Monday, 29 August 2016

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 21 - A New Career - Headquarters in the Nation's Capital

It's been about six months since I added an entry dealing with my life as a Military brat and my follow-on career in the Canadian military. So if this is a new topic for you, here is the link to my last entry, when I worked as a Mobile Air Movements Officer at 1 Air Movements Unit in Edmonton, Alberta. All of the other entries can be found if you click on 'Personal' in the labels section on the right hand column.

In the summer of 1982, we packed up the Pontiac Sunbird and Charlie, our dog, and moved away from Edmonton to Ottawa, Ontario, where I was to begin a new career as a Supply procurement officer, something for which I had as yet received no training. Our first year in Ottawa was to be very tumultuous. The system of allowances for moves was undergoing many updates and changes and there were still to be many improvements, which, unfortunately, I wasn't able to take advantage of.

I was married to a Private who had yet to receive her 'trained' qualification. When I went to the Administration section, I was told a variety of things. Firstly, because I was married to a military person, we would both get the posting allowance, which for argument sake, let's say was $1,500.00 each. Then, quickly, this was reduced because she wasn't trained, so wasn't entitled to an allowance, only I would get the full allowance. Then, no that's not right, I was now only entitled to the single allowance. It didn't matter how much you argued, well, if that's the case, why do we both get paid travel expenses? Well, that's different. Needless to say, this was one of my most frustrating moves. As well, I discovered almost two years later, that even though I had 'cleared out' of all the various locations in Edmonton, that I had been paying my Mess Dues for both Edmonton and Ottawa the whole time. I had checked on this many times in Ottawa, as my monthly pay guide showed some similar deductions and when I went to check, the pay clerks couldn't explain it. It was nice to get reimbursed all that money two year's later, but still...

In our first year in Ottawa, we moved 3 times. We found a place to rent south of Ottawa, a nice row house. We were renting from a lady who owned two houses in this condominium development. A month into our stay, the landlord told us we had to move because the lady had rented us the wrong place and we needed to move to the other one. Without elaborating on this state of affairs too much, we ended up putting our furniture in storage and moved in with my Uncle and Aunt, who lived on the Air Base at Uplands. In fact, they were living in the same row house that my parents had lived in, when they were stationed in Ottawa, back in 1971. (see this brief post for further info). We stayed their for a month or two until we found another rental unit on Paul Anka Drive. Yup, the whole thing was kind of stressful. After a year there, we bought out first house, once again south of Ottawa and lived there until our first child, Jennifer, was born, in 1986. My timings might be off somewhat, but it gives you a rough idea.

Jennifer wasn't always this quiet
When Jennifer was born, my wife got out of the military to be a full-time mother and we decided that maybe we should sell the house and move back into military housing; this time in Rockcliffe, on the east end of Ottawa. Was that the right decision? Who knows, you can only move on from the decisions you make. We lived in Rockcliffe until 1989, when my next move took place.

So, anyway, you've got the gist of the personal aspect of the move to Ottawa. It was kind of nice, the familiarity of the place, having lived there before and it was also nice being closer to family, both were just a few hours away.

National Defence Headquarters, 101 Col By Drive
So now on to my work situation. I was posted to National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario. Of course in my short career, I'd never had any exposure to what a Headquarters job might entail. It was all kind of bewildering. I showed up for my first day and basically sat around on the 5th floor as the administrative staff, the pay clerks and all and sundry gathered information, started my new files, worked on travel expense claim from my move from Edmonton, then sent me on my way to my new job.

My new job. Up until this point in my career, I had been a Base Transportation officer and a Mobile Air Movements officer. I think you see a theme. I was transport and movements. My new job was to be a Naval procurement officer, a supply officer, basically. Other than a summer as an officer cadet down at Canadian Forces Base Halifax (this entry) where I had worked in Base Supply, I had received no training in this new career. And being a somewhat senior Captain, there was a bit of an expectation that I might know something about procurement and supply. Nope, nothing. To add a bit to the confusion, I was going to be procuring for the Navy. The section was Directorate of Procurement and Supply (Maritime) or DPSupM. The specific section was involved in buying materiel for Ship Alterations. To put it simply, some engineer would decide that some part of a ship needed to be modified (improved) and would right up a specification or alteration (ShipAlt) and my section would go out and buy the item(s). Sometimes, the materials were bought in advance and stored at the various Supply Depots across the country and stored there awaiting the requirement to actually issue the items to the repair yard that was doing the work.

It eventually became an interesting job for me, but not the first year. It turned out that I was transferred into a supernumerary position. I didn't really have a job. I had a desk, but the officer who I worked with or maybe, more accurately, for, had difficulty teaching me the job. I can understand that. She had been in the job for awhile, she had her way of doing things and she didn't really have the time to teach me, or wouldn't make the time. I spent a lot of time photocopying documents, getting frustrated and often going home with a tense stomach and head-aches. There were times I didn't even want to go to work.

Proof that I actually passed.. :)
In the late fall, I was sent to Camp Borden to take my Supply Speciality course. I did pass, so now I was a Logistics Officer with the Transport, Air Movements and Supply speciality qualifications. I was slowly getting into the job as well, learning about the Contracting process, learning how to deal with the engineers who wanted us to buy for them, learning the budget process and even a bit about the Navy. By the time that I took over the job as Shipalts Officer, I was feeling a bit comfortable in the job and actually was starting to enjoy my time at DPSupM.

I played hockey and fastball with the DPSupM teams so I felt that I was fitting in pretty good. I took over responsibility for preparing or collating the budget submissions for the Directorate and even took over the job of procuring Technical Investigation and Engineering Services for the directorate when that officer was off sick. I liked the responsibility and my work was appreciated and I was actually progressing nicely, I thought.

Then in my third year in DPSupM, my career manager had his annual visit and he advised me that I was doing well and that to really give my career a boost I should get back into the Transport world. Now who am I to argue with a Lieutenant Colonel? I had my doubts after the way I left my last job in Transportation, but I thought maybe he might be right. So my next posting was to Director General Transportation (DGT). Initially the plan was that I was to be the Executive Assistant to Director Transport Management (DTM), who, it turned out was the older brother of my previous boss in Edmonton. I had an interview with LCol Popowych and when I showed up for my job, it turned out that I was now going to work in the Manpower Establishment and Training section. I probably should have known right at that moment how much of a boost to my career that being in Transport would be. Not one at all.

Same PMQ, different location, much older
Around this time, we sold our house in the south of Ottawa and moved back into PMQs, this time in Rockcliffe. Oddly enough, it was the same type of PMQ that I had grown up in about 30 years ago in Bagotville. My older brother, Rick, and his wife Johanne had also come to Ottawa around this time. In fact, for about 3 months, they lived about 3 doors down from us, until the bought in Aylmer, Quebec and we moved into PMQs. It was odd being in PMQs again. It seemed so much smaller. I found myself walking into walls, bumping into door frames.

Caitlin in a happy moment
When our second girl, Caitlin, was born in 1988, the two girls had the bedrooms upstairs and we used the extra room on the ground floor, just like my parents did in Bagotville. Déja vu all over again.

I was now back in the transport world again. I started in the Training / Manpower Establishment cell. For the one portion, I used to visit bases and help them prepare for OSMERs. Basically they had to justify how many people they had in Base Transport and maybe try and justify extra positions. We would look at their paperwork, then I would go on a visit with another member of our team and we would look at their organisation and see if their paperwork was satisfactory. When the official visit came along, we hoped that they wouldn't lose positions and maybe might even gain some. I went to three bases with this job; CFB Valcartier in Quebec, the Supply Depot in Moncton NB and Cornwallis NS, our recruit training establishment. The other part of my job involved trying to justify and program training courses for Transportation Officers, courses that would taken out of country, with other countries. This job was OK, but the whole atmosphere at DGT wasn't very positive. Maybe it was just me.

At a fun conference in Auckland, back row centre left
After a year in the one job, I was moved to a more interesting one. It involved preparing Standardisation Agreements with the Transportation agencies in our NATO allies and also with our allies in the US/ Australia/ Great Britain and New Zealand. What made it most interesting was that I got to travel to  Brussels and also to Auckland New Zealand for meetings with my counterparts in those countries. We also had our first computer in DGT at that time, a standalone mainframe. One of the officers was developing a program to help load ships and aircraft so that they could be loaded and meet proper Weight and Balance features of the given type. That was interesting, but what was really interesting (read fun) was that there was also a computer game, a very simple game, but a first for me. I spent a bit of time exploring dungeons and trying to outwit trolls and find magic potions in my spare time.

I spent 3 years in DGT and generally found the place to be a big clique. If you didn't party with the boys on Friday, you weren't one of the gang. My ratings were reflected accordingly. Ah well. I had taken some training in another program while I was there, that being the Integrated Lines of Communication (ILOC). Basically it was an agreement with the United States to allow Canadian troops and equipment travel on American airlift and sealift if we had to deploy to Europe or other locations in time of war. As part of this ILOC, a number of Canadian transportation/ movement officers were posted at American bases in Europe and the United States. Since my time was running down in DGT, for once I decided to fight for a job. I applied for positions with the US Navy in London (Military Sealift Command) and with the US Air Force in Europe (USAFE) at Ramstein, Germany.

To my surprise, I was accepted at the position in Ramstein. I was very happy about this. Of course, the Transport world couldn't let me go without a little dig. The director called me in to his office about a week before I left. My previous boss had moved to Stuttgart at the HQ there and supposedly told my current boss that he didn't think I would be suited for the job in Ramstein. What a joy it was to hear that bit of wonderful news. Especially since this Lieutenant Colonel would be my official boss in Europe. Ah well, I thought, screw it. I'll just go and enjoy my time in Europe and not worry about what he thinks.

Good bye to the Gatineau Balloon fest.
This trip to Europe did involve a bit of coordination. I found a place to live while I was in Brussels at a conference, taking a side trip to Ramstein. At this time, my younger brother, John, was stationed at our base in Lahr, Germany, so he travelled with me to Ramstein, then on to Brussels and stayed there with me for a couple of days. I found a place off base to live, agreed to buy my predecessor's old Fiat and then returned to Ottawa. The majority of our furniture would be put in storage while we were in Germany. We packed a few boxes that accompanied us; items we needed right away and then a few other boxes to come along at a later date.

Well, there you have it, our stay in Ottawa, from 1982 to 1988 was over and we were now embarking on a new adventure in Europe. Hopefully I won't take quite so long for this next part of my reminiscences. I hope you're still enjoying.

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