Sergeants Major meeting to lead to a strengthened Army Reserve

Article / April 28, 2016 / Project number: 16-0117

Ottawa, Ontario — By the end of 2017, the Canadian Army Reserve will be stronger, prouder and even more ready. Achieving this goal by strengthening the Army Reserve will require the leadership of all 17 Army Reserve Sergeants Major and a total team effort, according to Chief Warrant Officer Kent Clapham.

A weekend conference from April 23 to 24, organized by CWO Clapham, was an opportunity to pinpoint, “some tangible products from the group discussions that we can use to help Chief of Staff Army Reserve and the Reserve community en masse in strengthening the Army Reserve,” said CWO Clapham, who was appointed Army Reserve Sergeant Major in September 2015. The Chief of Staff Army Reserve Brigadier-General Rob Roy MacKenzie and Army Sergeant Major Chief Warrant Officer Alain Guimond were key speakers at the event, which was attended by the full force of Canadian Army (CA) Reserve Sergeants Major.

In keeping with the traditional work patterns of Reservists, CWO Clapham set up the meeting around Monday to Friday civilian career schedules. “Just like many Reservists, every participant has a civilian job, so it had to be on the weekend.

There were three major topics of discussion at the conference:

  • Improving career management to address Reservists’ double professional lives
  • Developing Reserve exit surveys to help retain trained soldiers
  • Emphasizing senior non-commissioned officers’ role in retention and attendance

Chief Warrant Officer Mike Egan, Brigade Sergeant Major of 36 Canadian Brigade Group (36 CBG), participated in the conference.  Headquartered in Halifax, 36 CBG covers both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. CWO Egan said he is keenly aware of the importance of his role in strengthening the Army Reserve. 

This approach that the CA leadership is taking will keep the Reserve relevant and leads to events like today’s conference,” said CWO Egan.  He said that although sergeants major do not make the decisions, they have access to the commanding officers who do. “We make sure that what is heard at the soldiers’ level gets to those ears.

Right now the ranks of Sergeant, Master Corporal and Warrant Officer are not completely filled. The soldiers who are in those positions are finding their workload is heavy as a result,” he noted.

Currently, there are 17,302 Army Reservists and the plan is to add 950 soldiers by 2017.

Both the Government and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, want to fortify the Army Reserve. In fact, the CDS issued a directive in November 2015, with some key guidelines, dates and targets to be met,” said CWO Clapham. The conference aimed at improving current Reserve numbers by examining such topics as career management, exit surveys and the role senior non-commissioned officers and Warrant Officers play at the unit level in improving attendance and retention.

Improving career management to address Reservists’ double professional lives

A dedicated career management system is needed for Reservists because of the unique stresses they face throughout their double professional lives, said CWO Clapham. Currently, career management of Reservists is predominantly the responsibility of the Regiments and the Regimental Sergeants Major. “There are definite challenges. The issue is figuring out how to balance the competing interests of civilian life, which involves the family as much as it involves the soldier, education or civilian employment and the demands of the Army Reserve,” he said.

Yet, the benefits of this juggling, for both soldiers and their civilian employers, are considerable. “The training that Reservists get in the military system far outweighs anything that I have delivered in my former civilian job,” explained CWO Clapham, who was the Director of Operations for an information training and technology company before taking the full-time Reserve Army Sergeant Major position.

He said the list of transferable skills is a long one including time management, leadership skills, critical thinking, self-discipline, personal accountability and self-confidence. “These skills that Reservists bring to their civilian careers immediately set them apart from their peers. In their late teens and early twenties a junior leader in the Army is made responsible for eight or more people. Where do you get that in the civilian world?

CWO Albert Boucher, Brigade Sergeant Major of 38 Canadian Brigade Group, which has headquarters in Winnipeg and covers the territory including Saskatchewan through Thunder Bay, Ontario, said that clear communication between Sergeants Major and soldiers is needed when it comes to career management. “The troops need to know their career path. Right now we are determining the timing of when this responsibility of communication moves from the Regimental Sergeant Major to the Brigade Sergeant Major.

Developing Reserve exit surveys to help retain trained soldiers

Another chosen topic for the conference was the introduction of exit surveys for Reservists, something that the Army Regular Force has had for a number of years. 

What things in their particular lives are causing soldiers to leave the Army Reserve? This information would help us to try to develop strategies to better retain soldiers. If we keep in members who we’ve trained, our Reserve strength actually increases,CWO Clapham explained.

Emphasizing senior non-commissioned officers’ role in retention and attendance

The role of senior non-commissioned officers in retention and attendance was the third topic discussed at the conference. “The role of the senior NCO and Warrant-Officer in strengthening the Reserve at the unit level is crucial. We’ve captured some best practices that are out there and will reinforce some others,” said CWO Clapham.

The Army Reserve is a part-time, fully integrated and highly-trained component of the Canadian Army. Its primary role is to work in union with the Army’s Regular Force. Since the year 2000, more than 4,000 Primary Reservists have been deployed alongside their Regular Force team members in Canadian Armed Forces operations such as Afghanistan and Haiti. They have also participated in domestic operations such as the Saskatchewan fire threat of 2015 and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The Army Reserve in many Canadian communities is the face of the Army. The Army Reserve, as part of the Army team, provides the ability for a quick reaction to domestic issues like the ice storm, the floods, as well as making significant contributions over the years to overseas operations,” explained CWO Clapham.

By Anne Duggan, Army Public Affairs

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