CONSTRUCTION ENGINEERING OFFICER
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
I’m Captain Marc Comeau from Sainte-Foy, Québec. I’m a Construction Engineering Officer currently posted to 3 Wing Bagotville.
And I’m Laura Locklin from Peterborough, Ontario. I’m a Construction Engineering Officer and I’m currently posted in Comox, British Columbia.
COMEAU: Wherever the Canadian Forces are based or deployed, providing our soldiers, air crews and sailors with well-built, well-functioning infrastructure is a vital part of the mission.
On base in Canada, we fill the role of a town engineer, setting up and taking care of residential and office buildings, runways and hangars, fire stations, communications facilities, the power grid and sewage systems. We make sure everyone has clean running water, air conditioning and heat, and our team includes a wide range of expert technicians who work in Construction; Water, Fuels and Environment; Electrical Distribution and Electrical Generation Systems; Plumbing and Heating, and Refrigeration and Mechanical Systems.
I’ve got 180 employees including 50 fire fighters, so we’ve got a wide range of personalities and skills that we have to manage and organize, I guess, into a cohesive team.
LOCKLIN: Whether the job calls for setting up humanitarian assistance camps in Haiti, weatherproofing a radar installation in the High Arctic, or flood control in Manitoba, we’re always ready to travel anywhere in the country… and the world.
COMEAU: When we deploy, we’re the first in; we’re the last ones out. We build the camps for the rest of the Canadian Forces as they come through and do their missions. When it comes to domestic operations back in Canada, we’re involved in everything.
Construction and reconstruction; disaster relief and humanitarian operations; working with the Air Force, Navy and Army: add it all up, and that’s a range of skills and responsibilities that very few young engineers in the civilian world can hope to match.
When I worked before I joined the military, as a civil engineer, my boss had been there for twenty-five years and he was in charge of 8 people. I’ve been in the military now for not even ten years yet, and I’m in charge of 180, dealing with projects that are much bigger than what I had worked with in the civilian world.
COMEAU: The idea you can be deployed halfway around the world on a moment’s notice and basically plot out and build an entire combat base or airfield from scratch in the middle of nowhere, that’s just an incredible challenge for any engineer.
I’ve been to Afghanistan three times. The challenges over there, the interesting part is the interaction with the local people. Whether it’s in the Sudan or Haiti or we’re in Afghanistan, we’re working hand in hand with the local people and helping them build their skills.
LOCKLIN: I think the coolest part of the job is getting to work in and with people that have such a wealth of knowledge in different trades.
COMEAU: The coolest part of the job for me is realizing the projects, is actually seeing the people getting what it is they need. They’re our clients, I guess we call them, from the different units on the base, getting new office spaces or getting new buildings. We have a great sense of pride in the work that we’ve done.
LOCKLIN: Here's how a career as a Construction Engineering Officer begins. After your Basic Officer Training, you’ll head to the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering at Gagetown, New Brunswick, where you’ll learn how to adapt your engineering expertise to the unique demands of the military environment.
COMEAU: You’ll spend about 11 months in Gagetown in three intensive phases of training: combat leadership, airfield engineering, and team leadership in an airfield or deployment setting.
COMEAU: Your first posting will be to a Construction unit at one of Canada’s Air Force or Navy bases, where you’ll lead teams of construction engineering technicians in the planning, budgeting, and execution of airfield and other infrastructure projects.
LOCKLIN: I’m not a trades person but I manage six different very important trades. So, it’s utilizing the knowledge and gathering what I can about it to make an excellent plan.
COMEAU: You’re thrown right in, right away into leadership opportunities. You’ve got to use your leadership skills and dig down deep, I guess, to find a way to make things happen.
LOCKLIN: You get familiar with operations on a base and how construction engineering units really work; get your hands into some project management, and then hopefully you can go on exercises like this one and ideally in the first few years you have the opportunity to deploy.
Even during your first posting, you can expect to be deployed on an operational tour that could be a humanitarian mission overseas, disaster mitigation and relief at the scene of a flood, hurricane or earthquake, or reconstruction of schools, homes and roads in a post-conflict location.
As a Construction Engineering Officer, you’ll face more challenges every day than many civilian engineers face in a lifetime. The rewards you’ll get are amazing: serving your country, fulfilling the mission, and leading a great team.
COMEAU: My proudest moment, I have to say it’s back in Afghanistan. When we opened one of the bridges that we did over there, we had a direct impact on 35 000 people, on a little project that costs about $ 40 000 to lay a bridge. And just the children that were running around and the families that were there that wanted to come and thank me directly. It was very rewarding. I was very proud.
LOCKLIN: This is my first greatest adventure. I only finished training a few months ago, and I like the high tempo and the challenges that we have in the construction engineering trade.
COMEAU: My entire career has been a great adventure actually, and I look forward to the rest of the adventure. I’m open to anything and willing to go everywhere, I guess, with where my trade needs to take me, wherever the CF needs me. The adventure is just the career. There’s so many things out there that we’re involved in and we’re able to experience. It’s just phenomenal.