Ready, Aim, Fire: From NCM to FOO at 20th Independent

Article / February 6, 2017

By Ashely Materi, 3 Cdn Div Public Affairs

If you ask a member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) what they enjoy most about their career, you’ll get a variety of answers. Some appreciate the opportunity to travel, others are happy that a portion of their post-secondary tuition is paid for, and still others simply enjoy serving their country and making a positive difference.  

For some, however, their favourite aspect of being a member of the CAF is the unique chance to utilize various weapon systems as part of their day-to-day tasks. For members of artillery regiments in particular, the opportunity to work with weapons such as the C3 Howitzer and the 81-mm Mortar is one of the most exciting facets of their job.

 “I think a lot of people join the Reserves, specifically when you find out what the artillery does, just to blow stuff up, to be honest,” says Lieutenant (Lt) Michael Bittman.  “It’s fun. When you have a C3 full charge going 12 kilometres out, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.” 

Lt Bittman joined as a Reservist with 20th Independent Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) in 2009 while he worked towards his criminal justice diploma. While artillery wasn’t his first choice, it was the only Reserve trade that had openings. He had planned to follow in the footsteps of his father and join the Military Police after he graduated from Lethbridge College, so he figured that the artillery would be placeholder until he finished school. However, while he worked his way through artillery training, he fell in love with the trade, his unit, and the excitement that artillery brought to his life.

The part-time commitment to the Reserves allowed Lt Bittman to pursue further academic achievements. He went on to complement his diploma with a degree in criminal justice through Athabasca University. During this time he also took up a career with the Alberta Solicitor General in the corrections field. While he put in his component transfer to move over into the Regular Force a few years ago, he decided that he no longer wanted to go this route. He enjoys his civilian and Reservist careers too much to make the transfer.

 “I’ve come to love this unit and I wouldn’t trade it for the world to go Reg Force now,” he declares proudly.

CAF traditions overlap with family traditions in Lt  Bittman’s life. His father joined the Military Police in 1978 and served for 27 years, while his mother worked as a construction engineer procurement technician for 25 years after she joined in 1973. Both of his parents have been deployed internationally during their time with the CAF, which is a goal that Lt Bittman has for himself.

My mom did a tour in 1979, a UN peacekeeping mission in Egypt. I’d like to follow suit, I’d like to do a couple tours at least,”   he says.

A self-described “Reg Force base brat,” Lt Bittman says that while his parents anticipated that he would be a member of the CAF, but didn’t expect him to become a commissioned lieutenant.

The day I was able to bring back my scroll to two retired Sergeants was kind of cool.”  reveals Lt Bittman.  “It actually teared my dad up a little bit, which was awesome. I told my dad when I first got my commission that he could put his heels together and salute me, and he didn’t really like it that much,” he says with a laugh.

Lt  Bittman has another exceptional distinction to add to his list of career highlights. He is one of only two Reserve members of 41 Brigade to become Forward Observation Officers (FOO) in 23 years. He says that while other CAF members from within the Brigade have transferred in and qualified, himself and one other soldier from the battery are the only “homegrown” members in years 20th Independent Lethbridge.

This role involves going around Alberta and teaching other units what the artillery is all about, and how to incorporate artillery into their attacks and daily business in the field. This demonstrates how to integrate different trades together to form an effective combat team or battle group, which Lt Bittman explains is important for cohesion in the field. 

 “Once you’re able to effectively have a combat team and you have the engineers, artillery, the infantry and the armoured all working together collaboratively, it’s like an orchestra,” he declares.

The collaboration between units isn’t all that has Lt Bittman enthusiastic about his Reserves career. He is also excited to see what the 20th Independent Field Battery will look like in the coming years. The unit changed from air defence to artillery in 2011, and since the switch took place, a lot of bright Reservists have joined the fold and excelled. He says that he looks forward to where the unit is headed over the next ten years, because it will be “pretty cool” to see where the soldiers go in their training and careers.

As for his own direction, Lt Bittman is eager to see where he ends up. After a whirlwind progression through the ranks, he is open to whatever new opportunity comes his way.

 “Wherever my career takes me, I’ll go. It took me from being a private to a bomber to my Primary Leadership Qualification, then getting my commission on a parade to now being a FOO and working for Majors all across the Brigade,”  says Lt Bittman.   “Wherever it takes me next, it will be fun.” 

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