8758 Peter Sheremeta: Memories going back to ’66…
With induction into the Old Brigade looming large on the horizon, I thought it fitting to take some time for reflection on one incredible journey from recruit to retiree and, in doing so, perhaps provide others with a chance to remember their own similar experiences both during and after military college.
Montreal – 6 September 1966. Sixteen years old and getting on blue-painted buses that looked like they came straight out of a 1950’s movie set. Destination: Collège Militaire Royal de St-Jean. Strangers everywhere; a few uniforms trying hard to impose some degree of order on what appeared to be mass chaos. Parents proud, me – somewhat excited but admittedly a little anxious. Luckily, I ran into some other guys who had gone through the interview/screening process with me that summer, so at least there was someone else to share the experience as we prepared to venture into the unknown.
Looking back, things that stand out as pins on a memory map, even after all these years:
- New friends, especially my first roommate, 8730 Denis Morin, who spoke as much english as I did french – zilch! But the “buddy system” worked. By the time I left CMR, I had my red bilingualism cord, a rich collection of french swear words, and a lifelong friend in Denis, who sadly passed away in 2005. Repose en paix, mec!
- Solidarity, as we came together as a Squadron and a Class after the recruit obstacle course, reinforced by a spontaneous Prep Year Champlain Squadron “mutiny” when we refused to run circles for what we, collectively, believed to be an arbitrary and unjust senior class power trip. Gutsy, but not recommended for anyone looking to make the military a career!
- First family visit after the obstacle race and how proud my parents were of me and how my dad couldn’t stop taking pictures and shooting movies. Somewhere, I think I still have some of those old Super 8mm movies.
- Switching out of the Air Force after the first summer training when I realized that I would never qualify as “aircrew” because of my vision and then regretting my decision to switch to the Army after my next summer of “basic training” in Borden. Thankfully I survived “Infantry 101” and to this day I still remember my CA Service Number (ZD15987).
- Getting hauled up in front of the Commandant for tapping our Squadron Commander’s office telephone line so that we could call our Montreal girlfriends in the evening. Looking back, I guess this is what probably confirmed my decision to become a “signaller”.
- Raiding the Mess Hall kitchen freezer after hours to stock up on ice cream (never did get caught on that escapade but will admit to no wrong-doing even if the statue of limitations may have since run out)!
- Surprised to have been recognized for a leadership position in Second Year ( Maisonneuve Squadron) but thankful for the opportunity to develop and hone new skills that continue to stand me in good stead right up to this day.
- Not having a clue as to what academic field I wanted to pursue at RMC but grateful that I had the marks that allowed me an unrestricted choice. In the end, I tagged along with my good friend 8778 Jim Watts, signing up for Electrical Engineering. And a good thing that was too, since my decision swelled the Third Year Elec Eng class to a grand total of six students, just barely enough to qualify for rep team status in beer drinking. It also (at least in our minds) provided for some degree of “academic failure insurance” based on the “Theory of Small Numbers” which postulated that a class failure rate of 16% (in our case – one student) would be academically unacceptable for the college. I guess we’ll never know if that theory worked but I can’t help but believe that I may have been somewhat of a beneficiary when, despite Professor Broughton’s incredibly patient efforts, I still to this day do not understand “three phase power”! Obviously, a Cadet Wing Academics Officer (CWAO) in the making.
- Privileged to have been selected as the college’s first CWAO, a four-bar position in my final year at RMC. Despite the challenges in trying to define the terms of reference for a new cadet wing position, the appointment provided an incredible opportunity to live and work closely with other Wing HQ and Cadet Squadron Leaders. There was an energy in that group that was almost palpable and impressions formed at the time were clearly borne out by how well the individuals in this team did in their respective military and civilian careers after graduating from RMC. Proud to call them classmates!
- Lastly, one of the proudest moments for me was the honour to be one of the flag bearers on our graduation parade. To see the tears in my dad’s eyes as we marched off the square is a memory hard to forget.
… AND LIFE GOES ON
Having survived CMR-RMC on the 5-year plan, I couldn’t wait to get out into the “real world” as a newly minted Signal Officer. And I certainly got my wish, with postings to places like Alert, NWT; Ismailia, Egypt; Damascus, Syria; Lahr, West Germany; The Hague, The Netherlands; Eureka, NWT and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Although these places certainly helped develop my desire for travel and adventure, the cost was high, with postings to Petawawa, Kingston, Toronto and Ottawa bringing me back to reality. And finally, in 1995 during what General Hillier called the “Decade of Darkness”, I figured I had had enough fun for one career and didn’t feel like sticking around to see if the lights were ever going to come back on. I decided to “pack up my old kit bag” and set off on a second career in the private sector, working on computer and Information Systems projects for NATO, PWGSC, DND and most recently on Canadian Army doctrine (who would have thought that back in 1971!).
On the personal side of life, I married a young lady by the name of Debra Wyatt, from Kingston, ON and we raised two children, a daughter Stacey and a son Christopher. Sadly she passed away unexpectedly in 2002. But life has a habit of continuing on, either with or without us, so along the way I got my Masters in Project Management, found that “special someone” to fill the emptiness in my life, we got married in Las Vegas, and now Wendy and I seek that Holy Grail of all Canadian Snowbirds – the ideal winter getaway. And despite all its ups and downs, life is still good, even a half century after the adventure began!