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A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for December 2012

More Civilized Pursuits

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I logged a lot of miles flying during the past year, most on a variety of military aircraft, with the occasional interlude of feeling like a normal person flying on a normal airline (some nice ones at that, I have to admit to being quite a fan of Emirates Airlines now!), but the last flights that stick in my memory were the flights home, not exactly a model of luxury, but functional and effective enough for the intended job, that is, getting from Point A to Point B.

Because it seems like an ideal time with little else to do, this post is again being composed on an aircraft, a much more comfortable and civilized Bombardier Q400 belonging to Porter Airlines, presently somewhere between Halifax and Montreal, traveling onward to Toronto, my destination. This is something of a business trip. At least, I hope it is. I’m headed to Toronto to do a whole bunch of networking in the hopes of returning with some solid job leads, if not an actual job offer. The latter isn’t likely given the time of year, the former is much more likely, and it’s what I am hoping for.

I nervously informed my boss at my civilian job this week of my decision to leave the firm – or rather, to leave the role I’m in and the firm if I cannot find anything else internally, and it went far better than I expected. I had figured it would be an unpleasant uncomfortable experience, rather like the last time I left a job, but it wasn’t. The writing, after all, was on the wall. I didn’t want to stay doing something I didn’t want to be doing, and it wasn’t really fair to anyone involved to do so. But it didn’t end how I expected. Rather than being shown the door immediately, my boss actually told me to push back my termination date in case any business I had closed (one deal might and will make me a few bucks), and so I could stay an internal candidate for any jobs that might appear. Definitely a better departure than I expected.

The purpose of my trip to Toronto is rather simple. I’m meeting with a couple of leads, and with a couple of organizations whose purpose is to help people transition from the military to civilian employment. It seems strange to need to do so, but the reality is that after a year away from the world of suits and ties in the world of camouflage and guns, I need the help. Old friends are helping with that which is incredible, providing me with networking leads and somewhere to sleep for a few days while I’m away. At worst, I’m seeing some people I haven’t seen in a while on this trip. Hopefully the rest will fall into place. I’ve got a week, heading back home on Christmas Eve in the late evening, which will make observance of some of our traditions complicated, but that’s the trade off. At least I’m home for the holidays, the roto that replaced as isn’t.

Written by Nick

December 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Fortune Favours The Bold

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Alright, I guess I am not quite done.

I have this thing for Latin sayings, proverbs, and the like. It’s probably the product of reading far too much history and the like, coupled with an inability to articulate my thoughts well in an original way which makes it easy to put others’ sayings to good use.

My high school had an interesting one, Palma Non Sine Pulvere, which no one ever actually explained to any of us that I know of, but I came to understand while at the Infantry School. Literally, it means “no palms without the dust”. It refers to the Gladiators, who in victory walked on a path covered in palm fronds when leaving the arena in victory. To do so meant going into the fight, getting covered in the dust and dirt of the arena. To extend it, nothing worth having comes easily. If there’s anything that can teach a person just what they’re actually capable of, of what their limits are, I submit to you that infantry officer training is probably it, and finishing the dismounted course (which is as far as reservists normally go) was the feeling of walking off like that. There were palms, and there was a whole lot of dust. And mud. And so on.

Before I sound like too much of a pseudointellectual, there’s a point to all this, and since it fits into the story, I decided to include it.

I have come to a realization. It’s time to move on career-wise, and for the past week I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out how to do it.

I have at least come up with some next steps. I tend to be a fairly deliberate, methodical, calculating person – I plan and scheme with a view to getting rid of every imaginable risk in a decision to the point that it can often be almost paralyzing. It was a habit I had to break working in the military, because as you’ve likely heard, a workable plan executed aggressively at the right time is better than a perfect plan executed too late.

As it happens, there’s actually a term for this. It’s called Kotov Syndrome, named for Russian chessmaster Alexander Kotov, who described it in a book he wrote. Specifically, he used it to describe a situation where a player in a chess game is placed in a complicated position without a clear path. After contemplating for too long, the player is then forced to make a move as they run out of time, and makes devastating mistake as a result. How do I know this useless trivia? Well, one of my favourite bands is Rise Against, who have a song called Kotov Syndrome and I had to figure out what the origin of the name was. Whatever works though, right?

So, I’ve contemplated my options and I’ve made a decision on my next steps, which are relatively bold, and involve something of a leap of faith, because I do not have everything lined up the way I want it to be but I have to accept that. It is the step into thin air, in a way. Again, when I was younger and less responsible, my friends and I had a hobby of finding things to rappel off. Bridges, buildings, whatever. It was usually an “unsanctioned activity”, but a good time. When you rappel from something like a bridge (or a helicopter skid, as I’ve also been able to do in a more legitimate capacity), that first bound is into thin air. You have a drop of at least your height when the rope anchor is below you before you get tension on the line which lets you control your speed of descent. That first step you simply have to trust that you’ve set everything up right and that it will work – that the anchor was set right, that you’ve hooked your gear up right, and that it’s going to do the job. And then you go, you free fall until everything catches and you resume control.

I’m basically doing that. I realized that I only have an illusory sense of “security” anyhow, and that I have a set up that should do the job when I step off the ledge. And I do.

There’s some organizations that exist to help with transitions – they’re mainly aimed at people leaving the Regular Force and transitioning to civilian employment, but Reservists coming back from deployments are often in the same sort of position and so they offer the same sort of help. I’m working with a couple of them, and planning to relocate, which is bit of a stressful experience on its own, but ultimately will serve me well.

I still have a backup COA, as you do – but I figure if you’re going to make one of those uprooting bold changes, this is probably a good time to do it. Fortune does favour the bold, after all.

You Would Think It Would Be Easy, Wouldn’t You?

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Someone once quipped, “You never will see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office”, and I have often through they’re right. There’s something I have always found about being on a bike that is deeply therapeutic, and other than yoga, it’s my go-to stress reliever to just jump on and ride. I don’t generally have a destination in mind, I usually just wander wherever, usually just the beautiful backroads of Nova Scotia, or along the coast. I tend to stop a fair bit to take photographs, to take in the scenery, and so on.

I put 4,000 km on my bike starting the day I got home until I finally put it into storage last weekend. That is rather telling. I was out just about every single day.

I returned home and had an interview the very next day for a posting with my civilian job that I thought went well but which wound up teaching me a valuable lesson: when they ask at the end of the interview if you have any questions, there’s one you should ask: “Is there anything I haven’t covered? Anything that leaves you doubting I am a fit for this role?” Asking that might have given me a positive outcome, because (and I’m not trying to blame being jet lagged) I didn’t give enough depth on one aspect of the position which wound up making me not the strongest candidate.

I got the call after a couple of weeks of anxious anticipation. I was out on my bike at the time, I had just stopped in the village of Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia to fill up with gasoline, and was just finishing kicking myself for using a full serve pump and adding a trivial amount of extra cost to my fuel bill when I realized my phone (which I had only just gotten after a bit of a production over backorders and such) was buzzing. It was a great call, actually – I don’t think I have honestly ever gotten such great, candid feedback on an interview. In fact, most of the time, when you’re not the chosen candidate you just don’t hear anything. I guess I was a little excited when I answered the phone expecting it had to be positive.

But I had the bike. At least I had that. And a whole day to ride. It really is therapeutic. I probably actually could have taken the extra couple of hours I needed to finish the Marine Drive, one of Nova Scotia’s scenic routes, but I lingered too long over lunch in Sherbrooke and didn’t think I could make the last stretch of the route.

As you might expect, I had a few COAs (that’s “Courses Of Action” in army shorthand) with respect to returning to work. So COA 1 was out the window. COA 2 soon followed for reasons I’m not going to rant about here, because, well, I’m just not. We often joke that in training, we are supposed to develop three COAs during the estimate (planning process). Usually COA 3 is the “throwaway COA”, the plan that’s so ridiculous you only write it up in minimal detail because you know you’re not going to need it, and in all probability, it will never actually work anyhow. My last Company Commander, an extremely smart and knowledgeable officer, however, would always force us to really work through three COAs, and if you came to him when he assigned us “homework” with a true throwaway, he’d send you back to the proverbial drawing board.

My COA 3 was to return to the position I held previously. It wasn’t totally a throwaway, but one thing I realized being away is what I have what you might call a “passion” for – that is, what really interests, excites, gets me motivated and draws out the best work I can do. In fact, I knew this already, to a certain degree, from what I’d done being a normal Class A Reservist. I love training – I like teaching, I like taking material, turning it into lessons, lectures, exercises, and conveying the knowledge to others. I spent almost eight months in Afghanistan doing that most of the time – and it turns out that not only do I love it, I am apparently rather good at it. Going back to my old “day job” doesn’t harness that passion. That’s why I was looking for something else and why COA 1 was what I was really hoping for.

I had no idea how hard it’d be to try to get motivated to go back to that job I had, I really didn’t. I took a little time off but realized I had to get back as soon as possible because it’s a job that requires a long lead time for business to close, and without that, I don’t make any money. Worst still, to get things in order to get going has taken far longer than I expected. I had indicated a date I wanted to be back at it (assuming I had no other option), and it did not even come close to happening.

So, let’s recap. I came home with a plan for the road trip of a lifetime which was scuttled by Hurricane Sandy (there was no way I could get around the storm by the time my earliest possible leave date arrived), and had my career next steps not pan out the way I wanted to. And for all the excitement about coming home especially given how slow my last few weeks in theatre were, I cannot stop thinking about how much I want to go back. Suddenly that whole decompression thing makes a lot more sense. Reintegrating is not, in fact, anything like what I thought. You don’t just come back and suddenly everything makes sense, and in fact, for a Reservist, I’d argue it’s potentially even harder. Our Regular Force brethren come home, go on leave, and know when they’re going back to work and what’s going on. That isn’t to say they don’t have some upheaval, because many get new postings while they’re deployed and some have to move on short notice. One person on my chalk was hoping to get back to Canada in time for the birth of a child (I think his first) which was happening any day, after having moved his family to a new home because of a posting with immediate effect. For us, though, a lot of us come back to complete uncertainty, despite whatever steps we can take to mitigate it. It’s something I’m working through, but it isn’t anywhere near as easy as I thought it was going to be.

However, things do have a way of working out. Turns out today there was a job posting internally for another position much like the “dream job” I mentioned. So I’ve applied to that. That is giving me some lift. I’ve got my UAB back now, and I’ve packed up my desert kit to be returned so as to close that chapter. I wish I had a video of trying to jam them into my VW Tiguan, which, despite being an “SUV” doesn’t have a whole lot of space, and was already full of assorted motorcycle paraphernalia. It would be a video best run at fast forward with “Yakety Sax” playing until I got them in. I’ve finally moved some of my kit into the storage locker I keep it in after letting it explode in my dining room too long. These are small victories in a way. But they’re something.

I don’t know if I’ll add to this blog again after this post, I think it too needs to be ended as a chapter in an ongoing story, a way of moving forward. I think this might be where this story should end.

Written by Nick

December 5, 2012 at 9:36 pm