Army Technical Warrant Officers are technical and critical thinkers

Article / February 14, 2017 / Project number: 16-0340

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Kingston, Ontario — The process through which the Canadian Army (CA) purchases new equipment probably seems much less exciting to most than the equipment itself.

Army Technical Warrant Officers are graduates of an intensive, year-long course of study that expands their already impressive technical knowledge and prepares them to play an important part in the procurement process.

With more than 25 years of CA membership behind him, Chief Warrant Officer Rob Francis has observed that many of his comrades view this part of the organization, called Capability Development, as something of a career dead end.  

Not so, said CWO Francis. In fact, Capability Development is a highly dynamic area that demands both critical thinking skills and broad-based technical knowledge. Those skills and that knowledge are attained through the year-long Army Technical Warrant Officer Program (ATWOP), which has been taught at the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario since 2002.

CWO Francis is a graduate himself and currently serves as Sergeant Major of RMC’s Department of Applied Military Science (AMS). The actual teaching of ATWOs is done by university-level instructors, but he supports the course in various ways, including marking student assignments and facilitating discussion in the classroom.

“This course gives you that extra bit of math, science, and critical thinking background you need to better understand the procurement process,” CWO Francis explained. “For example, if you’re talking to a company and they make a claim, you know enough to say, ‘that sounds reasonable,’ or ‘that sounds a little bit more far-fetched and I’d like to see more information.’”

The ATWO course is offered on a volunteer basis to all Warrant Officers, although those with 15 or more years of field experience are considered ideal candidates. Students come with a great deal of knowledge in a variety of technical backgrounds and graduates tend to find Capability Development roles where both their backgrounds and newly-acquired skills can be put to best use.

“So if you’re a field engineer for example and you have an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) background,” said CWO Francis, “you could be off to work in helping procure EOD equipment – bomb disposal robots, suits.”

“We give them math, physics, chemistry, defence management, systems engineering and logistics engineering, critical thinking; just to name a few,” he added. “They do 19 university level courses in a year. It gives them enough information to go out and work in a wide variety of jobs afterward.”

Capability Development may be the area most graduates end up working in, but it is not the only one. CWO Francis began the ATWO course in 2009 with a background in artillery. After graduation, and before returning to AMS as Sergeant Major, he taught other gunners at the Royal Canadian Artillery School at the Army’s Combat Training Centre.

“I was the Master Gunner there and I taught on advanced courses such as the assistant instructor of gunnery course and the instructor of gunnery course,” he recalled. “And they both have a math and science component. There’s also a statistics component in it because when we determine probable error for artillery we use a statistic procedure. When you apply critical thinking skills it allows you to boil down a problem to its main elements. If you can define the root problem, you’re better off than trying to solve the symptoms of the main problem. I think that’s the nut of the critical thinking course.”

Getting back to the topic of how Capability Development is perceived in the CA, CWO Francis said anyone with concerns that an ATWO designation is for those in the twilight of their careers should consider the example of one ATWO in particular.

“One of the Army Sergeants Major, CWO Gino Moretti, was the first Master Gunner here at the ATWO program, so just because you do this program doesn’t mean that you will not get anywhere. He was the Army Sergeant Major. I think that’s a pretty good achievement for anyone.”

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