23413 Mitchell Atkinson: ‘D’ Division Commander
By 27832 OCdt (II) Pablo Cardona, 12 Sqn, e-Veritas Chief Correspondent
In 2006, 23413 Maj Mitchell Atkinson graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada with a Bachelor of Arts in Military and Strategic Studies and a wealth of good memories. Upon graduation he was badged into the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
Growing up, Maj Atkinson had a great deal of exposure to both Military College and the RCD. His father, 13068 Peter Atkinson, graduated from RMC in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts in History. He was also a proud Dragoon and became the Regiment’s Commanding Officer in 1998.
Due to this, the Class of 2006 graduate moved around every few years and experienced military life. He also attended various Regimental functions, including parades and sporting events. While attending Lasalle High School in Kingston he had the opportunity to visit RMC’s campus and watch varsity hockey games.
From an early age, Maj Atkinson knew that he wanted to be in the army. He was inspired by his father’s career and aspired to lead troops, play sports for his unit, and pursue the unique opportunities available to members of the CAF.
“I always wanted to be a tanker because tanks are awesome,” recalled Maj Atkinson, “I wanted to have the biggest gun on the battlefield.”
Upon arriving at the College in 2002, Maj Atkinson underwent the dreaded FYOP, a tradition which is alive and well to this day. He completed FYOP as a member of Grizzly flight, 3 Squadron’s first year flight. He describes the experience truly rewarding and a great chance to forge friendships and cohesion. All this culminates in the legendary obstacle course, where his flight finished third.
“The things you learn on FYOP, how to manage your time, how to do tasks quickly when required, how to sort out your uniform properly and maintain your room made your life easier for the next four years” he said.
An avid athlete, the New Brunswick native played hockey throughout his first year and traveled to West Point with the hockey team to play against them. In his fourth year, he was named the intramural hockey MVP.
In third year, he was the Vice PMC and then PMC the following year. As such, he worked very closely with the current mess manager, Lori, then the mess supervisor, whom he describes as a great role model for the cadets.
On being an MSS student, he said: “I enjoyed my program quite a bit and I think the biggest things that I enjoyed were the case studies and focusing on history and politics.”
Being in a program that focused on the study of conflict, knowing that he’d soon in those conflict areas, was an exciting prospect.
“A year and a half after graduating I was in Afghanistan,” he remembers, “so to be studying something and our teacher would tell us that this is current, really drove home that a couple of years after graduation we’d be in those conflicts.”
Upon being posted to Petawawa with the RCD, the ex-cadet became a reconnaissance troop leader in D Squadron before being moved to Brigade J2 ISTAR CC for Task Force Kandahar in 2008. After eight months of workup training, including exercises in Fort Bliss, Texas and Wainwright, Alberta, the young officer found himself in the conflict areas that he learned about in the classroom.
By virtue of being an armoured officer, he had the unique opportunity to travel across Kandahar as the gunner for BGen Thompson’s LAV III. Travelling with the BGen meant that he got to see all of Kandahar and meet high profile community leaders, including the province’s governor.
When he returned to Canada, he completed his ATOC and was subsequently posted to the Armour School in Gagetown, serving as a Course Officer, Battle Captain and Squadron 2IC. He returned to the Regiment in 2012 as the Training Officer for RHQ then becoming Battle Captain and 2IC of B Squadron.
In 2015, he was deployed to Kuwait on Op IMPACT as the Information Management Officer for Joint Task Force Iraq Headquarters. He spent most of his time in Kuwait at Ali Al Salem Air Base, an American Air Force Base, and his first real exposure to an operational air force environment. It is also worth noting that only 11 days passed between him learning that he would be going on tour to landing in Kuwait.
“It was definitely a huge learning curve and learning experience for me to be employed outside the land environment for the first time,” remarked the career army man.
In July 2016, he was promoted to his current rank and posted to RMC as the D Division Commander. He is looking forward to the rest of the school year and to have the chance to help D Div succeed in all aspects of the College. His first step to ensuring the Div’s success has been to pass on his experience and wisdom to Div staff.
“As D Div commander my focus has been on developing my div staff” explained the new Div Comd, “I really believe in the importance of the Cadet Chain of Authority leading the College.”
To complement the effort of his Cadet Div Staff, the newly promoted Major has set high expectations for his Squadron Commanders, who serve as everyday professional role models for the cadets. By the end of the year, he hopes that D Division will set the highest standards in the Cadet Wing and possibly win the Commandant’s cup.
“To come back after ten years, there are certainly some things that have changed in the College but somethings that haven’t” observed the 2006 grad.
One of the most striking changes is the implementation of the leadership level system, which the Major believes motivates cadets to meet the standards in the four pillars and progress through the ROTP as it was designed. Additionally, he also noted that cadets no longer wear ‘battle blouse.’
Apart from those changes RMC’s schedule and major events, including the Harrier Race, Obstacle Course and Intramurals have not changed in the past decade. Neither has the commitment to developing well-educated, bilingual and fit officers who are ready to assume leadership roles in the CAF.
According to the experienced officer, all of RMC’s components contribute to the early success of junior officers. Earning a second language profile and acquiring professional military knowledge both give RMC grads a leg up over their DEO or ROTP Civi U counterparts. The emphasis on athletics allows OCdts to arrive in units in top shape and the small classrooms and excellent professors make RMC a great learning environment with a world class education.
“That’s what makes this college the premiere experience before becoming a Second Lieutenant” noted Maj Atkinson upon reflecting on his time at the College.
Furthermore, he says that “the biggest piece of advice is to enjoy your time at the College, the college is a great experience, a lot of fun. Look forward to the next step but enjoy the moment while you’re here.”
Another good piece of advice that he has to offer is for junior officers to understand that they don’t know everything and to trust their senior NCOs. RMC is a “good place to make mistakes, learn from them and prepare for your future career”
On the subject of making mistakes, recalls one winter exercise where he conducted winter driver training for the Regiment’s newest troopers. Unfamiliar with the Petawawa Training Area he attempted to drive all the roads on the map and ended up on one that had no name. After driving for a while on that “Winter Road” his Coyote sank into some ice and filled with water. After three days of chipping ice and $250 000 in damages, the vehicle was freed and he was nicknamed “Acting Sub Lieutenant Atkinson” for at least the next 3 months after he had “sunk my ship”.
“The moral to the story is that even once you are qualified and at your new units, you will make mistakes. The important thing is to keep your head up and learn from your mistakes. I should have done a better map recce and asked my Troop Warrant who has lots of experience in the Training area if there were any areas I should avoid. Also I will NEVER drive down Winter Road again!!”