Sarnia, ON native ends up in Victoria, BC following impressive 42 year military career
By: Stephanie Ochej
10218 Paul Crober has built himself a storied career during his lifetime, and one that is steeped in history—both personal and public. The Sarnia, Ontario native grew up occasionally dropping by RMC and Fort Henry on his way to visit his grandparents who lived in the Cornwall/Morrisburg area. This undoubtedly planted the seeds of what would end up being an over 42-year military career.
As a 16-year-old, he decided to join what was then called the Militia in Sarnia. Specifically, a young Crober joined C Squadron, 1st Hussars, which was a part of the larger regiment, the rest of which was located in London, Ontario. The 1st Hussars has a history that can be traced back to the mid-1800s, with members having participated in the Second Boer War and both World Wars. After joining, Crober decided that he should become an officer in the Canadian Forces. Initially, he wanted to join as ROTP but remain in the London-area: “I thought I’d go to Western (University of Western Ontario) and show up once a week at the Militia,” he explains. Crober was surprised, then, when he got his acceptance letter to the ROTP program explaining that not only would he not be enrolling at Western, but he wouldn’t be going to RMC, either, the military college that he knew growing up. Instead, he would be going to Royal Roads Military College, of which Crober explains he knew nothing about.
Despite having no prior knowledge of the College, Crober certainly made the most of his time at RRMC, judging by his stories. Crober describes RMC as a “more serious institution” compared to RRMC, which he says “was more military and less academic.” “Some of the things that kept us amused were these skylarks where we would play stunts either on staff or each other,” he begins to explain. In one particular instance, Crober—who was a member of Mackenzie Flight which together with Champlain Flight made up their squadron—headed to downtown Victoria with his flight on a Saturday night for a party. Upon returning, they found that everything—including their boots, uniforms, and even mattresses—had been removed from their rooms. Already understanding the hierarchy of the military, they decided that the prank wouldn’t have happened if their squadron leader—who just so happened to be a member of Champlain Flight—had decided to stop it, and he clearly hadn’t. “So, instead of taking our wrath out on Champlain Flight, we went after the Squadron Leader himself. We removed him from his room, and then all of the stuff from his room—and I mean everything including the electrical sockets—and then got him latched on to a junior cadet, trundled them down in a blanket all the way down to the lagoon, and put them in one of the old Navy whalers and sent ‘em adrift,” Crober laughs. When the Commandant came down to inspect them all for Wing Parade on Sunday morning, there was the Squadron Leader tied up in a boat (with a blanket on for warmth) out in the water. “Yeah, we all got in trouble for that,” Crober adds nostalgically.
Another one of their legendary pranks involved performing a Sunset Ceremony—scarlets on—at the Provincial Legislature building in downtown Victoria—in the middle of the afternoon. That one got them into more trouble than they had counted on, since the Legislature was sitting at the time of their little ceremony. The Premier of British
Columbia at the time—W. A. C. Bennett—recognised the music being played outside and had to send out the Provincial Secretary to find out what was going on. No wonder Crober notes that RRMC cadets were very well-known around Victoria!
At the time that he was attending military college, students only did their first two years at RRMC, so after two eventful years at the school from 1970-72, Crober headed to RMC. He spent his next two years there, and graduated in 1974 with a degree in History. During his time at both colleges he was a member of the rifle teams, the sailing clubs, and the band.
Crober states repeatedly throughout the interview that he could write a book about his time spent with the Canadian Forces, and after hearing what he accomplished during his post-college career, it’s clear that he’s right. From graduation, his military occupation was Armoured and he went to the 8th Canadian Hussars Princess Louise’s Armoured Regiment in Petawawa. However, most of that first year was spent in Cyprus with the 1st Battalion, Canadian Royal Regiment because the Turks had just invaded. After that he returned to Petawawa and the 8th Hussars, but left in 1977 to go back to his old regiment—the 1st Hussars—as regular support staff. From 1979-1981, Crober was working as an instructor in Gagetown at the Combat Training Centre Armoured School.
From 1981-1984, Crober was completing his first of two stints in Germany, this time with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. In between his time spent in Germany, Crober went to Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto and Army Headquarters in St. Hubert. While he was there, he participated in Rendezvous 1985, a mammoth military exercise held mainly in Wainwright. This exercise included all of the Canadian Army as well as a brigade of US troops from Alaska—totalling about 20,000 troops.
In 1987 Crober returned to Germany, this time with the 8th Hussars, commanding Headquarters Squadron in addition to a squadron of tanks. In 1989, while still in Germany, Crober became the Intelligence Officer for 4 Brigade Headquarters. He describes the challenge of working with the much larger units of the other Allies—the US, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc.—while Canada was operating with what Crober describes as an “understrength brigade.” “We were trying to represent Canada in the smallest formation of all of the Allies as best we could,” he explains, “so we were always, always, always on exercise. Always.” He adds that sometimes they were called out for operational reasons, “when the Russians were starting to do something strange.” Crober notes that he was around when the Berlin Wall fell: “We knew about that about a day before, that something was happening.” After that, things began to slow down for the Canadian brigade as the Cold War came to a close. Crober was asked if he’d like to put in another year in Germany, and—understanding that with a limited budget the government would be looking to withdraw the brigade ASAP—he declined, saying he didn’t want “to be the one to turn off the lights.”
Crober returned to Canada—a little closer to his wife’s home in Victoria—to Chilliwack, BC, where he was the Deputy Commandant and later the Acting Commandant of the Canadian Forces Officer Candidate School. He stayed there until 1993 when he went to Bosnia as the Deputy Chief Operations Officer for the UN Protection Force. Before he left Bosnia in 1994 he became Chief Operations Officer for all UN troops in Bosnia. “It was supposedly a peacekeeping job that wasn’t supposed to be full-on war,” he explains, but Crober came to realise that things were different when lost his Belgian driver to a sniper while there.
In 1994, Crober went back to Canada and was promoted to Chief of Staff, British Columbia District. He spent the next several years in Jericho Garrison, and in 1997, after being offered a number of postings including one to Moncton, New Brunswick as the CO of his old regiment the 8th Hussars, Crober decided that he and his family had moved around enough. He switched to Reserve Force and settled in Victoria, BC.
Crober says it was a bit shocking to him at first when he was no longer in the Regular Force. One of the biggest shocks for him, which seems to be very common among newly ex-Regular Force members, was not wearing the uniform every day. Also, he was baffled by how difficult it was to talk to people outside of the military about the military. The average person, he elaborates, seemed to be familiar with Vietnam films and Gomer Pyle, but that was about it. Crober was getting used to all of this from 1998-2002 when he was the Chief of Training Operations for Emergency Management British Columbia, and from 2002-2006 as Regional Director, British Columbia and Yukon for Public Safety Canada.
In 2006, Crober joined Joint Task Force Pacific HQ as Games Planning Officer for the 2010 Winter Olympics. In the years leading up to the Olympics, he held positions as ACOS and COS of the 5000-person Joint Task Force Games (JTFG), making him the top reservist working on the project. “We provided all the support to the RCMP and other police, to VANOC—for logistics and ceremonies and other things,” he notes. When Crober finished his portion of the After Action Report for the Games in July of 2010, he hung up his uniform for good.
Today, Crober runs and owns his own company—Grey Hill Consulting Inc.—which deals in providing emergency management plans and programs for corporations and all levels of government. For instance, his company has provided its services to all 100 offices and headquarters of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.
Crober, who describes himself as “as busy as [he wants] to be” with his current work, is also very involved with sailing, a hobby which he picked up during his time at RRMC. In his first year their instructor took the sailing club on a 4 or 5-night sailing trip up Vancouver Island, and that sold him on the activity. Now, Crober owns a 38-foot sailboat and occasionally likes to race it (in longer races like Swiftsure, in particular), but mostly he enjoys “cruising in the Gulf Islands.” The sailing enthusiast says that “if [he] didn’t have anything else to do, [he] could easily stay busy doing sailing, or working on it, or thinking about it most of the day.” Vancouver Island is certainly a beautiful place to enjoy a hobby like that, and after such a long, interesting career and having contributed to so many important events in Canadian history, Paul Crober deserves it.