Capt Michael Godard The Engineer

By Bruce Deachman, The Ottawa Citizen, March 24, 2010

Bruce Deachman of The Ottawa Citizen profiled the world of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. He looked at the jobs of 24 people on the base with stories, and photo slideshows. This is one of two Military Engineer stories.

Capt. Michael Godard, 40, grew up in Cornwall. He and his wife, a nurse with the Reserves, have a 10-year-old daughter. He was a civilian engineer before joining the Forces.

“Right now I’m with base construction engineers. I’m a requirements officer, but before that I was at 2 CER (Combat Engineer Regiment), which is the combat side of engineering. And that’s my experience in the army so far, with a tour overseas.”

“I joined late. I joined in 2004 at the age of 34. I worked as a civil engineer on civvy street. I wanted to get into the military earlier, and it just didn’t work out. With force reduction in the early ’90s, by the time I got out of university, recruitment was a bit of a … not a long shot, it just wasn’t as easy or as simple to get in, so I just let it go by the wayside so I could get on with life.

“Then I just got the urge again in my early 30s. I started thinking about the military again. My father was military and it was something I wanted to do my whole life. So around that time I started thinking, ‘Jeez, should I look at this again?’ and all this stuff was going on with Afghanistan, it was starting to get busy and pick up again. I’d already had a family started by then, so I talked it over with the wife, and she said, ‘Yeah, if that’s what you really want, go for it.’ She knew that I had wanted to do this in the past.

“Besides my father, I had uncles, cousins … a grandfather in World War II. I was still pretty young when my dad got out, but there was all that story-telling. It just seemed like something I wanted to do my whole life — I always wanted to be in the military.”

Engineering a career

“January 2004 is when I got in, so it’ll be six years.

“I started off in basic training in St. Jean, Quebec. That was 14 weeks. eight months of French-language training, again in St. Jean. Then I went to Gagetown for about 16 or 17 months to do the rest of my phase training. There are three phases for officers after basic training, so I did that. Phase 3 and 4 is engineer phase training — Phase 4 is eight months long — so that explains why that was so long.

“In may 2006 I came to 2CER here in Petawawa and stayed there until August ’08 when I went overseas. I came back in April ’09 and after a month leave I came here to BCE.

“I did a couple of different jobs (at 2CER). I was a heavy equipment troop commander for a year. Then I went to construction troop commander for about three months, but I was on and off courses — I think I was on three different courses in that three-month period. Then I just filled in for the 2IC for another couple of months, then  in January ’08 is when we stood up the task force — I was going over with the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) — so from January ’08 until we deployed in August ’08, I was still part of 2CER, but I was attached to the PRT. So from August ’08 to April ’09 I was overseas with the KPRT.

Afghanistan

“Over there I didn’t have an engineering position. I wished I had and wanted to, but there are a number of positions that have to be filled by combat arms officers, and there’s not always enough other combat arms officers to fill the number of positions. engineers, despite the fact that they are for the most part employed in a specialized trade, are also considered combat arms, so it kind of fits both roles. So I was slotted outside so I could fill this other position that the KPRT CO wanted a combat arms officer to fill.

“The job title was Battle Adjutant for the CO. It’s a relatively new position, mostly responsible to the COs. Anytime the CO left the wire,I was kind of responsible for his moves, whether it was planning the road move itself or commanding the road move, which I did on some occasions. Often, the sergeant would take care of the road move and the Battle Adjutant was responsible for the CO’s everyday operations, almost like an executive assistant kind of position.

“I loved the tour. It was a great tour — a lot of learning experiences. Like I mentioned earlier, I really did want to go overseas in an engineering capacity, and at first I was bitter that it wasn’t — ’cause that’s what I joined the army to do, to try to do something engineering overseas — but it just opened up a whole new world of what the army’s all about, like what kind of jobs … the engineers are all over the place doing everything — our motto is “ubique,” which means everywhere. Whether we’re doing something in the rear at division level, something at the front lines in more of a combat role, or something spread out in the whole spectrum of conflict. We’re all over the place, doing everything.

“But this was a chance for me to get pulled out of that, doing engineering stuff, and, working that close with the CO, you see the bigger picture. You’re not really involved in it because it’s not really your job to be involved in it. You just happen to know what’s going on a little bit more because of your proximity to the CO all the time.

“Next time I go (overseas) I want to be doing something engineering, even if it’s an engineer staff position.”

Mobility, counter-mobility and survivability

“Engineers are really responsible for three things in a combat function: mobility, counter-mobility and survivability.

“So we make sure our troops are able to move — so there’s all the gap-crossing stuff, the minefield breaching, bridge-building. For the survivability aspect, we do the defensive works — digging in tanks and artillery positions. On the counter-mobility side, that’s the laying of the minefields or the demolition of bridges and stuff.

“From the troop level, it’s helping a company’s worth of soldiers move on the battlefield or defend themselves. As you get up to the regimental or brigade-type scenarios, it’s more you’re trying to get a brigade commander the ability to shape the battlefield to his liking, so he can block or deny courses of action to the enemy, or create courses of action for himself. Our job is to shape the ground and prepare for the battlefield, and there are a number of ways to do that, both offensively and defensively, and you just have to learn to plan how to accomplish that.

“A lot of the tasks we do are augmented by infantry or whatever available troops are out there, but the planning aspect of it or the advising aspect of it is left to the engineers.”

A place to live, train and fight

“I moved over here to the infrastructure side of the army, planning and implementing projects — in this case on the base — which I enjoy very much, and it ties into work I did on civvy street before I joined the army. I basically make sure the soldiers have a place to live and to train to fight, and all the other morale and welfare issues that go with that as well, with supporting their families and whatnot. Like the gym, the arena, the Canex, even the maintenance of the infrastructure piece of the PMQ side  — the roads and the sewers and the water mains out there. We maintain those things for the soldiers and their families.”

The nurse at his side

That his wife is a class-B nurse in the Reserves is what made this all possible, he says.

“That was probably key to us being able to move around. After working 10 years on civvy street, I took a huge pay cut when I joined the army, but (a) it was doing something I loved; and (b) at the time there were signing bonuses for engineers, so I got that and that reduced the monthly obligations, financially, so we could afford to live a little easier.

“And now I’m back up to where I was — or beyond — on civvy  street, so it’s not a necessity, but it’s something she wants to do, and it fits in well with our moving-around scenario. She’s able to do what she wants to do and still reasonable assured she can get a job no matter where I’m posted.

“We were lucky when we first came here. Before she got this class-B position, she was working at the hospital, but that wasn’t always a sure thing in our minds. If I got posted to Greenwood, Nova Scotia the next year — just as an example — there was no guarantee she’d get a job.

“It was a good opportunity for her to go this route.”

Esprit de corps

“I get a lot of job satisfaction just being part of the army. Having been able to be part of a regiment and experience as close as what I can imagine army life being — working with soldiers, being with soldiers, soldiering — there’s a lot of satisfaction. I think I’m a little bit more duty-bound. If I’m doing a service for the public or the country, as corny as that may sound, that’s a large piece of it for me. It’s not just about professional status or moving up the ladder or anything like that, it’s that what I do has meaning, and I feel this job has meaning. Going over to Afghanistan proved that, even more so, this was the right type of job for me.

“For that aspect of it, it’s very fulfilling.

“You have all those things you hear about — army camraderie, esprit de corps, the bonding with people you work with. when I was on civvy street, you meet friends at work, but at the end of the day everybody went home. I find in the military there’s, not an obligation, but you have some kind of sense that you need to be with these people a little bit more. We do a lot more things socially than I veer did on civvy street, and I think that goes a long way to building that camraderie, esprit de corps stuff. It just makes sense to be that close to the people you work with, especially in the regiment and the combat arms sides. There’s an interdependency there.

“It’s bred into you right at the time you start basic (training), but you really see it paying off when you get to a place like this. Nobody leaves anybody hanging here. If you’re gone on training/operation, I’m going to shovel your driveway. You don’t have to worry about it — it’s just going to happen.

“You’re not going to let somebody else suffer or fail, to a reasonable extent anyway.”

Away from civvy street

“The job satisfaction, even from a purely engineering perspective, it’s so broad, as opposed to being so focused on a particular skill set. On civvy street, where your boss’s ability to make money is so dependent on how proficient you are at your job, it narrows your skill set, whereas here the army needs people to be a little bit more broad in scope, because you could be doing any one thing at any given time when you’re overseas on deployment. It just opens the spectrum a lot more in terms of what you can do as an engineer in the military.

“As I said, I was a combat engineer for a while, and could spend my entire career going down the combat arms side of the house — go from a regiment to a staff job in Ottawa, back to a regiment to a staff job at brigade, to regiment to a staff job somewhere else. Or I could be doing infrastructure work for the better part of my career, or I could be doing mapping and charting for the better part of my career. And if I really like the nitty gritty engineering — get out the slide rule and start calculating stuff‚ I could be at 1ESU (Engineer Support Unit) in Moncton, doing a variety of real engineering tasks.

“And it’s not just the structural or the civil or the mechanical. There’s a lot of defensive works — something you don’t see that much on civvy street. 

“In terms of opportunities for an engineer, there’s so much diversity. Throughout your career you’ll see so many different things compared to what you may see on civvy street.

“It’s a lot more fun. You get frustrating days and bad days and stuff, but at the end of the day I’ve never said to myself that I would want to go back to civvy street and do anything else.”

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