RMC Reflections

Alright, this week I decided I would do something a little different and discuss my experience going through the Royal Military College of Canada located in Kingston, ON. Now this was 4 years of my life and I could spend literally days telling stories of different adventures and misadventures, so this post might get a little bit long and rambling, but I'll try and keep it relatively controlled.

Before we get too deep into this, I'll provide a little bit of context about how and why I ended up at RMC. When I graduated high school, I applied to multiple universities, as well as the military for the Regular Officer Training Program (ROTP). This program in a nutshell allows people to enroll in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), get a degree while enrolled with the CAF footing the bill in exchange for time served afterwards. I completed the entire application process including interviews, aptitude testing, and aviation medicals but was not selected for the program that year. As such, I attend the University of British Columbia to study engineering. I thoroughly enjoyed my year at UBC, and the following year I once again applied for the ROTP program, but with my first choice of university as UBC, rather than RMC. Despite this, I was offered a spot at RMC. I decided to take the offer and was sent off to St-Jean, QC for Indoc (short for Indoctrination, and is basically a 2 week boot camp to teach the bare essentials of military life), and then off to Kingston, ON for RMC. Despite having completed one year of engineering, and having my credits transfer, I was told I would still complete a full four years at RMC. This proved to be a good idea as RMC has an exceedingly heavy course load and schedule as I'll discuss in a few minutes, and the ability to basically take 3 years of that course load and spread it out over 4 years was extremely beneficial for me and allowed me to succeed. Alright, so that's how I got to RMC, now onto my experience there.

I will start with a grand conclusion of my thoughts, and then detail how I got there. Overall, after having graduated from RMC I am very glad to have gone there. RMC provided me with incredible opportunities, and taught me valuable skills that undoubtedly helped me succeed thus far, and likely will continue to help me succeed. That being said, RMC at times was extremely challenging, stressful, and frustrating. That last part mostly stemmed from times when RMC became unnecessarily stressful, and I hope to touch on that as well. RMC provided me with incredible opportunities and allowed me to do things like travel to Ecuador and explore the Amazon rainforest for two weeks, go to Florida and get my skydiving license (twice!), get my SCUBA license, and travel to Europe to see all the battlefields from WWI and WWII. These are opportunities and experiences I simply wouldn't have had outside of RMC, and for that I am extremely grateful. 

The level of education at RMC is quite good, but I would argue that you could achieve a better level of education at other universities. What I mean by this is that the engineering faculty at UBC is world-renowned, and the standard of engineering education there is simply incredible. RMC has an excellent engineering program, but in my opinion, is not at the same level as UBC or perhaps other universities. The RMC degree is renowned and widely respected, but for different reasons. 

I will now try to summarize the key things RMC taught me that made a difference, and are perhaps the largest argument for attending RMC. At RMC the biggest thing I learned was time management. As an engineer at RMC, your time is incredibly limited. On top of a full engineering course load you have to take 1-2 humanities courses a semester (these are assigned, mandatory classes of politics, psychology, and history), take second language training if you don't speak French (or English if you're francophone), as well as participate in mandatory intramural sports and all military training that may be going on day to day (inspections, drill etc). With all of this taking up your time, you have very little time to spare, and literally every minute of every day needs to be carefully managed in order to fulfill all of these obligations and not fall behind. Again, this is from the perspective of an engineer. Students studying arts had significantly more time due to the lesser course load and perhaps didn't have to manage their time as carefully as I did. Because of the insane level of demand on my time, I became very good at managing my time and prioritizing tasks, and this is something that has been incredibly valuable so far going through training, and I expect it will continue to be useful as my training progresses.

The two other things that I learned at RMC that benefited me were teamwork and simple exposure to how the military operates and the military culture. The teamwork part is introduced from day one of RMC. The first 6 weeks of RMC are filled with the First Year Orientation Program (FYOP). This is best described as boot camp and you and about 12-15 other "first years" are grouped together in a flight and forced to work as a team. Through physical training, team building tasks, and simply forcing each person to work with the others in order to succeed you begin to learn about teamwork. The end of FYOP is marked with an obstacle course, some photos of which are below. Because of RMC I learned how to work with people I didn't like or agree with, and I learned that everyone in the military is on the same team. This ability to work well with others is incredibly important in a job like the military where by its very nature is team and community based. The military truly is about the people in it, and being able to work with others, communicate with others, and get along with others is critical to success. The part about understanding how the military works is also incredibly valuable because when you leave RMC and enter a functioning unit, you already have a good understanding about how to operate in a military environment. Simple things like know how Memo's work, what sections of the chain of command are responsible for what and how to use them simply smooth the way for you to focus on your job and succeed.

The last point I will make about why attending RMC is a good thing is that graduating from RMC with 150-250 other students who are all going to work in the military with you allows you to have a network of people that you know all throughout the forces. Beyond those 150-250 that are in your year, there are another 800 cadets at RMC that you know and you will very soon be working alongside. It is very likely that at least one person from your graduating class will reach a significant high rank or position in the military, and having that network and connection can be very valuable during your career. This is something you simply cannot get from a civilian university where just about no one knows who you are, and none are going to be working alongside you.

Alright, now onto the negative points I have about RMC. Perhaps the largest negative point I have is that one I mentioned earlier about being unnecessarily stressful. Obviously a busy schedule and challenging environment can cause stress, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about decisions and actions that caused unnecessary added stress that can have (and in some cases did) severe negative impacts on students. Many many times at RMC a decision was made that baffled everyone, and caused stress. Some of these were trivial and were simply annoying like the time it was decided no one was to use the elevators because it caused undue stress on the cables and everyone was to use the stairs. Other times can be more legitimate unnecessary stressors such as the time they scheduled the Commandants Inspection to take place in the middle of midterm exams (think very fancy inspection where the General is coming through to inspect so the standard is much higher). On top of this I was told my room had been selected to be inspected by the General, and I was to stop studying for my midterm the next day so I could instead focus on cleaning my room. Or how about the time they had a surprise search of the college looking for alcohol and other contraband. Or that time they assigned students to stand on the corner of various intersections to see if students running to the gym had their reflective safety belts on. Or that time they assigned students to guard the doors leading to the rooftops because someone had previously gone on the rooftop when it was against the rules. Or that time my memo for compassionate leave got turned down 5 times because every layer of the chain of command had differing standards for memorandums. There were an endless amount of occasions that a decision was made that caused unnecessary stress for students.  These were the times that frustration levels rose, levels of exhaustion increased, and you wondered why you ever decided to go to RMC in the first place. For all the great things RMC taught me, it never ceased to amaze me in the creative ways it could induce unnecessary stress. I will make a side note here that a lot of these decisions were made by students in leadership positions and were learning how to lead and manage others. A lot of these decisions provided for lessons learned and allowed those students to enter the military with a better understanding of how to lead and manage. So, some of these decisions that were stress inducing for me, were beneficial for others. Regardless, stress is stress, and RMC has a knack for piling it on.

So, if you are reading this and are considering joining the military and attending RMC I would advise you to think carefully about what you want to get out of RMC and your degree. If you are planning on the military being a career (i.e. staying for 25 years or longer), I would argue RMC is a good choice as all the lessons learned at RMC will be valuable in your career (particularly that bit about the network of people you'll know for 25 years). If you want the military to be a stepping stone to something bigger (specifically on the academic side), think carefully about whether or not the degree from RMC is your best move. Should you pursue that degree at a university that has a reputation of excellence in that field, or is RMC satisfactory for what you want to do? If you are looking pursue a job in management I would argue that RMC is also a good experience as you learn a lot about teamwork and managing and working with people. Further to that, a degree from RMC has the reputation of someone who can work hard, work with others, and communicate well. For me, I am happy with my decision to attend RMC. Both my father and grandfather attended RMC, and now my brother is as well so I am proud to have a family history there. RMC provided me with skills and an understanding that has thus far benefited me, and I am grateful for that. I knew very little about RMC when I decided to attend, and the information available rarely provided insight from those who had recently graduated, so I hope that this post provided some insight and knowledge and helps those interested in this path.

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