By Monique Flores
I have been with the Canadian Armed Forces for over a year now, and my experience has been a very challenging, but also a very fun and rewarding one.
Why I wanted to join the Canadian Armed Forces:
I joined the Reserves (part time) as a Medical Assistant (Med A) with the 15 Field Ambulance detachment in Calgary. The main reason why I joined the Canadian Armed Forces was to ultimately challenge myself both mentally and physically, and to do something that not many people would set out to do in their lifetime. I wanted to feel a sense of purpose and to be part of an organization. I have always had an interest in being in the army, especially since I have many family members who are in the US military. I have had an opportunity to visit a few bases in the US and, was exposed to the military lifestyle. This included shooting a gun for the first time at an outdoor range. I was determined, but scared primarily because I knew there weren’t too many females in the army. And because this was so out of my comfort zone, I wasn’t absolutely sure if I could do it. But then I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Joining the Canadian Armed Forces:
So off I went to apply. I attended an information session to learn more about the Reserves and the Canadian Armed Forces. I completed an application which took almost an entire year. It is highly dependent on what trade a person is applying for and when an applicant is available to come in for the tests and interviews. You are asked to choose your top three trades and so for myself, I chose “Med A” as my first choice. I work as a nurse on the civilian side and wanted to stay in a similar field. The rest of the application involves paperwork (obtaining personal information, school transcripts, etc.), an aptitude test, an interview with an officer, medical exams, and a fitness test. After completing all of this, I was offered a position with 15 Field Ambulance. I had a formal swearing-in ceremony on August 12th, 2015 and took an oath to serve my country and officially became a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.
I then started my basic training shortly thereafter. Basic Training consists of two courses – Basic Military Qualification (BMQ) and Basic Military Qualification Land (BMQ-L). These are the two courses all reservists need no matter what trade a member goes into. Both courses are Infantry like courses where you learn all the basic military skills, and upon completion, allows you to complete your specific trade courses in order to be employable and/or deployable. You have the option of doing these courses on a full time basis, or on a part-time basis, which is the option I chose. The biggest challenge in that option is adjusting from a civilian lifestyle (for me, going to work at the hospital and spending time with family and friends) to a strict military lifestyle. During training weekends of my BMQ course, there was a certain routine we followed. We checked in Friday evenings and set up our sleeping spaces. In the mornings, we were woken up at 500 am to do morning PT (physical training) which usually consisted of running or a ruck march (which is a fast march with all your gear on). The rest of the day consisted of learning about military policies, weapons handling, working in a biological warfare environment, first aid, and learning how to do parade drill. We ended our day by cleaning weapons and bedtime was at 1100 p.m.
I learned quickly that this was not an environment to be comfortable in. All the instructors that taught our course were all very experienced and respectable individuals. Many of them have deployed overseas and were able to motivate us and push us to be the strongest version of ourselves. I was constantly pushed to limits I didn’t know I had. Even though we had a routine, there were many things that came as a surprise. I remember one night when we had all fallen asleep, and were woken up at one in the morning to garbage cans being dropped from the stairs. This was our wake up call to do a ruck march. These sort of things seemed like punishments at the time, but what it really teaches us is to be disciplined individuals. They pushed us both mentally and physically. For me, I struggled more with the physical aspect than mentally. I was one of the smallest and shortest in my platoon, which gave me a disadvantage. I’ve always been an active person but I have never pushed myself to the point where I am uncomfortable in my workouts. Not to mention, I am not a fan of running or doing push-ups, and those are two things the military loves. They also do not expect any less of me because I am a female in the military. I was expected to perform equally as well as my male counterparts. Every week, our PT would get more challenging. We ended our BMQ course with a 20 km ruck march, and we even did circuit training course with gas masks on!
BMQ-L was more of a field course where we got to apply the skills we learned in BMQ and learn new skills like doing section attacks, going on recces, digging trenches, learning to use a machine gun, and acting in an offensive or defensive position. My favourite part was definitely shooting the machine gun at the range. Not many people get the opportunity to do that. This course was mostly spent outside in the field where we slept in just our sleeping bags. Call it camping if you would, but not as relaxed. My most memorable experience on this course was learning the defensive operations, in which we dug trenches to hide from the enemy. I had never experienced sleep deprivation like I have during that time. I had 30 minutes of sleep total over 3 days. Experiences such as these are not even half of what our deployed troops have to go through.
What I have learned:
Since joining, completing my basic training, and having gone on a couple exercises with my unit, I have learned many skills that I wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else. I have met so many amazing people that have become my second family. I know that these are lifelong friends I have made because of everything we have gone through together. You get so close to the people you do your courses with, because you are with them 24/7 and they see you at your best and weakest. You really learn to push not only yourself, but your teammates as well. Everything in the military revolves around teamwork. I have learned to uphold certain values in my personal life like integrity and discipline. I have also noticed that I have become a more patient person with myself and with those around me. I have always lived a fast-paced lifestyle and some would even say stressful as I have always worked multiple jobs at a time, but my experience in the army has been by far the toughest one I have ever had. It has been more demanding than the pressures I have had to go through in my personal life and through nursing school. However, even though my experience has been a challenging one, it is because of that, that I am able to look back and give myself a pat on the back for accomplishing things I never thought I could do. Overcoming these challenges has given me that sense of fulfillment and feeling of purpose that I am doing not only something for myself, but also for the citizens of my country. Overall, it has truly been a rewarding experience. I strongly encourage others to join the Canadian Armed Forces for numerous reasons – maybe you’re up for a challenge like I was, you have the desire to learn new skills, you want to experience something different and fun, or meet like-minded people. Whatever it is, I assure you that your journey will be as fulfilling and unique as mine.
Monique is a nurse and reservist with the Canadian Forces. She is a big believer in gaining knowledge and life experience to better one’s self. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, for any assistance in creating a resume/cover letter or advice in applying for a job.