Investing in our junior leaders through the Junior Enlisted Leadership Forum

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News Article / November 26, 2019

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By Second Lieutenant Kylie Penney

If you walked into the Netherlands Theatre at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba, on the morning on Monday, October 21, 2019, you would have seen a room full of junior enlisted leaders from the air forces of Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Bangladesh and the Philippines. They were all present to attend the 2019 Junior Enlisted Leadership Forum (JELF).

This year, the RCAF collaborated with Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), a command of the United States Air Force, to co-host the annual week-long forum at 17 Wing from October 21 to 25.  The forum is hosted by a different Pacific Rim nation each year.

Chief Warrant Officer Miina Piir, from 2 Canadian Air Division headquarters in Winnipeg and Senior Master Sergeant Jason Glockner, from PACAF headquarters, acted as the principal organisers and co-host lead facilitators for the event.

JELF is the ultimate opportunity for professional development for selected RCAF master corporals and sergeants from different trades to learn in an international environment.

“It is a privilege to be picked for something like this and I feel like my supervisors recognized the hard work I have put in at my unit,” said Master Corporal  Kevin Griffin, an aircraft structures technician from 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. “I was excited to come and interact with other air forces.”

Participants learn with and from their counterparts from other Pacific Rim nations and learn about leadership challenges from senior mentors, who hold the equivalent of chief warrant officer rank, from participating nations.

“It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to have senior enlisted leaders from four different countries come together that are all working towards the same goals within their air forces,” said Chief Warrant Officer Denis Gaudreault, RCAF command chief warrant officer. “When you talk about leadership challenges, our job as leaders is to make sure that the goals we are trying to achieve are communicated down the chain so that everybody understands what we are talking about.”

The commander of the RCAF’s 2 Canadian Air Division, Brigadier-General Mario Leblanc, welcomed the participants and highlighted the importance of junior enlisted leaders in the respective air forces.

Throughout the week, the participants learned how teamwork, resiliency, diversity, gender and Indigenous culture tie into leadership, with a series of challenges, lectures, and group work. 

Master Corporal Brent Thompson and Sergeant (retired) Devin Beaudry, from the regional Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group, organised a Sweat Lodge for participants one evening, as an optional activity related to the Indigenous culture briefing.

Corporal Kim Gilbert, a medic from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) participated in the sweat.

“It was amazing, I love doing stuff like that to see the real Canada,” Corporal Gilbert said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Sweat Lodge. I was a little bit nervous but it was really good. I felt super relaxed and peaceful afterwards.

 “All the underlying Indigenous themes we talked about this week, are pretty similar to home, they are just interpreted or represented in slightly different ways in each country,” she said, comparing Indigenous culture in the RCAF to Indigenous culture in the RNZAF.

“We are pretty lucky in New Zealand because our Indigenous culture has worked its way into our daily lives. It is normal for us to welcome someone with a Maori greeting. When someone starts a speech, they’ll start in Maori, and new air force recruits go through the Maori’s Turangawaewae, or meeting house, to be welcomed on, and learn the Air Force Haka.” 

No visit to Canada would be complete without hockey and participants got a chance to see Winnipeg’s finest in action at a Manitoba Moose practice and a Winnipeg Jets game.

“I’m glad to be here in Canada and it’s my first time inside of a hockey rink,” said Technical Sergeant Terrance Perry of the U.S. Air Force, who is stationed in South Korea. “I had only seen hockey on TV until now, so to see the Manitoba Moose practice, just the speed and coordination of the players, is amazing. The most remarkable thing is the goalie and how quick and agile he has to be, going up and down all the time. It really impresses me.”

He was equally impressed at the energy of a Jets game.

The week wrapped up with lessons on ethics, bias, conflict management and the geopolitical environment with Dr. Andrea Charron, from the University of Manitoba, and Dr. Sarah Meharg, an adjunct professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.

A visit to Winnipeg’s iconic Canadian Museum for Human Rights, underscored the reasons why cooperation and ethical leadership are essential to our air forces. 17 Wing’s Honorary Colonel Stuart Murray gave an introduction to the museum, before participants went on guided tours.

Master Corporal Mira Kim, an airborne electronic sensor operator from 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, said she really enjoyed her experience at JELF 2019.

“My favourite part of JELF was definitely meeting everyone from the other nations,” she said. “There are parallels between issues we have as leaders in the RCAF, that I thought were isolated to Canada, but are in fact quite similar to issues faced by the other junior enlisted leaders that were participating. We shared a lot of stories and being exposed to all these experiences will help us with our decision making processes as we progress in our careers. ”

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