“You are the face of your community,” said Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff. “It is hard to quantify the value that you bring to the Air Force in helping us connect with Canadians and providing that extra voice of reason.”
With that introduction, LGen Deschamps opened the annual Air Force Honorary Colonels’ (HCol) conference held at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont. June 23 to 24.
“The Air Force is blessed to have such a range of talented and committed individuals in our Honorary Colonel network – from well-known public figures and leaders in business and the arts to former military commanders. You are a welcome, integral part of the Air Force family,” he said.
Honorary Colonels work behind the scenes and provide a much needed connection between the community and the Canadian Forces. Each military unit decides who they want as an Honorary Colonel and, on the recommendation of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Minister of National Defence approves all honorary appointments. These unpaid positions are usually for tenures of three years, but they are renewable.
Senator Pamela Wallin, honorary colonel of the Air Force; award-winning singer/songwriter HCol Loreena McKennitt (435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 17 Wing Winnipeg, Man.); former Olympic downhill skier HCol Mélanie Turgeon (3 Air Maintenance Squadron, 3 Wing Bagotville, Que.); President and CEO of Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, HCol Sam Shaw (408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron located at Edmonton, Alta.); and Major-General (ret’d) Brock Horseman (400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, located at Canadian Forces Base Borden, Ont.) were among the 50 honorary colonels from squadrons and wings across the country who attended.
“This conference serves two purposes,” LGen Deschamps continued. “It’s designed to bring our honoraries up to speed on where we are and where we’re going … our Air Force strategy, our modernization programs and our current operations. It’s also about sharing your collective experiences … how you have succeeded in developing and building community support for your units.”
Host Colonel Dave Cochrane, 8 Wing commander, delivered a virtual tour of his base, which is considered “the busiest wing in the country.”
In addition to describing the wing’s new infrastructure programs and recent operations, which he described as “unprecedented in tempo”, he took the honorary colonels to the flight line to tour the new CC-130J Hercules and the CC-177 Globemaster.
During the tour, HCol Paul Byrne (419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta.), President and CEO of Grant McEwan College in Edmonton, didn’t have to be convinced to sit at the controls of the CC-130J. “It’s quite the aircraft,” he marveled, “… a thing of beauty.”
HCol Glenn Rainbird (8 Wing) spoke about “how important it [is] to have a bank of goodwill with the local community.
“We had an established relationship with town officials [and] they wanted to know what they could to help” following the arrest of the then-wing commander in February. “Within days, we were able to put together a Canadian Forces appreciation march along Repatriation Road.
“It drew over 2,000 area residents waving ‘Support our Troops’ placards. There wasn’t one among us that didn’t have a tear that day,” he continued. “What we discovered was the alleged actions of one man cannot erase the historical bond.”
HCol Barry Rempel (17 Wing), President and CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority, said it was stories like Col Rainbird’s that made the conference worthwhile.
“There are so many takeaways. The whole experience was invaluable.”