RCAF honorary colonels gather for maritime aviation-themed conference

A large group of people, most of them wearing military uniforms, stand in front of a large helicopter inside a hangar.
RCAF honorary colonels gather in front of a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter at 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, during their 2018 annual conference. PHOTO: Leading Seaman Laurance Clarke, SW05-2018-0177-025

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By Ryan Melanson and Sergeant James Cowell

12 Wing Shearwater and 14 Wing Greenwood, both in Nova Scotia, co-hosted the Royal Canadian Air Force’s annual honorary colonel conference from June 6 to 8, 2018. More than 50 honorary colonels from across the country attended.

“It’s certainly timely that we’re here in Shearwater, and exposing our honorary colonels to the great history at 12 Wing,” said Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, commander of the RCAF during the 12 Wing portion of the conference.

He described the honorary colonels as part of the lifeblood of the RCAF and, while noting their positions are non-operational, they play an important function at the wings or squadrons they’re attached to: providing advice or guidance to senior officers, acting as an advocate for the squadron or the RCAF in general, and providing a link between Canadian Armed Forces personnel and the wider community.

“They do important work, and they can certainly provide the commanding officer or the squadron chief warrant officer with a different perspective on things, and I think having that dimension as part of our squadron mosaic is fundamental. It’s something that adds additional capacity to our leadership teams,” he continued.

There are a number of benefits to gathering the honorary colonels together each year, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger said.

“It provides them a great opportunity to ask questions, catch up and bond with their fellow honorary colonels and really solidify and embolden their network. Even more importantly, on our side, it gives us a chance to provide them with a comprehensive update on what’s going on with the Air Force.”

That update came in the form of briefings from Lieutenant-General Meinzinger himself as well as Major-General Christian Drouin and Brigadier-General Dave Cochrane (commanders of 1 Canadian Air Division and 2 Canadian Air Division respectively) and 12 Wing leadership, including wing commander Colonel Sid Connor and the commanding officers of 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron and 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, responsible for maritime helicopter training and operations.

In Shearwater, the focus was on the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter: the progress of transitioning the new helicopter into operations and the extensive training that goes along with it. The group witnessed the maritime air aircraft in action during a day sail with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Charlottetown on June 6, with a demonstration that saw a Cyclone flying beside the ship and two CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft following overhead.

“We were able to see how maritime aviation interfaces jointly with the Navy, and it was a great show,” said Colonel (retired) John Roeterink, special advisor to the commander of the RCAF and responsible for the RCAF’s honorary colonels’ program. Before departing from 12 Wing, the group also visited the Shearwater Aviation Museum, which has a strong focus on maritime aviation.

The sky was overcast and rain fell on the 14 Wing Greenwood guard of honour awaiting the arrival of the honorary colonels on June 8 for the second portion of the conference. After Lieutenant-General Meinzinger’s inspection, 14 Wing’s commander, Colonel Mike Adamson, provided a brief history of the wing, an introduction of its assets and of those who command them, his command team, and how all areas and resources work together.

14 Wing’s Honorary Colonel Terry Kelly provided an inspirational speech on how to “see with your mind”.

“How is your mind sight?” he asked the group.

“Mind sight continues to grow until you leave this world,” he said, a potent message from someone who, as a blind child, learned this from teachers, many of whom were ex-military personnel. Honorary Colonel Kelly closed with a lesson on self-awareness, doing a back flip off the stage.

The sky cleared for a group photo, a tour of the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum and a visit to 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron. Later in the day, Dr. Stéphane Guevremont, military historian and honorary colonel of 419 Tactical Fighter Squadron, gave a memorable presentation on the history of 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron, based in Greenwood.

Fostering esprit de corps is just one of the roles the honorary colonels fulfill throughout their tenure and all take great pride in being there for military personnel and their families. Canadian singer-songwriter Loreena McKennitt, honorary colonel for the Royal Canadian Air Force, called it an “honour and privilege to support those who serve us”.

Honorary Colonel J’Lyn Nye of 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based in Edmonton, Alberta, said she is “impressed by the resilience of the military family” and that she is a strong supporter of the work of Military Family Resource Centres.

It was the third consecutive year attending the conference for Dr. Ron Sparkes, honorary colonel of 444 Combat Support Squadron at 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. As someone without a military background, he said meeting RCAF crews and learning about their trades has been a highlight of the position, and the annual event provides an opportunity to do even more.

“As a novice who knows nothing about aircraft outside of my experiences flying in them, I can go up to the hangar [at 5 Wing] with the Griffin helicopters and meet the search and rescue technicians who jump out of them into the water, which is amazing. And the same goes for the people here in Shearwater and every wing I’ve visited. I love talking to them and hearing their stories.”

The briefings, tours and information imparted on the group is also invaluable, he added, and will allow him to return home with extra knowledge and awareness, and new tools he can use as an advocate for the Air Force in his community.

“We’re getting presentations from very senior people at the very top of the organization, telling us about where the Air Force is going, what some of their challenges are and so on. It’s important for us to hear this and, even as a novice, it lets me know the areas where a little more attention or support may be needed,” Honorary Colonel Sparkes said.

Mr. Melanson is a staff member of Trident, Canadian Forces Base Halifax’s newspaper, and Sergeant Cowell is a member of 14 Wing Greenwood’s imaging section. This article was originally published in The Aurora, 14 Wing Greenwood’s base newspaper.


RCAF honorary colonels

12 Wing Shearwater

14 Wing Greenwood

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