CWO Garth Hoegi: RMC’s Newest College Chief
Before he graduated high school, CWO Garth Hoegi had never planned to join the Canadian Armed Forces. His initial plan was to pursue an apprenticeship as a mechanic, but, after he finished high school, the garage in which he was to work closed down.
Needing to find a job, the former Army Cadet began to look for work elsewhere. He had enjoyed his time in the cadet program, particularly the military training and outdoor activity, leading him to join the Canadian Armed Forces in 1984.
“I didn’t choose the field artillery out of any kind of loyalty or family history in the artillery,” recalls the British Columbia native, “it was just one the trades that was open at time [….] in retrospect it was a good decision.”
After completing his basic training in CFB Cornwallis, he moved on to the Royal Canadian Artillery Battle School in Shilo, Manitoba. Upon finishing his training, he was posted to 3 RCHA in Shilo and then to 1 RCHA in Lahr, Germany, the following year.
Throughout his 32-year long career, the field artilleryman has travelled all around the globe. He has been deployed to Cyprus, Bosnia and Afghanistan. His time abroad, particularly in Bosnia and Afghanistan, changed his view of the world.
Witnessing the day to day struggles of the civilian population opened his eyes to the impact of conflict. Especially in Afghanistan, he saw extreme poverty, unimaginable to the average Canadian, and how hard it was for the civilian population to survive against the backdrop of war.
“Unless it is in your face, you don’t really understand the magnitude of the problems in that part of the world” argues CWO Hoegi, who believes that it is important to educate Canadians on what the CAF does around the world.
Seeing other people suffer is obviously a deeply emotional experience, and “to overcome those emotions you have to do the best job you can with the resources that you’re given to help the people who are suffering as a result of conflict” says CWO Hoegi.
In addition to his deployments, the field artilleryman has also completed international military courses. Early in his career he participated in French Army Commando Training at le Centre d’Entrainement Commando No. 4 in Breisach France and in 2010 he attended, and then instructed, the United States Army Sergeant Major Course in Fort Bliss, Texas.
He completed the Sergeant Major course with 42 other international students, representing 38 countries, including former Eastern Bloc, African and South American states.
The former 2RCHA Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) believes that it’s important for militaries from around the world to work together because, in today’s complex operational environment, we will inevitably be partnering with them on key missions in the future. Furthermore, learning is a two-way street and training with other nations can be mutually beneficial and help us build a stronger military.
The savvy veteran urges that we “don’t disregard our allies in any way […] they all have strengths to bring to the table and if we disregard or marginalize them, it will only hurt us in the future.”
In 2013, he undertook his greatest challenge and most rewarding experience when he became the RSM of 2RCHA. The job came with a broad terms of reference and heavy responsibility. The first year was spent in an intense training cycle, preparing for Ex Maple Resolve. After the unit was declared operationally ready, they spent a year conducting continuation training waiting to deploy but with no missions in the foreseeable future.
Some of the challenges were to keep the regiment focused during the intense training cycle and motivated as they awaited missions that inevitably did not come. One of the most rewarding pieces was working with the unit’s senior NCOs, helping to guide their professional development and watching their successes.
Prior to his posting with 2RCHA, CWO Hoegi was selected to participate in the NCM Executive Professional Development Programme (NEPDP) at RMC in 2012. The program saw him completing a variety of undergraduate level courses from the first to fourth year level.
“The exposure to academic faculty was a great experience,” he said of his experience, “there are professors (namely Dr. Helen Luu of the English department and Maj John Grodzinski of the History Department) that I still communicate with today and I have great respect for the job that they do.”
In addition to being exposed to the Academic Wing, CWO Hoegi’s classmates were mostly members of the Cadet Wing. He particularly recalls his first exposure to first year cadets, during FYOP, who comically fell asleep during most of their classes.
“I kept giving them an elbow, trying to wake them up and telling them to pay attention” he remembers, “but you come to quickly realize the other demands that are placed on the Cadets, after a while you start to understand the dynamics of the College.”
One of his observations at the College was the maturing process from first to fourth year. He noticed a big difference between the conduct and professionalism of the first and fourth years and noted that this maturing process is unique to RMC. He notes that he does not believe any other University provides leadership and character development opportunities like RMC.
In June 2016, CWO Hoegi returned to RMC, succeeding CPO1 Davidson as the College Chief Warrant Officer. After two years in Petawawa, he is rejoining his spouse Leigh-Ann and children, who remained in Kingston after he completed the NEPDP.
One of his efforts as the College Chief will be to focus on the professional development of the College’s NCOs. As he did in his previous unit, he wants to make sure that the NCOs, who are a vital part of the RMC community, are provided the opportunity to develop within their career fields. Their time at the college needs to be a positive experience that sets them up for future success.
Furthermore, he wants to be involved with the Cadet Wing and help coach and develop the Cadets to help them become effective leaders. He enjoys attending sports events, and, given his interest in Rugby, tries to go to as many home games as he can.
“We all need to be very mindful that the Cadets of the College are here for four years,” he commented, “this is their home for four years so I think we have to temper our desire to manage every minute of their day with their need for a certain quality of life. This is a balancing act”
The CAF as an organization has come a long way since the College Chief first joined in the mid-1980s. A clear example of this is the dynamic between officers and NCMs. Back when he first joined, officers and NCMs worked separately, in fact, the officers were rarely to be seen by Junior NCMs. Today, the CAF has come to the point where Officers and NCMs work closely together, complementing one another in the Command Team dynamic.
“We were really led through an environment and culture of fear,” recalled the College Chief, “so it wasn’t about asking questions, it was about doing what you were told.”
Today, the emphasis on transformational leadership has improved the quality of soldiers, as it encourages them to think critically and develop their leadership abilities at every level. Moreover, the average level of education among both NCMs and officers has greatly improved. In 1984, it was common for some NCMs to not have a grade 12 education, today many are joining the Forces with College diplomas and degrees.
In his decades long career, the CCWO has indeed learned a lot and has experienced more than a lifetime’s worth of adventure. As an NCO, he has worked closely with officers as part of the Command Team at different levels. His message for future leaders is that good officers need to treat their people with dignity and respect and display compassionate leadership while being firm and decisive in their decisions and actions.