, Leadership Works Canada. Mr. Clements holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) from RMC and a MPA from the University of Auburn at Montgomery, Alabama. In 2004 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Royal Roads University.
The following are excerpts from an oral history interview held at Homecoming 2007 where he describes his RRMC cadet experience to Royal Roads University staff person, Karen Inkster.
Karen – What made you decide first to apply to come to Royal Roads Military College?
Scott – Well, I really knew nothing about the military. I was in a class that was highly motivated academically and with sports, and all of the class had decided that they wanted to go to university. So, when looking at the option in grade 13 in Ontario, I saw the ads in the paper for the Regular Officer Training Plan, ROTP, and I knew that one of my seniors had gone to Royal Roads a year before, so when he came back at Christmas time I had a chat with him. He seemed to be very impressed with the place, so I decided to make an application. I was making the application in a form that was in the Star Weekly, and in the form it said you had to pick Army, Navy or Air Force. And, having absolutely no idea what I wanted, I just sort of smiled and thought wouldn’t it be nice to be a pilot, and I checked Air Force, and off it went. I went through the process in April of selection at Centralia, Ontario and got a telegram in I think late June, and it declared that I had been selected, I was going to be a pilot, and I was going to Royal Roads.
Karen – So how did you and your parents feel?
Scott – Well, we were ecstatic. I mean, my parents were particularly delighted because they weren’t going to have to pay for me to go through university. [laughs] It is a marvellous way to go through, I mean not only does the government subsidize your education dramatically, but you actually get paid at the time $25 every two weeks!
Karen – So what were your first impressions as you came to Royal Roads?
Scott – Oh, I’ll never forget the trip out west. I hadn’t been west of Niagara Falls. I was living at Toronto at the time and I got on the train in Toronto, went progressively picking up future cadets at every stop. By the time we got to Vancouver we were about 80 or 90 strong on the train. And we had gotten to know each other fairly well, enjoyed the ride across tremendously. And then we were met in Vancouver by people who were fairly brusque and abrupt with us, but not overly so. We came over to Victoria, got onto the buses, and then in coming onto the property, we noticed things were getting even a little more brusque…the yelling a little louder, and coming around the corner of the Grant Block at full double with people urging us on I saw a sight I’ll never forget, and that is our cadet wing commander, Dick Waller was his name, standing rigid, looking absolutely outstanding in front of the Grant Block in his scarlets – and his senior officers standing rigidly at attention as well.
We were organized into rows of three – very loosely – and then all hell broke loose! And what I mean by that is that the process of taking these people who came from all over Canada, who didn’t know each other, who were 99% civilian, and who in six weeks would become first year cadets at Royal Roads, that process started in that moment. And the process is one that is quite proven over thousands of years. You take them down, and then you build them up. It’s all about teamwork, it’s all about putting a lot of pressure on the individuals, such that they bond together against that pressure to meet the challenges – which were considerable – of becoming a first year cadet at Royal Roads. Sixteen hour days, constant pressure to do what would seem like silly little things, but they weren’t silly at the time, they were very important.
You had to learn how to look after yourself, how to follow rules, how to learn to be in places on time, dressed right. You had to learn very quickly an awful lot about the history of Royal Roads, about your friends and your colleagues, because it was very clearly evident that you were going to have to depend on them. The culmination of that process after six weeks was you got to graduate from the recruit period as first year cadets – very different from arrival at Royal Roads. And the pride on that day of being able to wear the uniform for the college was something I’ll always remember.
Karen – What was a typical day like as a cadet?
Scott – Oh, it started at about 5:30 in the morning with the wakey wakey call from the hall porter. You weren’t allowed to get up before that…you would like to have so you could kind of beat the clock, but the process of getting up, getting dressed, showered, shaved and your room impeccable and off to a parade. You didn’t have all that much time, in fact there was not nearly enough time. And just to make sure that that was the case, the senior cadets would be putting obstacles in your way to make sure that if you were really getting good at it, that added obstacles would be put in your way.
You’d arrive on parade in a great sweat and immediately be inspected by your flight commander or squadron commander and inevitably you would have scuffed the toe of your boot or you may have sprung a ‘spiffy’ – a collar tie-down that we called a spiffy – and for that you were relegated to running a circle, or two, or five, or seven. That, in addition to the many other sports activities that we had produced a training program for the recruits that if they weren’t in shape when they arrived, by the time after six weeks of running those circles and doing all of the sports, they were starting to get into very good shape.
When I went home at Christmas time to see my folks they barely recognized me. Both in terms of having lost weight, my fitness, my etiquette, my protocol, and my general demeanor [laughs] had changed, and I think that’s true with everybody who survived to Christmas time. And that’s one sad thing, you know we started with about 135 cadets from all across Canada, and by the end of the year with a fairly major attrition at Christmas time, we were down to 65. It was a tough test, and many people for many reasons didn’t either meet the challenges or didn’t want to try, because it just didn’t seem to fit what they had in mind. But the 65 that did make it to the end of first year, all made it through the second year, and this was assisted by our director of studies, Dr. Cook, who bought a license plate, a BC license plate, and he had “65-4-61” on his license plate, and he had resolved that we were all going to make it and he motivated us to get to graduate from Royal Roads.
Karen – You mentioned that there were a lot of fun times. What were some that you recall?
Scott – Well the fun times came mainly through the bonding with your flight and your squadron. I mean the bonding that took place in that period has lasted through our lives. Any time I meet people that were with me at that time, going through that experience together, we speak in shorthand about those memories. But, you know, we got to know each other well. When we were finally allowed to present ourselves to Victoria society, having passed the etiquette test and the protocol test and the dress test, and we were allowed to go out on a Saturday night from probably five o’clock until 11 o’clock or so. We…in uniform…we enjoyed those outings as well, and in fact figured out how to kind of disappear out of the limelight and found those places where we could be more relaxed and have some fun.
And, being strangers from all over Canada, it was delightful to know that there were long lists of the ladies that would be delighted to receive a phone call from a Royal Roads cadet. So the first dances that we attended we didn’t lack for dates. And we had a lot of fun on those occasions as well. The ladies liked being on the property of Royal Roads. They wanted to experience some of the magic as well. And particularly the formal dances that we had where we were in scarlets, and they were in the long dresses and it was a very magnificent experience for them and for us.
Karen – How much interaction did you have with him?
Scott – Oh, our professors were in front of us daily. They were a major effect on the development of the young officer. And well-selected because they knew that that was the case. And it wasn’t a matter of just academics, it was a matter of developing the whole person as well. So many of them volunteered in extra-curricular activities like coaching rugger, coaching swimming, coaching many of the sports that we did. I mean, we were constantly doing sports. And our military staff, both the officers and the military ranks, and the academic staff were all involved in these long days and these detailed duties that in many cases they took on voluntarily.
I remember playing rugger – I was disappointed when I arrived and found out that they didn’t play Canadian football and that’s what I wanted to do, that’s what I was good at. But when I discovered rugger I was absolutely amazed at the relative freedom you have in that game vis à vis the Canadian football. And, you know, we played every Saturday, the rep team, for two years without fail, whether it was snowing or raining or cold or hot. We played somewhere on the island, or in Victoria, or on some occasions over in BC. In fact, in our second year we had such a good team that we went all the way to the BC finals in Vancouver and unfortunately lost but it was quite a memory. And that rugger team, you know, I remember them all. We were a bond within a bond at the college, it was a marvellous experience.
Karen – Were you ever involved in any funny pranks?
Scott – Skylarks as we called them. Yes, I was. In listening to some of the other years I don’t think we had quite as much bravado as some of them did. But I do remember one evening fairly late at night getting into very dark clothes and blackened face and was taken with a group of people off to the University of Victoria where we found our way inside the main atrium and looked around for things that we could borrow for a little while. Very stealthily, and we managed to get a few things. I can’t even remember what they were, but we brought them back and displayed them and of course the favour was returned often by UVIC students, and that kind of interaction was lots of fun. It did force you to kind of stay within an envelope of acceptability in terms of what you did and every now and then someone would cross that line and end up getting caught and suffering the consequences which was usually an awful lot of extra drill on something called B party, carrying a rifle above your head for a little while. That never happened to me, so I don’t personally know just how bad that was, but in watching other people do it I think that motivated me to stay out of that kind of trouble. [laughs]
Karen – What was the difference for you between first year and second year?
Scott – Well, in second year you were put in a position of responsibility that would take four years at RMC, and we understood that. I mean, we had watched our senior cadets look after us, and we learned from them both good and bad lessons on what we ought to do when we had that responsibility. It was our first test of leadership, practical leadership. We rotated the responsibilities of varying degree amongst the senior class, and we made mistakes, we made lots of mistakes. We learned from those mistakes. Our military staff supervised us, guided us, gave us positive criticism on the kinds of things that we were learning. So, I mean, it’s all about building leaders for the armed forces and leaders for Canadian society. So, at the age of 18, 19 most of us had a taste of true, pragmatic leadership experience. And the feeling you get when you have inspired somebody, you’ve done a good job in a leadership task, is a very rewarding one. And one that set a good precedent for the rest of our careers as we progressively sought leadership opportunities.
Karen – What are some of your most memorable moments at Royal Roads?
Scott – Well, another impact moment and life decision moment for me was, in the spring term of the first year, after the exams were over, and we were doing some supplementary work. And I was up in the top floor of the Grant building overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains so close you could touch them. The sweet smell of spring in the air, and the professor – Professor Dalsin was at the front of the class, and he was introducing me to abstract algebra. Now, if that seems to you as it was to me, a contradiction in terms, I did look out on the grass in front of the castle, and there was some of my colleagues down on the grass, and they were doing surveying in dungarees. The next day I was down with them. And into another stream of mathematics, much more pragmatic than abstract algebra. [smiles]
Karen – Do you have any other memories of the classes or things that your instructors did?
Scott – Well, you know I’m complimented often on my printing, and I remember Professor Izard who was the engineering professor and taught us our drafting and he was impeccable in terms of what he expected in terms of the product of the drafting. And you can recognize anyone that has been exposed to Professor Izard, just in the way they print. And I do remember that. I remember my rugger coach, Professor Dutton. He was an outstanding coach and constantly teaching us how to be better players, better team, encouraging us to win, of course. I remember the cross-country. It was something we did fairly often. It was often a punishment, but I never considered it as such. It is just absolutely so beautiful to run through this property that every time I come back here I run around the property again.
Karen – How did your training at Royal Roads help you through the rest of your life?
Scott – Well, it’s all about building leaders, as I said. My parents noticed right at Christmas time that they were dealing with a different son than the one that they had said goodbye to six months earlier. By the end of two years it was becoming even more apparent to them and to people I interacted with that I had undergone a significant experience in my life. And I knew it as well. This, added to the two more years at Royal Military College, where we concentrated mainly on academics. I mean, we had to meet the Ontario standards of an engineering degree, so the period at RMC was quite different in that regard. It was all about making sure that your academics were up to snuff and that entailed an awful lot of late work. Not that it wasn’t difficult here, it was. But the intensity increased dramatically at the Royal Military College.
When you look at – as I did when I went on to the Air Force, and went into progressively senior positions – the product of the military colleges and examine how they did, not only in the military, if they stayed, but in civilian life, that’s the real test of investment by Canadians in military universities or military colleges. And the statistics that we produced showed that they were indeed universities with a difference producing a margin of excellence in not only delivering people with degrees but also leaders of people. And many of them have achieved great things in Canadian society.
Karen – So, what is the importance of preserving the history of Royal Roads?
Scott – Well, this property’s history goes back a couple of thousand years, and we talk about the magic of the place itself. But the history from 1940 changed rather dramatically from its Dunsmuir era and became a military property – it still is, the land is owned by the Department of National Defence. The navy moved in for 7 years, and trained officers, even when Royal Military College was shut down during the Second World War. It then became a tri-service military college, and then a university.
Those 55 years of history are very important to the heritage of this property, and I’m so pleased that the university and the foundation have, as the first part of their vision, to honour the heritage of Royal Roads. And not only that 55 years, in fact honour the whole heritage. But as the university in its new mode grows in stature, it very much will embrace, I believe, with this kind of attention being paid to it, those 55 years. And we’re very pleased about that. The ex-cadets will, of course, progressively get older, and less able to participate in the future of Royal Roads. But they’ll never be forgotten.