Claiming her place: Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Heer
By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs
October is Women’s History Month in Canada and this year’s theme is “Claim your place”. Since Confederation 150 years ago, many capable and strong women have claimed their rightful places in our country’s proud history, including those serving in the Canadian Army (CA). Here is the first article of a two-part profile of one such woman, Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Heer, a member of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RCA)
Ottawa, Ontario —Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Heer has claimed her place on the vanguard of greater representation of high-ranking women officers in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in general and The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RCA) in particular.
Women have been serving in Canada’s military for more than a century in non-combat roles, and in 1989, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was one of the planet’s first military forces to integrate women into all trades and ranks.
LCol Heer is in good company in the Artillery as one of eight female lieutenant-colonels, the highest number to date in the RCA. As of January, 2017, the number of women officers of all ranks in the Combat Arms in the CAF was 233 or 4.7 per cent, with the RCA having one of the highest representations of female Combat Arms officers in the Army.
It’s not about gender but ability to lead
Major-General Simon Hetherington, the Senior Serving Gunner of the RCA and Commander Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre in Kingston, Ontario, said of LCol Heer, “She has been, from her early days, a remarkable leader. She has attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and that’s a measure of success for many Canadian officers.”
Maj-Gen Hetherington continued, “I think it is less about her contribution as a woman and more about her role as an Army Officer and as an Artillery Officer. She’s done the things that we’ve asked her to do at various levels and even today, she’s doing remarkable work running the diversity portfolio. So her greatest contribution, I believe, is yet to come.”
This Director is a member of one of the designated groups
LCol Heer believes that her 20 years of “lived experience” as a woman in the military have made her an excellent fit for the position of CAF’s Director, Diversity and Human Rights Directorate (DHRD). Having taken on this post following her promotion to her current rank in June 2016, she works to help achieve CAF diversity representation rates and provide a better work environment for all CAF members.
“As a member of one of the Employment Equity Designated Groups, I can use first-hand experience to address specific issues when debating policies on the importance of diversity in our organization,” she said. “My career in the Artillery has allowed me to be authentic and I’m proud to bring my unique strengths to the fight. I truly believe diversity makes us stronger and provides us with greater flexibility on the battlefield.”
The CAF is committed to increasing the proportion of servicewomen from the current estimate of about 15 per cent to at least 25 per cent by 2026.
LCol Heer said, “Being the Director of DHRD has opened my eyes to several different perspectives and concepts that I hadn’t had the opportunity to consider thus far in my career. I’m excited to bring these new perspectives to whatever comes next for me. I think all leaders have a responsibility to take ownership of the CAF Diversity Strategy and help it transcend leadership and reach all levels of the CAF.”
More women advancing to senior positions
LCol Heer noted that since all CAF trades have been open to women for 27 years, they now are filling senior leadership positions as officers or non-commissioned members (NCMs). Her experience tells her that gender has very little to do with the job at hand.
“I firmly believe that the success of these officers and NCMs is deeply rooted in our core fundamental approach to treating all members as equal. These women, just like their male counterparts, have been given the time, operational experience, leadership opportunities and professional development courses to establish themselves as leaders in the RCA,” she said.
“In the Artillery, we are all about the desired effects, or in other words, getting the round in on time and on target. To be successful in the Royal Canadian Artillery, like any branch of the CA, all soldiers need to be working as an effective member of their team to accomplish their mission.”
Thoughts on the deaths of women soldiers in Afghanistan
Unquestionably, signing up for combat missions means accepting great danger Four women CAF members – one a combat-certified officer – died in Afghanistan: Artillery Officer Captain Nichola Goddard in 2006, armoured crewman Trooper Karine Blais in 2009, computer analyst Major Michelle Mendes in 2009, and medic Master Corporal Kristal Giesbrecht in 2010.
The first female combat-certified soldier to be lost was 26-year-old Capt Goddard, whose role on the front lines as a Forward Observation Officer ended in her death in a firefight.
LCol Heer said, “War does not discriminate. As you look through the Afghanistan memorial, there are women as well as other members of visible minorities that were killed in combat. When you join, you become a member of the CAF and with that comes the unlimited liability that goes with military service. There is no greater honour than serving your country.”
“Every time a soldier passes, male or female, it affects us all. I did lose friends in the Afghanistan conflict – Nichola and Michelle were friends of mine.” she said.
Speaking of Capt Goddard, she said, “As an Artillery Officer and the first female to die in conflict, it hit close to home as she was part of the gunner family. The response from her soldiers and those that worked closely with her following her death was especially inspiring as it was clear she was an incredible officer and human being.”
“These experiences have helped shape the way that I live my life and the appreciation and value I have for life and the people I love,” she said.
“I am extremely fortunate to have an incredible life partner in my husband James. I rely so much on him to keep life running smoothly while I am deployed, and it’s because of his continuous support at home and throughout all my time away that I have been able to be so successful in my chosen career.”
The couple has two young daughters. By observing the developing world view of her children, LCol Heer sees hope for the positive support of diversity in the CAF and in society in general
“Our daughters, now 11 and 9, are better people at their age than we were,” she said. “They have stronger values and are far more accepting, open and accommodating than we were at their age. They know they can accomplish anything and choose a profession in which they will have every opportunity to succeed.”
More details of LCol Heer’s career are available here.
Historical Milestones of Women in the Canadian Armed Forces
Women in the Canadian Armed Forces
Lieutenant-Colonel Krista Bouckaert aims to inspire women and men
Canadian Armed Forces Women in Force Program – video
Pilot program well-suited for women considering joining the Forces
The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery
Article / October 23, 2017 / Project number: 17-0239
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