RCAF Honorary Colonels gather for maritime aviation themed conference
By Ryan Melanson,
As 12 Wing Shearwater prepares to celebrate its centennial later this year, it recently played host to the 2018 RCAF Honorary Colonel Conference, welcoming more than 50 Honorary Colonels from across the country, along with senior RCAF leadership, to the Wing as part of a three-day gathering on the east coast from June 6-8.
“It’s certainly timely that we’re here in Shearwater, and exposing our Honorary Colonels to the great history at 12 Wing,” said LGen Al Meinzinger, who was overseeing the annual event for the first time as the new Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, having assumed the role only weeks prior. He described the Honorary Colonels as part of the lifeblood of the RCAF, and while their position is a non-operational one, he said they can play an important function at the wings or squadrons they’re attached to.
The role generally involves providing advice or guidance to senior officers, acting as an advocate for the squadron or the RCAF in general, and providing a link between CAF personnel and the wider community.
“They do important work and they can certainly provide the Commanding Officer or the Squadron Chief Warrant Officer with a different perspective on things, and I think having that dimension as part of our squadron mosaic is fundamental. It’s something that adds additional capacity to our leadership teams.”
There are a number of mutual benefits to gathering the members of the cohort together each year, LGen Meinzinger added.
“It provides them a great opportunity to ask questions, catch up and bond with their fellow Honorary Colonels, and really solidify and embolden their network. Even more importantly, on our side, it gives us a chance to provide them with a comprehensive update on what’s going on with the Air Force.”
That update came in the form of briefings, from LGen Meinzinger himself, from the Commanders of 1 Canadian Air Division and 2 Canadian Air Division, and from leadership at 12 Wing, including Wing Commander Col Sid Connor and the COs of 406 and 423 squadrons, responsible for maritime helicopter training and operations. In Shearwater, the focus was on the CH-148 Cyclone, the progress of transitioning the new helicopter into operations, and the extensive training that goes along with it, while topics were focused on fixed-wing operations later in the week at 14 Wing Greenwood. The group also had a chance to witness the aircraft in action during a day sail in HMCS Charlottetown on June 6, with a demonstration that saw a Cyclone flying beside the ship and and two CP-140 Auroras following overhead.
“We were able to see how Maritime aviation interfaces jointly with the Navy, and it was a great show,” said Col (ret’d) John Roeterink, who now serves as the Honorary Colonels’ Special Advisor for the RCAF.
The program also included extensive tours of facilities at both 12 Wing and 14 Wing, plenty of time to meet and chat with personnel at different units, and a historical component, with visits to the Shearwater Aviation Museum as well as the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum.
It was the third consecutive year attending the conference for Dr. Ron Sparkes, the Honorary Colonel for 444 Combat Support Squadron at 5 Wing Goose Bay. As someone without a military background, he said meeting RCAF crews and learning about their trades has been a highlight of the position, and the annual event provides an opportunity to do even more of that.
“As a novice who knows nothing about aircraft outside of my experiences flying in them, I can go up to the hangar with the Griffon helicopters, and meet the SAR Techs who jump out of them into the water, which is amazing. And the same goes for the people here in Shearwater and every wing I’ve visited. I love talking to them and hearing their stories.”
The briefings, tours and information imparted on the group is also invaluable, he added, and will allow him to return home with extra knowledge and awareness, and new tools he can use as an advocate for the Air Force in his community.
“We’re getting presentations from senior people at the very top of the organization, telling us about where the Air Force is going, what some of their challenges are, and so on. It’s important for us to hear this, and even as a novice, it lets me know the areas where a little more attention or support may be needed,” Dr. Sparkes said.
The conference wrapped up on June 8 following 14 Wing tours and demonstrations, with LGen Meinzinger joining the Honorary Colonels for a debrief and final discussions before the group departed.