EMT and Reservist: Two challenging jobs

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Article / November 21, 2016

Some people are content with the calm atmosphere of an office environment for their careers. Sergeant Will Barnard is not one of those people.

Sgt. Barnard works as an Emergency Medical Technician in Calgary, Alta, as well as the A-Troop Sergeant Major in Lethbridge with 20th Independent Field Battery unit. Thriving in a high-stress environment is a challenge, but for Sgt. Barnard, it’s the thrill of overcoming challenges that makes working both jobs exciting.  

 “It’s never the same day when you go to work,” he says.  “There’s always something new there.

Working as an EMT requires long hours, advanced critical thinking, and the ability to remain calm in traumatic circumstances. It can be overwhelming for many people, but Sgt. Barnard credits the training he received through his time with the Reserve Forces to help him manage the pressures of his civilian job.

When he joined the Reserves in 2002, Sgt. Barnard was working part time at McDonald’s while he attended high school. A friend of his challenged him to sign up for basic training, and he decided to give it a shot. However, he says he never intended to stay with the military upon completion of basic training.

 “I had no idea this was something I wanted,” says Sgt. Barnard.   “For me, it was just a quick challenge that I wanted to overcome to see if I could do it or not. I didn’t anticipate that at the end of it, I would have such a strong bond with everybody I worked .”  Teamwork is a pillar of both of Sgt. Barnard’s careers. He says that during basic training in the Reserves, stress levels are artificially raised to compel the recruits to work together to complete their tasks, which results in a very close bond with your fellow teammates. Working as an EMT also requires close coordination with colleagues during harrowing circumstances, which also strengthens the team dynamic.

Although this strong team of coworkers is integral to overcoming stressful situations, Sgt. Barnard concedes that at times the demands of his careers can be overwhelming.

 “Anyone who tells you otherwise is not necessarily lying, but they’re having a good moment,” he says.  “It can be, at times, difficult. With balancing the career and the military, you have to find out what your priorities are.” 

However, he lists various military resources that are at his disposal, including:

  • speaking to a chaplain,
  • a confidential member assistance hotline that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and
  • his chain of command.

He says that in his experience at 20th Independent, there isn’t a person on the ground who he doesn’t feel comfortable going to talk to with concerns about stress.

He also says that sometimes it comes down to a matter of priorities. Civilian obligations and careers can sometimes take precedence, and the Reserves are accommodating and understanding about this reality. The option to be excused from Reserve duties for an extended period of time exists under the Exempt Duty and Training program. This allows members to focus on their civilian lives for a myriad of reasons, from studying for final exams to working.

"A career in the army provides a unique opportunity to train across Canada and to do tours around the world."

Not only does his training in the Reserves cross over to help with his civilian job, it also affords him the chance to travel around the country and beyond. He explains that a career in the army provides a unique opportunity to train across Canada and to do tours around the world, and that there is the added benefit of seeing the impact of the work done on the ground and how it positively affects the communities where operations take place.

Sgt. Barnard worked as a convoy commander in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2013. He says that the tour was a positive experience for him because he was able to meet the civilians and see how the work that the Canadian Armed Forces was doing improved their lives.

 “You’re providing security, you’re assisting in the building of new schools, you’re training their military, their police, it has a real beneficial impact on their lives,”  he says.   “That in turn validates your reason for being there.” 

Domestic operations are also an important aspect of what Reservists do for their community. Sgt. Barnard provided additional security during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and is currently doing work-up training in Shilo, Man., with 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (1RCHA) for Operation PALACI. This operation is the Canadian Armed Forces' contribution to Parks Canada's avalanche-control program in Rogers Pass, with the objective of preventing uncontrolled, naturally occurring avalanches that can wreak havoc on essential road and rail links between British Columbia and the rest of Canada.

The positive impact of the Reserves isn’t just felt during operations. Sgt. Barnard believes that the communities where Reserve Units are stationed also benefit. He says that it provides younger individuals the opportunity to gain experience in a high-stress job, which allows them to make an informed decision as to whether other intense jobs, such as firefighting or police work, are right for them. It also allows them to serve the community, make a bit of money, and receive financial assistance for school as well. Reservists are eligible to receive up to $2,000 a year for up to four years to go towards tuition or books.

Sgt. Barnard says that a career in the Reserves is physically demanding and mentally challenging, but this results in an “incredibly rewarding” experience. 

 “It’s almost addictive in a way, these challenges,”  he says.  “If you’re looking for something that’s going to challenge your mind and your body, it’s a great job.” 

Despite the inherent pressures of his careers as an EMT and in the Reserves, Sgt. Barnard says that there are always opportunities for fun. After some exercises wrap up, soldiers can partake in a “smoker,” involving a hearty warm meal, a couple of beers, and a whole lot of revelry. He also mentions that since training and courses occur across Canada, soldiers have the opportunity to explore what different cities have to offer. During a Command Post Technician course in Vancouver, he and the other soldiers on the course were able to change into their civilian clothes and sightsee around the city, including visiting microbreweries on the weekends.

One of  Sgt. Barnard’s fondest memories is from his time working on Operation PODIUM during the Olympics in Vancouver. He and some other soldiers were tasked with doing reconnaissance on neighbouring mountains around the city to check out if there were any spots that could give unwanted individuals oversight over the area. He says that after checking out the areas on the very top of the mountain they were on, they noticed natural grooves carved into the snow. The soldiers were wearing rain pants and jackets, and they decided to “luge” themselves down the grooves.

 “At the end of that day, after we spent eight hours hiking up that mountain, we sat down and we literally, on our butts, slid all the way down,” he reminisces.   “It was such a great experience, we all bonded. It was the most fun I had all year.” 

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