ARCHIVED - Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year – the strength of the Forces is its diversity

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Article / March 19, 2015 / Project number: 14-0263

Kingston, Ontario — In metallurgy, an alloy is a material composed of more than one metal. For example, steel is an alloy whose major components are iron and carbon, making it incredibly strong. The strength of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) comes from blending the diversity of its members, including those from Canada’s First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities.

The Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year (ALOY) at the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada in historic Kingston, Ontario, is a one-year program designed to expose students of Aboriginal heritage to the military and to train them in key leadership skills. The ALOY program allows participants the opportunity to develop a variety of skill sets while gaining accreditation for further post-secondary education.

Currently in its seventh year, the 10-month ALOY program admits an average of 18 to 20 students each year.  Selection into the program is competitive. Applications from across the country are chosen by a selection committee consisting of representatives of the Canadian Defence Academy, the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group, academic leaders from RMC and Aboriginal advisors. Selection is based on academics and culture. ALOY gives participants a highly positive, productive, one-year educational and leadership experience. The program includes sports, field trips, leadership development, military training, cultural support activities and individual learning plans. Through these learning plans, students take part in individual and small group tutorials for pre-university (non-credit) and first-year university courses (credit).

ALOY “is an opportunity for Aboriginal communities to develop leaders and influence government policies,” said Warrant Officer Brian Highfield, ALOY squadron commander. “My job is to challenge the young men and women here to take a leadership role,” WO Highfield said. “It is an opportunity for them to develop themselves.

RMC is known for developing leaders,” he added. “One of the RMC sayings is ‘Officers well educated.’”

Students are enrolled in the Forces for one year as an Officer Cadet and receive tuition, books and accessibility to all educational requirements, which is the same as all other Cadets at RMC.  At the end of the year, graduates have several options they can choose from. They may choose to apply to continue their studies at RMC in a degree program through either the Regular Officer Training Program or the Reserve Entry Training Plan, or to return to their home communities or to any post-secondary institution of their choosing.

Officer Cadet Taylor Strickland, a 22-year old Métis from Calgary, Alberta, studied at a civilian university prior to being accepted into the ALOY program. He finds the task-oriented nature of the program a good challenge.

“It has been challenging; probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever gone through,” OCdt Strickland said. “I have definitely grown from it.”

“My goal is to enrol in the Officer’s Cadet program,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the military. My great-grandfather and great-uncle served. I’ve always looked highly upon military members. I’ve always wanted to serve my country and be part of something that’s bigger than myself.”

Officer Cadet Trista Bomberry, a 20-year old ALOY student from Six Nations, a small community near Hamilton, Ontario, previously studied at a regular college. She, too, enjoys the challenges, and finds the ALOY program to be a good transition into university from the college environment she experienced.

“I thought [the ALOY program] would be a good opportunity to finish my post-secondary education and gain more leadership skills,” OCdt Bomberry said. “I’m hoping to return to RMC as a first-year Cadet and take the business program.

“There was a big lifestyle change at the beginning,” she said. “A lot of little things made for a big change in my life,” she said.

OCdt Bomberry “learned a lot of discipline, and to push myself. Although my mind is telling me to quit, I can always make it over my challenges and barriers,” she said.

There is room – and the desire – for the ALOY program to grow, to increase the public awareness of the program.

“I’d like to bring it to another level and introduce a traditional powwow upon the graduation of the Cadets,” said WO Highfield. “I would love to see [the ALOY program] grow. It would be a great opportunity for the community and the military – for everybody.

“We’re gaining more recruits with a higher educational level,” he continued. “We want the students to be successful in all parts of the program – not only military and leadership – but we also want to make sure the Cadets are able to pass their university courses. We are seeing a higher level of ability for them to do their university courses and to be successful,” WO Highfield said.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples are part of dynamic teams of skilled professionals and leaders within the CAF. ALOY is one of several Aboriginal programs offered by the CAF, which also include the BOLD EAGLE, RAVEN and BLACK BEAR summer training programs as well as the Canadian Forces Aboriginal Entry Program (CFAEP).

Additional resources help ensure Aboriginal Peoples are represented within the department. The CAF Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG), currently in its 20th year, advises military Commanders on significant issues and trends affecting the role and quality of life of Aboriginal people who serve in the Forces and those who support our uniformed members. A grass roots volunteer organization, DAAG members support the chain of command in their mandate to foster awareness of Aboriginal issues, recruiting and retention issues.

The DAAG also provides a forum for Aboriginal Peoples to gather and support one another as they exercise their unique cultural, spiritual and traditional identities within the Department of National Defence (DND) and the CAF. As well, the DAAG provides essential advice to DND and CAF leaders to identify current systemic problems and to determine the impact of future policies and initiatives on Aboriginal people.

Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse, Commander of the Canadian Army, is the Champion for Aboriginal Peoples for DND and the CAF.

LGen Hainse attends the ALOY graduation ceremony each year, handing each graduating Cadet their certificate. He also paid a visit to the 2014-2015 ALOY class at RMC this past December, where he addressed the students and ate lunch with them, allowing them to share their stories and experiences with the Army Commander.

“Engaging young Canadians is part of a strategic investment for the Canadian Army’s future readiness,” said LGen Hainse. “Building and fostering partnerships with Canada’s Aboriginal youth is an important part of this investment.”      

“The Canadian Forces will continue to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to the military, and will continue refining its ongoing work with communities and leaders to increase awareness of what the CAF has to offer,” he said.

“The ALOY program is an opportunity for the Aboriginal community to have their young men and women become the leaders of tomorrow,” said WO Highfield. “It allows them to experience something different.”

“I’ve learned I can do almost anything. I can overcome my past, and although I can be super busy some days, I can finish what I started,” OCdt Bomberry said.

“This is a great program for Aboriginals who might not know where they want to go in their career after high school,” she stated. “I am learning about other cultures and learning new things every day that I can apply throughout my career.”

For OCdt Strickland, “this program has definitely opened my eyes. I didn’t expect it to be so much fun. Even though a lot of the days are challenging, I’m up for the task. I like being challenged,” he said.

“If you’re up for that, then this is definitely the program for you if you’re an Aboriginal. Take advantage of it. This program has definitely changed me,” OCdt Strickland said.

To find out more information on the ALOY program, visit: http://www.forces.ca/en/page/aboriginalprograms-93

By Michael Timmermans, Army Public Affairs

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