‘Tanks are cool’: Meet the Armour Corps School Commandant

Article / July 17, 2018 / Project number: 18-0191

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Oromocto, New Brunswick — 5th Canadian Division Support Base (5 CDSB) Gagetown is known as ‘The Home of the Army.’ Why? Because it is home to the Combat Training Centre (CTC), where virtually every Canadian Army (CA) soldier will visit for training at some point.

Within CTC are 10 separate schools, including The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School (RCACS).

In the following interview, RCAS Commandant Lieutenant-Colonel Vince Kirstein outlines the school’s role in molding Armoured Soldiers and Officers, its part in ongoing efforts to strengthen the Army Reserve and the pleasures of being a tourist in your own country.

What do soldiers learn at RCACS?

We run all of the individual training for Armoured Soldiers and Officers in the Reserve and Regular Forces. After their Basic Military Qualification, soldiers come here to do what we call DP 1 or Developmental Period 1, which is where you get qualified to be a soldier in an armoured vehicle. We teach them driving. We teach them weapons handling and basic leadership – how they need to operate in the field both as an individual and as part of a crew.

Generally, the next course we run is Armour Crew Commander Common. It’s ‘common’ because we run it for every vehicle that we have. Which vehicle depends on which unit the soldier belongs to and what their qualifications are, because the Armoured units are all slightly different in terms of what vehicles they use.

Someone coming from out west is probably a tanker, so they’re going to be on a Leopard [tank]. If they’re coming from Valcartier, they’re going to be on a Coyote [armoured vehicle] or, in the near future, a Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAPV).

We run an Armoured Troop Warrant course. Soldiers show up here as Sergeants and they need this qualification to be promoted to Warrant Officer. They essentially learn how to be the second-in-command of a tank troop or reconnaissance troop in the field.

For Armoured Officers, we run two courses. They learn to crew command. That is done on a Leopard tank because it’s our most complicated platform. And then we have the troop leader course, where they learn to command a reconnaissance troop. Reconnaissance troops are larger than tank troops, and the tasks are much more diverse.

The TAPV is gradually replacing the G Wagon as the primary vehicle for the Army Reserve. What are your thoughts on that?

This is the first time in quite a few years where the Reservist will have the same vehicle as their Regular Force counterparts. That gives them far more operational relevance than previously. In terms of survivability, the TAPV is, hands-down, the best vehicle we have for protection.

It’s designed for patrolling, and it is extremely well armoured. If I wanted to go out and fight tomorrow and survive, it would be a coin flip, depending on the enemy, as to whether I took a tank or a TAPV.

And if we’re dealing with improvised explosive device threat scenarios, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d take the TAPV.

Speaking of the Army Reserve, what role is RCACS playing in the Strengthening the Army Reserve (StAR) initiative?

The overall goal, and my intent, is to create the ability for Reserve units to be able to force-generate an Armoured troop that can plug into a Regular Force squadron. And that is the mission task that is assigned to the Armoured Corps Reserve.

What led you to the Army?

I’ve served my entire career on tanks. Tanks are cool and that was my first choice. And it’s never changed, never wavered. Tanks are still cool.  

I’m the first person in my family to join. I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. My parents were dairy farmers and we had no money. I joined the Army because that was the only way I was going to get a chance to go to university. And that was almost 24 years ago. It’s been a great ride.

My family and I have been really embracing the culture of the Maritimes. Last summer we bought a canoe. I’ve fished in the Bay of Fundy, I’ve fished in the Eel River and I’ve fished in the St. John.

As an Army Officer, I always know I’m only going to be posted for two to three years. So it’s like I’m a tourist in my own country.

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