ARCHIVED - Celebrating Asian Heritage: Captain Cherith Tse, Canadian Army Signals Officer

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Article / May 29, 2015 / Project number: 15-0069

Kingston, Ontario — When he emigrated from Hong Kong at the age of 16, Captain Cherith Tse found he fit easily into multicultural Canadian society and later on, into the Canadian Army, where he is currently a Signals Officer with the Canadian Forces Joint Signal Regiment (CFJSR) in Kingston, Ontario.

One of Capt Tse’s more recent assignments was as Regimental Operations Captain, helping to coordinate the deployment of CFJSR communications personnel and equipment to Nepal as part of the international response to the devastating earthquake which struck on April 25, 2015. His responsibility was to ensure Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team members could communicate within the disaster zone as well as between Nepal and Canada until the conclusion of the effort, known as Operation RENAISSANCE 15-1.

Rewinding to nineteen years ago, he was just arriving in Toronto, Ontario with his parents and younger brother. He set about settling into Canada, polishing his English while completing high school and then earning a degree in computer science from the University of Waterloo in 2003.

He applied to the Reserve Force upon graduation because of the war in Afghanistan. Due to various life events and circumstances, it was five years before he became an infanteer with the Queen’s Own Rifles (QOR) in Toronto at the age of 27.   “I would have most likely joined sooner, but I did not know much about the Army until I was in university,”  he said.

Capt Tse became an airborne rifleman with the QOR, which is the only Reserve unit to have what is called a “parachute tasking”. While in this role with the QOR, he proudly wore the maroon beret, an international symbol of airborne forces since the Second World War.

His lifelong interest in military and police work, fitness and a desire to serve Canada led him to join like-minded friends in the QOR who were of various ethnic backgrounds.  “For me, it [being ethnic] was not a factor,”  he said.  “But I definitely feel that within the Asian community, especially in the non-Canadian-born community, being in the military is still not a very common thing. I think it’s because there’s a lack of understanding of what the Canadian military does.” 

In April 2015, the Canadian Army reported that 0.5 per cent of Regular Force members self-identified as Chinese-Canadian and in the Primary Reserve, it was 1.9 per cent. For the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole, statistics show an upward trend. As of April 2015, 0.6 per cent of Regular Force members in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) self-identified as Chinese-Canadian, an increase from 0.3 per cent five years ago. In the CAF Primary Reserves, the number was 1.7 percent, rising from 1.2 percent in 2010.

I think that Canadian society as a whole has been a world leader in terms of embracing cultural diversity. Within the military, I have never felt my status as an immigrant and a visible minority has hindered my ability to conduct my duty and work with others,”  he said.  

 “I believe our country’s multi-cultural background serves as an important base, allowing our soldiers to perform their duties of war fighting and peace keeping, while understanding and respecting the dignity and humanity of the locals,” said Capt Tse.  “This is especially important as our military is frequently deployed in a world that is continuously polarizing in opinion, in terms of politics, economics and religion.” 

Capt Tse would recommend anyone thinking about joining the Canadian military to start in the Reserves before committing fully to the Regular Force.  “I think it is a good place to learn discipline, to learn teamwork and see how things are on the ground,”  he said.  “After graduating from university, then they could consider going full-time or commissioning.” 

Reservists train one night a week and two weekends a month, giving students and people with day jobs extra income while experiencing military life.  “The reserves were great for me because while I was running a business with my father during the day, I could accommodate my own schedule and accommodate military training as well.” 

After having been a Reservist for about three years, Capt Tse applied for deployment and completed an eight-month tour in the infantry in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2010. In the role of crew commander on a Light Armoured Vehicle, he served as a member of the National Support Element, Force Protection Platoon, during Op ATHENA Task Force 1-10. Ten officers and 56 other ranks from the QOR served in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2011. “Afghanistan was a tremendously valuable experience. I was able to employ my training as an infanteer and had the opportunity to hone my leadership skills as a junior NCO” 

Two years after his return from Afghanistan, Capt Tse decided to transfer to the Regular Force and become an officer, bringing his computer science training to the CAF.  “I decided to take a look at the signals officers and it turned out to be a good fit for me. I felt my education could be more beneficial to the CAF in the Signals trade.”  Conversely, he found that his experience in the infantry provided valuable boots-on-the-ground perspective to his role as a Signals officer.

In October 2014, he was deployed to Operation IMPACT in Kuwait as a Communication Information Systems Squadron Operations Officer as part of a theatre activation team.  “Our role was to set up the computer communications systems so that when the command team arrived, they would have all the equipment they needed to make command decisions,”  he said.  “It was a lot of fun, in fact, but also a lot of hard work in a month.” 

Capt Tse finds his work challenging and very much to his liking.   “In my three years as a communications officer, I have been around some really motivated people, really good people who are very knowledgeable, very logical and technologically savvy,”  he said.  “They like looking at problems and solving them in a very systematic way, which kind of suits my way of doing things.” 

Knowing that I am the enabler providing that information from the front line so they can make the right decision is very satisfying,” he said. In Kuwait, for example, his role was to ensure the communication systems were in place so the Aurora surveillance aircraft technicians had the proper channel to submit the information captured; this allowed the commander to direct the fighter jets and neutralize various threats presented by ISIS.  “You actually get to see the impact of what you do.

On the home front, Captain Tse has been happily married to Anna Fletcher-Tse for two and a half years. He keeps in close contact with his parents and his younger brother, Gershom, who is a writer, university lecturer and composer.

Capt Tse has found a way to combine his commitment to fitness and a love of cycling with family and fundraising for a good cause. For the past three years, Capt Tse has been participating each June in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer (ERTCC), raising funds for leukemia research in support of a family member with the disease. The event, in its seventh year, is a 220 km two-day cycling event from Toronto-Niagara or Niagara-Toronto, depending upon the start point, with a rally at the mid-point in Hamilton. He and his teammates raised $8500 in 2013, $16 000 in 2014 and plan to top that by raising $25 000 this year.

 “Our goal is to raise money for cancer research and patient care, but more importantly, we want to show friends, relatives and all affected by cancer that we CARE,”  he says on his ERTCC website,  “and that we will not just stand by and let this disease eat away their spirit, their love for life.” 

By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

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