“Since the Military College is training future leaders for the Canadian Forces, it is important to give each cadet opportunities to lead. In my experience, however, go-getters have the greatest potential to be top cadets. If you explain the task and put a go getter at the front of the group, he or she may tend to run faster ahead and lose the stragglers in 2 minutes. It is a more helpful strategy to calm down the go getters and to count on them to watch for stragglers and help ensure the group stays together.”
E-veritas: How did you come to be a PERI/PERO? What training did you undergo?
François Gagnon: I was raised in a big family in a mining town in northern Quebec. I loved all sports and learned from my father when I was very young how to build an outdoor ice rink. I wanted to join the service as a PERI but the trade was only available as a remuster. I joined the Air Force as a Meteorology Technician 121 in 1971. I completed my Basic training followed by Meteorology training in Trenton. In February 1972, I was posted to Comox, British Columbia as a Meteorology Tech. When I applied to the University of British Columbia intending to study physical education, I was advised that my marks in French were fine, however they wanted me to take a year of schooling in English. After completing Grade 13 at George P. Vanier Highschool in Courtenay, I enrolled at University of British Columbia in physical education via distance education 1973-1974. When I applied to continue my university studies under the University Training Plan for Non Commissioned Members, I was advised that it was only only available to sergeants and warrants. I was offered the opportunity to remuster into the Physical Education Recreation Instructor trade instead. I completed the Physical Education Assistant course in fall of 1974, followed by the TQ5 course from January to June 1975. After qualifying as a PERI in June 1975, I was posted to Borden. In May 1977, I was posted to MooseJaw, Saskatchewan and I spent one year deployed to Egypt. I was then posted to CFS Chibougamau in 1981, part of the Pinetree chain of Radar sites used for detection, identification and if necessary, destruction of flying objects trying to penetrate the North American airspace.
E-veritas: At which Military College did you serve? What was your primary duty?
François Gagnon: I was posted to CMR St. Jean as a PERI from 1983-1987. I was promoted sergeant in 1984. My primary duty was to instruct fitness classes to some of the 700 cadets at CMR. My secondary duty was to be responsible for the rink at CMR. Although most cadets were male, the lady cadets were fairly split within each of the squadrons. Each of the PERIs were responsible for looking after one of the 7 squadrons. I looked after 7 squadron Iberville who was housed in the smallest residence. The other squadrons were housed in 3 main dormitories. Any time a cadet didn`t pass a physical education test, he or she was assigned extra Physical Training designed to bring them up to par. The sooner the cadet met the standards, the less time he or she spent in compulsory PT. Although compulsory PT was held at the same time as intramurals and rep team practice, it was a poor substitute. The cadets were motivated to rejoin the group in normal intramural and rep team activities and didn’t want to be stuck in compulsory PT. Although occasionally a cadet was in compulstory PT all year long, most of them usually got back into shape quickly.
E-veritas: Did you also coach varsity team(s)? Explain.
François Gagnon: I was the assistant coach in 1983-1985 of the ice hockey team, which competed at the Collegiate AA level in Quebec. I was head coach of the waterpolo rep team in 1985-1987. In 1986, the waterpolo team won the provincial championships for the first time in the history of CMR. I had a lot of fun working as coach of the high box demonstration team for 4 years from 1983 to 1987.
E-veritas: Please tell use more about the high-box team.
François Gagnon: The high-box displays involved gymnasts performing vaults of progressing difficulty over a rectangular shaped high horse. Sometimes known as the vaulting horse, the high horse is like the pommel horse but without the handles. The equipment consisted of the high horse, mini trampolines (spring-board) and mats. The gymnasts approached the high horse from 2 separate directions and alternately crossover on top of the box, creating an exciting routine. The CMR high box team put on daring displays, for example the demonstration show at the end of the year with an audience of parents, cadets, and faculty. At CMR, a cadet who had been a gymnast before he joined the service suggested that we execute a triple crossover – a precision gymnastic move in which one athlete vaults high above two other athletes as they crossover the high box. I remember the cadet who suggested the stunt said `I`ll show you coach.` He vaulted (jumped) 4 feet above the horse, leaving plenty of space underneath. It took some time for the athletes to get used to having someone else vaulting above them since they were used to having space above them. The athletes had to control their hands, head, feet and torsos to fly straight and avoid crashes. We practiced all year to develop the display routine, which was accompanied by a scripted narration. To compete in high box, a gymnast requires physical strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, and balance. Gymnasts are expected to demonstrate good form or technique, to land cleanly (no hops, steps, or falls) and within a prescribed lane width on the mat.
E-veritas: What do you consider the high-light of serving at the Military College?
François Gagnon: The high-light of serving at the Military College was the friendships developed over the four year posting with other instructors such as Serge Nadeau, Randy Helgason (VP PSPR), 11730 Colonel Claude Wauthier (CMR 1978) (Director of Physical Fitness PSP) and Gaétan Melançon (Director PE, PSPR). The PERI staff worked long hours instructing, coaching the rep teams, and running the athletic facilities. The intense, non stop pace was different than a normal base. The other high-light was the relationships with the cadets. Some of the cadets who I met as preps in 1983 and worked with for 4 years are Colonel today.
E-veritas: What are your tips as an PERI?
François Gagnon: My main tip is to be flexible. In 28 years of service, I was transferred 11 times and completed 3 UN tours. In Borden, I instructed 4 classes a morning to officers and NCMs who were in basic training. In Chibougamau, a remote Radar site with little equipment, I [only] instructed 4 classes a week and mainly worked on recreation. At CMR, the facilities and equipment was modern and we only had to mention that we needed something to get it. Radar sites such as Mont Apica and Chibougamau, we had to scrounge, scratch, and bite for what we needed. If we wanted an ice rink, we built it ourselves.
E-veritas: Describe a typical PE class at CMR.
François Gagnon: As an instructor in a typical cadet PE class, my preference might be to have the class complete a 3 mile run in 15 minutes. I recognize that half the class can comfortably complete the 3 mile run in 30 minutes. To push the group and adjust the middle, my goal would be to have the class complete the run in 25 minutes. To ensure that the best athletes are taking benefit from that run as well, I might remind the class of the basic training lesson to leave point A and to arrive at point B together. On patrol (in Afghanistan), you can’t allow part of the group to take off since you risk losing resources. It is helpful to recognize your students interests and unique qualities. For example, to identify students who are potential slackers (who underachieve and avoid work); go getters (principal person who acts and gets things done); self-starters (who are motivated and display an unusual amount of initiative); quick-learners (who need minimal briefings) and sheep (who need to be told every hour and every day what to do and who to follow next). Since the Military College is training future leaders for the Canadian Forces, it is important to give each cadet opportunities to lead. In my experience, however, go-getters have the greatest potential to be top cadets. If you explain the task and put a go getter at the front of the group, he or she may tend to run faster ahead and lose the stragglers in 2 minutes. It is a more helpful strategy to calm down the go getters and to count on them to watch for stragglers and help ensure the group stays together.
E-veritas: Are you still involved with the CF? If yes, what do you do?
François Gagnon: After CMR, I was posted to Mont Apica. I was offered my commission and became a Physical Education Recreation Officer in 1989. I did a tour in the former Yugoslavia in 1995. I retired from the Canadian Forces in April 1997. Since then I have been the Fitness and sports director at CFB Saint-Jean, Richelain Quebec. My wife Monique and I live in Saint-Jean, Quebec. Our son Alex is working with E-veritas as a summer 2009 student. Francois.Gagnon4@forces.gc.ca
E-veritas: I understand that you contributed to the Fundamentals of Physical Training Handbook.
François Gagnon: While working at Canadian Forces Personnel Support Program, I contributed to the development of `the Fundamentals of Physical Training Handbook`, which provides members of the Canadian Forces with fundamental information that will enable them to exercise effectively and efficiently in a safe and wise manner. www.army.forces.gc.ca/32CBG_HQ/Battle_School/Downloadable_Docs/Booklet%20on%20Fundamentals%20of%20Fitness.pdf
E-veritas: The handbook explains the relationship between the CF EXPRES program and The Royal Military College Physical Fitness Program.
François Gagnon: The CF Exercise Prescription (EXPRES) Program, which dates back to 1980, is the “foundation” program for physical fitness and it serves the needs of the majority of personnel by providing an exercise program, based on your personal health and fitness level that will safely raise and maintain your physical fitness to at least the requirements of the Canadian Forces Minimum Physical Fitness Standard (CFMPFS). Special fitness programs, such as the Royal Military College Physical Fitness Program, with accompanying standards, are needed to meet environmental and occupational requirements. The philosophy, principles and components of the EXPRES Program guided the development and implementation of the Royal Military College Physical Fitness program.
E-veritas: The handbook explains the extensive scope of the Canadian Forces competitive sports structure.
François Gagnon: The Canadian Forces Sports Program is extensive. In the Intramural Sports Program organized and conducted within the base, wing or unit structure, competitions are organized on an inter-section, inter-branch, inter-company, inter-unit, or inter-mess basis. The Extramural Sports Program is intended to help athletes with better than average skills to continue to develop their skills and progress to higher levels of training and competition in individual and team sports. Depending on ability, opportunities may exist to participate in: Civilian competitions (local, provincial; national; and international); Branch and Military Occupation competitions; Command competitions; Invitational competitions; CF Regional Championships; CF National Championships and Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) competitions. The developmental and competitive stream for CF Military College athletes is through the Canadian Colleges and University sports systems.
E-veritas: During the sport awards held at the Vieux mess of Royal Military College Saint-Jean, you spoke of the importance of Commanding Officers/senior leadership in sport?
François Gagnon: I pointed out that the support of Commandants/senior leadership is key to the participation of Canadian Forces athletics in different competitions. I took the opportunity to thank the chain of command for the support they offer to individual athletes and to teams. If a Canadian Forces athlete participates in sport, it is because his or her Commandant makes it possible.
E-veritas: In Canadian Forces Administrative Order (CFAO) 50-3, G1415 MGen Walter Semianiw (RMC 1980), Chief Military Personnel, encourages Commanders to continue to support this important fitness and health related program.
François Gagnon: Yes, the message confirms that Canadian Forces members are on duty while participating in authorized sports activities. Travel and transportation costs shall be authorized for CF Championships at the command, regional and national levels. CFAO 50-3 Participation in CF Sports Program contains details for CF members’ participation in sports. The Canadian Forces Administrative Orders, policies and messages regarding sports can be found: http://www.cfpsa.com/en/psp/fitness/policies_e.asp
E-veritas: You spent over 20 years as a PERI / O in uniform. You have been with PSP for over 12 years. What, if any, are the major differences in the current delivery of PE&R programs to CF personnel and their families compared to those first 20 years or so?
François Gagnon: I spent 22 1/2 years (fall 74 to spring 97) as a PERI/PERO in uniform. When we were in uniform, it was clear to all that every policy concerning the delivery of PE&R programs came from the military chain of command. Now that we are PSP employees (in civilian), the perception by most people in uniform is that the PE&R programs come from us / that the decision making policies come from PSP. Surprisingly, it’s a perception that exists at almost every level of the military hierarchy (MWO’s as well as Majors and even LCol’s). So convincing the local military establishment that the PE&R programs are a part of their policies, meaning that they come from their own higher chain of command, is sometimes the hardest part of my job. As civilians, we don’t have the power to dictate policies but for a reason unknown to me, the perception is that we do. And yet, our job is to recommend a course of action based on our expertise and eventually implement the policies agreed upon by the military chain of command and, where appropriate, recommend whatever changes are necessary to better or improve the product. Other than that, my actual job is very similar to what it was as a PERO.
Interview carried out by E3161 Victoria Edwards (RMC 2003)
1 – CMR PE&R Staff 1984 (Back row, second from the right)
2 – CMR Varsity Hockey team 1985 (Front row, third from the right)
3 – CMR Varisty Water-Polo team 1985 (Back row, far right)
4 – CMR Varisty Gymnastics team 1987 (Back row, far right)
5 – PE&R Kingston Golf Tournament 2009 (Second from the right)