New program shows potential Army recruits what soldiering is all about – in just 10 short weeks

Article / October 2, 2015 / Project number: 15-0121

Halifax, Nova Scotia — A new Canadian Army (CA) program that offers interested Canadians a hands-on, no-strings-attached introduction to Army life is being expanded following a successful trial run on the East coast.

The Army Civilian Engagement (ACE) program launched in April 2015. It was implemented by 5th Canadian Division (5 Cdn Div) in Gagetown, New Brunswick and 36 Canadian Brigade Group (36 CGB) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It offers a 10-week introduction to soldiering with an opportunity to join the Primary Reserve Force.

Colonel George Thomson, 36 CBG’s commander, noted that ACE incorporates elements from three similar Aboriginal training programs but is, to the best of his knowledge, the first of its kind for the Canadian Armed Forces, and is not limited to Aboriginal participants.

A major goal of the program is to increase the general public’s knowledge of the CA and its varied employment and educational opportunities. A common misconception is that everyone who joins the Army becomes an infantry soldier or another member of the combat arms, when in fact there are dozens of full and part-time career choices ranging from health care and culinary arts to engineering and telecommunications, to name just a few available options.

Both the Gagetown and Halifax trials ended in the summer of 2015. All but five of the 33 individuals who participated completed the program.  Five graduates went on to complete the Primary Reserve enrollment process and began summer training. The remaining 23 are at various stages of enrollment.

That’s a significant result, considering that on average, only one in three applicants to the Reserve actually join, according to Captain Karen McCluskey, a Recruiting Officer with 36 CBG.

The pilot was very positive,” said Col Thomson. The results, he added, will be studied to determine if ACE is a good fit for other regions of the country.

That said, Capt McCluskey has already heard from recruiters in both the Winnipeg and Vancouver areas who have expressed interest. In the meantime, the program will continue in Halifax and be expanded to Sydney, Nova Scotia in the fall of 2015.

Father-son recruits

Capt McCluskey said the first ACE group was a diverse one, with a mix of men and women ranging in age from 16 to 40-something. “In fact, we had two parent-son combinations in the group,” she noted.

One of those combinations was Glenn Burnett and his 16-year-old son Nathan. Mr. Burnett served as a Reservist with 723 (Halifax) Communication Squadron (now 36 Signal Regiment) in the late 1980s.  He said he began exploring the Reserves on his son’s behalf and learned of the ACE program after dropping in to the 1st (Halifax-Dartmouth) Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) in Halifax.

They gave a good presentation and I thought it was a great idea,” he said, “especially for younger people who really don’t know what they want. It is definitely a great introduction to what’s available.

As a result of their experiences in the program, Nathan opted to join 1st (Halifax-Dartmouth) Field Artillery Regiment, RCA. His father is also in the process of enrolling in the same regiment.

Program description and community involvement

ACE sessions take place over two hours on weeknights and consist of information sessions on a wide variety of subjects, from maintaining physical fitness to army etiquette.

Participants also undergo testing at recruitment centres and experience Forces training on weekends.

Participants get the benefit of one-on-one interaction with and coaching from reserve personnel as well as exposure to displays of vehicles and equipment that animate the experience.

Capt McCluskey said that one-on-one time with individuals was key to the pilot’s success.

Some of those coming are 16- or 17-year olds and sometimes their parents want to come along. They’re interested to hear the answers and they have our attention during that time period.

And parents aren’t the only community members who became involved, she adds.

We’ve had quite a few teachers and other community leaders that have been engaged with us that are happy to see we’re doing this to allow the students, and older people too, to come in and have a look at what we have to offer without signing up for a commitment right away. They can get a bit of a hands-on, eyes-on preview and get a feel for things.

ACE participants are under no obligation to undertake military service, but do sign a statement of understanding and personal declaration to affirm their commitment to the program, willingness to learn, behave ethically and adhere to the rules and regulations of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Program a win-win for participants and recruiters alike

Participants are also asked to share information on the program with others, which has been fruitful. Positive word of mouth began to build in the trial’s earliest days, said Capt McCluskey. While many initial participants were relatives of civilian and military personnel (who were first to learn of the program), word spread and others began to express an interest once it was up and running.

It proved to us that people were talking about it and in a positive light.

Chief Warrant Officer Michael Egan, 36 CBG’s Sergeant-Major, said the benefit of ACE for recruiters is that it gives participants the chance to see if the reserve is truly for them before formally enrolling. And when those who choose not to continue to enrollment move on, recruiters can focus more on the rest.

That line of communication happens a lot earlier and if there are any problems, it doesn’t take weeks to resolve. The timelines are shortened exponentially. It lets members of the community come in and experience first-hand what the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces do. I really think this program has an awful lot to offer,” he said.

It’s not just about Army, Navy or Air Force,” added CWO Egan. “There are life skills that are presented. When these young folks decide to take this path, there are certain by-products that they can take when they undergo this training they can use in their civilian lives that would really, I think, put them in front of some of their peers who don’t have this exposure.

For more information on the ACE program and for future enrollment dates and locations, contact 36 CBG in Halifax at (902) 427-1551 or in Sydney, NS at (902) 576-7100 extension 7109 or 7110.

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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