Air Force Day on the Hill 2016

News Article / May 4, 2016

By Tyrone Burke

Rwanda was rapidly descending into chaos. Lieutenant-General (retired) Roméo Dallaire seemed to have nowhere to turn, but the Royal Canadian Air Force came through, providing air support to his mission in a moment of desperate need.

“About 20 years ago, when I was on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, we were only able to get support from two Hercs,” Lieutenant-General Dallaire said. The former Senator was speaking to Air Force personnel assembled in the Senate Chamber for Air Force Day on the Hill. “They were stationed in Somalia,” he continued, “but I’ll tell you – to me, there is no better sound in the world than the sound of a Hercules. You hear it, and you know that the Royal Canadian Air Force is there for you.”

Few parliamentarians – past or present – can claim such a compelling connection to the work the Air Force does at home and abroad, but during Air Force Day on the Hill, they are afforded the opportunity to meet some of the RCAF’s best and brightest. The annual event provides parliamentarians the opportunity to learn more about the RCAF’s work and to recognize the service the country’s airmen and airwomen provide to Canadians.

The Royal Canadian Air Force Association and Senator Joseph Day have been instrumental in organizing Air Force Day on the Hill since its inception in 2006. In an afternoon Senate session, Senator Day formally recognized the work of all RCAF members and the role the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan played in establishing the RCAF’s 400-series squadrons, laying the foundation for today’s air force.

This year, the RCAF commemorates the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the 400-series squadrons, which continue to serve Canada and Canadians to this day.

Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan also spoke  about the importance of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, saying, “This year’s celebration is especially meaningful as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formation of Canada’s 400-series squadrons, which came into being as a result of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (1939-1945). These squadrons, which make up the fabric of the modern RCAF, continue to serve Canada and Canadians to this day. This training program, one of the largest ever conducted, trained thousands of Canadian and Allied aircrew and placed Canada in a leadership role on the international stage. This legacy continues today.”

At a reception in Parliament, six airmen and airwomen were honoured for their exemplary service with a coin presented by RCAF deputy commander Major-General Al Meinzinger. The Defence Minister congratulated honourees Warrant Officer Nancy Chicoine, Captain Sebastien Gagnon, Captain Melanie Basha, Lieutenant-Colonel Seane Doell, Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Lachapelle and Sergeant Justin Harper.

“My fellow Parliamentarians and I are honoured to show our appreciation to members of the RCAF for their outstanding dedication and service to Canada,” the Minister said as he shared with the appreciative crowd his great respect for the RCAF members he served alongside in Afghanistan. “As Minister of National Defence, and as a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, I am deeply grateful to our airwomen and airmen – and their families – for their invaluable contributions, perseverance, and sacrifice. They are most deserving of this special recognition.”

For RCAF personnel, the unique appeal of Parliament is part of what makes Air Force Day on the Hill such a memorable event. “It’s awesome for Parliamentarians to get a chance to talk to our members and to recognize the worth that the RCAF is to Canadians,” said Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, chief of staff operations at Canadian Joint Operations Command, who was attending her second Air Force Day on the Hill. “But it’s also something very special for our members to be recognized in front of MPs and Senators. We do get recognized in front of other military people, but getting this recognition here, in this historical place – especially for our younger members, it’s pretty special, and this is a day that they’re going to remember the rest of their lives.”

“It was a totally different experience for me; the atmosphere in Parliament was unique,” said Sergeant Justin Harper, who was honoured with a coin for his work as a cadet instructor at 16 Wing Borden, Ontario, and for his contributions to the local community in Borden, Ontario. “That sort of award is usually given at a tactical level, and it put a different level of importance to receive it at a strategic level. It was great to know how much they have your back, and to get face time with senators, members of Parliament, the deputy commanding Officer of the Air Force…all of the faces that I usually only see in pictures were there.”


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