Article submitted by: 14344 Bruce Poulin, CMR RMC 1992
On August 12, 1979, I began my professional career as an Officer Cadet at the “Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean,” which is located near Montréal, Québec. Like most new recruits, I arrived with one suitcase, a head full of hair and an inquisitive mind that needed training and answers.
Life in the army for a 16-year-old was, to say the least, both interesting and challenging. The high need to grow up
fast resonated with me. I knew it was going to be hard and I was never afraid of hard, but this was a little harder that I had bargained for. No longer could I afford to compensate for any of my physical fitness shortcomings because of my young age and size; there was no room for weakness only potential success.
By May, the pressure of measuring up in the four categories needed to pass: academic, military leadership, bilingualism, and athleticism seemed too daunting, and I was uncertain that I wanted to work this hard for another four years to graduate. So, I took the easy way out and quit after my first year. At the time, I had a long list of reasons to quit. The first Québec referendum was unfolding, the Soviet empire had just invaded Afghanistan, and secular Iran had just fallen to the Ayatollah and become an Islamic theocracy. The western world was under threat, I reasoned, and I need to serve in the military now. Part of me may also have thought, foolishly, that I was already smart enough.
I left the military college but stayed in the military where I eventually became an artillery officer in 1982. A few years later, one of life’s many ironies happened. I was posted the Military College of Canada in Kingston even though I had never graduated from a Canadian Military College (CMC).
While serving as the Commander of General Wolfe Squadron (7 Squadron), I found myself sitting in the bleachers watching other people graduate from a place I had quit only a few years back. In that moment, I learned a lesson, I realized, little by little I was falling behind, and I needed to get back to work.
By now, I had a young family that depended on me, so going back to school was a tough decision. Nevertheless, I persevered and asked the Commandant of the School at the time, Commodore Ed Murray, if I could take some classes while I was at the College. He agreed, and for the next two years, I took as many courses as I could to qualify for the University Training Plan for Officers (UTPO). In 1990, I submitted my application and was granted permission to attend the RMC as a full-time student.
For the next two years, I took academic prizes in History and Political Science, graduating with First Class Honors. I believe I also hold the record for taking the longest time to complete a CMC degree from preparatory year to graduation (1979-92).
I owe much of my academic success to doctors Jane Errington, Yvan Gagnon, and Joel J. Sokolsky – all of whom mentored and encouraged my intellectual curiosity. But it was Dr. Sokolsky, who encouraged me to reach for the stars and apply for and received a full academic scholarship and complete a Master of Arts degree from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC., in International Relations. I remain the only officer on active military service to have ever attended and graduated from SAIS. Again, this was only made possible through the encouragement of the Academic staff at RMC.
The point I want to share about my story is a simple one. Like me, as Officer Cadets at a CMC, you will face a similar choice during your time on campus. You can be one of the privileged few and work hard, trusting that it will pay off, or you could quit. Should choose the latter, you may end up like me, regretting it for the rest of your life. Again, I was fortunate and was given a Mulligan and got a second chance to graduate. You may not be so lucky.
Things may be hard right now, and the rewards seem too far off. But remember, should you ever feel some doubt, a lot of experienced people believed in your abilities. You would not be here if you were not capable. A degree at a CMC is the sports equivalent of the Grey Cup of academic institutions. It is meant to be hard and a degree from here is supposed to be a significant milestone in your lives. Bring out your best selves and never lose sight of your goal – to win the CMC Grey Cup and graduate with no regrets.
Bruce spent half of his adult life as an Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces and NATO. He left the military in 2001 to satisfy his curiosity for new challenges which included working as the Manager Media and Public Relations for the Royal Canadian Legion national headquarters, followed by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute and later the senior communications representative for Lockheed Martin Canada for the new Canadian Surface Combatant Fleet. In all, his working career spanned some 40 years with government, not-for- profit, and private organizations and three retirements.
On April 29, 2023, Bruce was elected as the State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus in Ontario a not-for-profit organization consisting of approximately 55,000 members in 500 councils. To appreciate their impact, in 2020, the members in the jurisdiction of Ontario contributed more than $35 million in volunteer hours alone. He is the eighth military veteran to be elected to that coveted position in Ontario. Bruce, with the full support of his spouse Zoye, has also taken a genuine interest in helping homeless veterans in the nation’s capital through Veterans’ House. Funds are currently being raised to erect a cenotaph at Veterans’ House and its unveiling is scheduled to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the Knights of Columbus in Ontario in 2025.