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What my Experience in the Armed Forces Taught me About Leadership

My Grandpa was, and will always be, my best friend.

He was a British paratrooper in World War II. He was also a Prisoner of War during this time. He sacrificed so much for his country, some of which I will probably never know. Trauma wasn’t openly talked about.

My parents are baby boomers, and my father immigrated to Canada when he was about 4 years old. In his teenage years, it was a pretty popular conversation to ask each other what their parents did during the war. My dad knew that his dad fought in the war, but didn’t know any details. Whenever he asked my Grandpa what his role was, he would always tell his kids that he was a cook. My dad didn’t find out the truth, that his father was a paratrooper until he was in his 20’s.

The reason my Grandpa had never told his kids his real role was because he wanted them to grow up realizing that it didn't matter what anybody did in the war. Everybody contributed equally. This has been a valuable lesson I’ve carried with me my entire life. It doesn’t matter what your role was, you were a part of something. Like a piece in a puzzle.

Frances Pool pictured in North Africa during WWII

Right after graduating high school, I joined the Canadian Armed Forces as an infantry soldier. I admired my Grandpa, so I think that I joined to understand him better and show him how grateful I was for his service. I thought he would be happy for me, or proud of how I followed in his footsteps. To my surprise, he wasn’t supportive. He didn’t want me, his granddaughter, to be putting myself in the line of fire.

When you’re seventeen, you feel like you’re an adult and you already know everything there is to know about life. In the eyes of the adults, you’re still a child. Though neither of my parents or my grandpa approved of my choice, I did it anyway.

I moved to Petawawa, eager to start a life of my own. I’ll never forget showing up, hair done and luggage in tow, and immediately being hit with reality. Out of 1700 of us there for basic training, only 110 of us were female. I felt like I had put myself in the line of fire just by getting off that bus. I realized that I didn’t want to be seen as different from the men. I knew I would have to work that much harder to get the leaders with our platoon to see me differently than what they saw on the outside.

During my time with the Canadian Armed Forces, I learned a lot about myself. I learned about weapons and I even got to take part in a small sniper program. I learned about medical roles, something that fueled a later path into nursing. Most importantly, I learned how strong I am and how driven I can be. It gives you a strength that you never even knew you had. That muscle knows how to flex when it needs to.

I refused to cry in front of anybody while I was there. I would never do the modified push ups. I knew that if I ever went to war, no one would say “she’s a woman, treat her differently”. I was determined to not be seen as just another girl. I was a scrawny little teenager, but I realized I could do anything I put my mind to. Looking back, this probably helps fuel my passion for entrepreneurship and equitable opportunities.

When I was with the Canadian Armed Forces, you were always treated as a team. If you didn't eat your full meal, your entire platoon would pay the punishment for that. If you fell too far behind in your daily run or your daily swim, the whole platoon would pay the price. As a leader, I see myself as being in the trenches with the team.

I haven’t really thought of how this experience affected my leadership until now. I think that my experience in the military is actually a large part of who I am as a leader. One of the most interesting philosophies I learned was that you never leave behind a member of your platoon. This has consciously changed my leadership style in my day-to-day work. When my platoon is in the line of fire, I would never back up or leave someone behind. When my team is in the line of fire, I’m right there with them. I will always stand in front of a bullet.

As a mother, I now understand why my family didn’t necessarily support my decision. I understand my Grandpa’s reserved response. You have to have a certain mindset to put your life on the line for strangers. Though he didn’t serve with the Canadian Armed Forces, he was very aware of the realities of military life. He knew the things I didn’t yet know. I can see now that he was worried; worried about what could happen to me and how it could affect my life. As a teenager, I was so angry thinking he didn’t understand me. In the military, I learned how to understand him.

Thinking of Remembrance Day, I am grateful that I had that experience as an infantry soldier. There will never be a day in my life that I will forget what those men and women did, and continue to do, to give us this life that we have. I feel like it's our job as Canadian citizens to keep those memories alive. I would never take back my time with the Canadian Armed Forces, it made me who I am today.

Today, and every day, we remember. It has been over 10 years now since we lost my Grandpa, Frances Pool. His sacrifices are not lost on me, and I am forever thankful for his services.



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