6596 Reg Bird (RRMC 1961-1963, RMC 1963-1965)
Reg Bird retired from Nortel Networks in 2001 where he held the position of President South East Asia for four years and was co-located in Singapore and Sydney, Australia. Prior to living in Asia, Reg held the position of Vice President Western Canada, lived in Edmonton, and was responsible for all Nortel activities in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Western Ontario, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Reg joined Nortel in 1990 from Manitoba Telecom where he had been President and CEO. Today Reg sits on several boards and is a member of the Premier’s Technology Council in BC. Reg is also Chairman of SaskTel and a member of the board of the greater Victoria United Way. Reg has also been a board member of EPCOR, TRLabs, Vecima, Telesat Canada, Telecom Canada, NEWMic, and VIATeC. He is a member of the Royal Roads Military Heritage Committee, the RRU Foundation and has most recently been appointed a Royal Roads University Fellow.
The following are excerpts from an oral history interview held in 2008 where he describes his RRMC cadet experience to Royal Roads University staff person, Karen Inkster.
Karen – So how did you first hear about RR?
Reg – Well I was looking at going to university and wanted to be a pilot and so went into a recruiting booth. They looked at my marks and they said, hey, you could go to Royal Roads – which I knew nothing about – and they mislead me to believe that this was a wonderful spot with beautiful surroundings and scarlet uniforms and I’d be the king of the world and that they’d pay for all this and I didn’t have to do anything! And I could be a pilot. So I went home and told my parents and I remember to this day my mother said, “Well, Reg, it’s going to be pretty tough there” and I said, “Mom, come on it can’t be that tough. I mean they told me this was going to be wonderful and I’m smart and I’m at the top of my class and I’m going to go there and accomplish this”.
And so I signed up and the train came through our small town of Vegreville, Alberta and I got on it and there was a bunch of other guys already on the train from further east and we were coming out to conquer the world and to be these great, wonderful, military people and they were going to treat us so well. And we got off the train and onto a bus and they came out here and turned the corner at the Grant building and there was this wonderful castle and we said to each other, it’s true! We’re in a fantasyland, we’re kings of the hill – what could be better than this?
And then we stepped off the bus and we were met by these horrible creatures called “seniors” who immediately attacked us as being the scum of the earth and they were going to teach us a few things and so from that day on we learned that this was a very tough place to be and a lot of us began to question why we even came here. And so I remember standing on the parade square in front of the Grant Building and honest to goodness, I stepped off the bus, this guy started screaming at me, the bus moved away and I honestly think I felt a little trickle of fluid run down my leg as I almost actually peed my pants ‘cause I was so scared and so shocked at the reality of what I got into and I said, you know my mother was probably right – this is going to be very, very tough. But I think the psychology she used on me was perfect because I was not going to prove her right and so I stayed.
Karen – So you weren’t tempted to go?
Reg – I was very tempted to go. The thought that comes back to me now in later years is that there is very few of any problems you meet in life now that you aren’t able to say Phttt – I’ve been through worse than this – and you realize that they actually built you up to withstand some of the issues that life would throw at you which I think people in civilian universities have missed and are suffering from stress and from inability to handle too many issues and we just somehow either handled them or you went home and you gave up. So I look back on it and say, you know it wasn’t bad.
I remember I was invited into the castle to speak to the then-president Mr. Rick Skinner and parked my car and came down and got to the castle and I couldn’t walk across the door. I stopped. My body just froze. Because to the cadets, the castle was out of bounds. The cadet did not go in the castle. That was for humans and for people with intelligence – officers! Cadets ran in a circle and stayed in the Nixon Block. And it took me a couple of minutes to smile and say, I can actually go in this castle.
Karen – Must have been a funny feeling.
Reg – It was a funny feeling – a very funny feeling. And brought back a lot of memories, this place too. And even when I walk into the circle I tend to want to want to break into a jog and Neptune Steps – we weren’t allowed on Neptune Steps. You had to use the circle. So I considered it a great privilege to be able to walk up and down Neptune Steps and today when I came down here there were four or five students out here playing with a Frisbee. On the grass!! And I mean we would have all been charged. I mean a) to have time to play Frisbee and b) to be, to have the nerve to be on the grass! So it’s changed quite a bit.
Karen – You must have been in great shape!
Reg – We were in incredible shape. We complained about the food. They gave us celery – celery, celery, celery and then they gave us rhubarb pie which we thought looked like celery and that was before broccoli was invented I think because broccoli seems to be the vegetable today but celery, celery, celery and everybody thought: nobody can live on celery. And yet we all added weight and we got tougher and we complained about how we were all going to die and none of us died. None of us got sick.
You didn’t want to get sick here because to get sick you had to go to sick bay you had to go on the quarterdeck, into the seniors’ mess, knock on the door and ask permission to sign out for sick bay. And they would bring the most obscure, quiet, introverted senior they could find to approach you and you had to know his name and ask Mr. Johnson permission to sign out for sick bay and if you didn’t know his name it was an insult and you were given five or six circles as well. So they had a process to make sure – you had to be very sick before you signed out for sick bay. And that was another thing I learned because to this day if I don’t feel well, nauseous or just tired, I will go and work out – exercise – as opposed to go to the drugstore and get some pills. And I attribute that to the military, learning to run it off and no pain, no gain. And there is some truth to that. There’s also truth to if you are sick you better sign out for it because you didn’t want to pass out someplace but if you did they would haul you off to sick bay and they took good care of you. But they made damn sure that you weren’t malingering.
Karen – What were you commissioned as?
Reg – I came out a lieutenant and went through Cold Lake Air Base…and served my time at Cold Lake for three years and you had to serve three years in those days and got out after three years, mainly because I came here to get a university education, to join the air force to become a pilot and half way through the first year they did a medical and informed me and a bunch of others that we didn’t have the proper eyesight to be pilots and you have to pick another course, another direction, and so I picked armament So I realized that at the end of three years there probably wasn’t an awful lot of opportunity as an armament officer in Canada. And I didn’t know if I wanted to be an explosives expert all my life either so…I left.
I left in 1968 – long before your time – but Kennedy, in 1962 had mentioned that we were going to go to take a man to the moon and return him before the end of the decade and so everybody on the North American continent was working towards getting this person on the moon and I was in armaments, military rockets, aerospace, and so in 1968 the opportunity for jobs in aerospace were just phenomenal. So I got out and got a job at Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg building rockets – not the rocket that went to the moon but a rocket. And then right after they walked on the moon – and everyone who was alive in those days knows exactly where they were when Armstrong walked on the moon – they slashed all the funds for rocketry and weaponry and I was laid off my job and went into telecommunications which at the time I thought was dull as hell but it turned out to be one of the most dynamic businesses possible.
Karen – You mentioned some skylarks…
Reg – Yeah, I think the greatest one that I’ll never forget was one night some roommates decided that they would get up and we would get some big tomato cans and they painted them red – and we had a guy who spoke Russian and he wrote “explosives” on this in Russian, in black, and they took some whalers out of the boathouse and rode across to Esquimalt and attached these big tomato cans to all the destroyers that were in Esquimalt Harbour and rode back. So this group did this – and nothing happened. We heard nothing.
And about two or three weeks later we were asked to go to the Quarterdeck as a class, to hear a presentation from the navy and so we gathered on the Quarterdeck, wondering what this was all about and in walks this rear-admiral with gold all over him and he says, “We had an event at Esquimalt three or four weeks ago which we’ve overcome and investigated” – and by the way at the bottom of these cans they had put in the letters RR – Royal Roads – “and we’ve discovered these fake explosives and we think this is the most phenomenal thing we’ve seen and we are so impressed with the people that did this that we’d like to have a mess dinner in recognition of these people and recognize them for this incredible skylark they’ve done. Would the perpetrators of this please identify themselves so that we can…” So some hands went up, whereupon they were immediately arrested and put on four or six weeks’ extra duty and drill. And the moral was: do the skylark but don’t ever get caught or identify yourself. And I’ll never forget that. And they spent quite a bit of time on the parade square with a rifle at 5 o’clock in the morning and that is not fun and what makes it even worse is there has to be – there’s a petty officer out there putting you through that drill that wants to be there less than you do so he really puts you through your paces. So those guys paid the price for that but that was one of the exciting skylarks that we did.
Karen – So how has RR impacted your life?
Reg – Well I never would have got to where I got to in my life if I hadn’t gone to Royal Roads. I think the self discipline, the ability to face a problem which you hadn’t faced before and tackle it head-on, and the ability to work with people, the ability to get self confidence – without hopefully being too over-confident.
I think one story that really indicates what I learned at military – that got me on my job is when I left aerospace after Armstrong walked on the moon I went into telecommunications, to a small telephone company who was having a very difficult problem putting a software package together for one of their programs and the CEO of the company was very frustrated in that the people who were doing the software kept giving him these excuses and reasons why it wouldn’t work and how he had to change things and could never get a straight answer from them. And I remember looking at it and saying, what I’ll do is I’ll just break it down into activities and assign somebody to an activity and if that activity’s done you can’t start this one and do that – a critical path method which we had learned in the military about how to conduct a war. And I did that. I made the presentation to him and again the other people were basically intimidated as hell to even go in front of this guy ‘cause he was a pretty ruthless guy but I said I’ve seen guys who would eat this guy’s lunch you know. And I went there and said, this is Mr. X – bing, bing, bing, bing, bang – and this is how to keep these guys to the agenda and how, if they miss this date, then obviously you’re not going to make this date. And he was in awe that somebody had suddenly presented it to him in a way that he could understand and then he got promoted to a higher level job in the organization a few months later and my boss got a phone call that they wanted me over in his office as his executive assistant. And my boss said to me, “you’re not going to believe this but…” and I looked at it and he says, “You’re not going to turn it down?” And I said, “I’m going to think about this” and I went and they said to me: “are you nuts?!” And I said, “well this is an opportunity and I might go there and help him out.” And they were just floored – “You’d leave the phone company?” And I went and I went there to another promotion and I looked back at some of the guys in the telephone company that were still there five years later that were afraid to take that step because you know they had found a nice little spot. And to me it was just pffft – I mean I’ve seen worse than this. I can handle worse than this… I’ve been called a piece of crap and you know I’ve risen above it all and I attribute all that back to the military and to Royal Roads.
And that’s why when I retired from my last job which was in Asia and I came back to Victoria to retire and I got on the Premier’s technology council and I started coming back to Royal Roads doing certain things, I thought I’m going to try to give something back to Royal Roads for what I’ve gained from it. So, yeah, I think I owe Royal Roads quite a bit.
Of gronches, CADWINS and the RRMC band… A follow-up from Karen Inkster!
Thank you to all who responded to my query last week about gronches, CADWINS and the RRMC band. I haven’t been able to respond to everyone yet, but the information is much appreciated. Each person’s comments added to our knowledge-base – many of them also made me smile! Keep posted for further queries in future editions of e-Veritas.
Here is a sampling of some of the comments received:
In my time “gronch” was a verb. You “gronched” someone or a flight, or were yourself “gronched”. A semi-malicious prank where no one gets physically hurt (hopefully). Often involving water – getting thrown in it (a pond or shower) or at you. Short-sheeting someone’s pit. Covering every horizontal surface of someone’s cabin with Styrofoam coffee cups filled to the brim with water. Open sardine tin on the radiator. Puncture an aerosol can of shaving cream and toss it into someone’s cabin (even better when they are inside). Blockading someone’s cabin from the inside then rappelling out the window.
Not to be confused with a “skylark” which was usually a night-time after-hours (after 11 when you were mandated to be in your pit) frolic such as heading out in your dressing gown to raid the Commandant’s garden, or hang a flight banner from the to of the Castle turret or snatch the CWTO (Cadet Wing Training Officer) and put him and his bed on a boat, row both out to the Island in the middle of Esquimalt Lagoon and leave him and his bed here there for the world to see when it awoke in the morning.
Gary M. Nijman, LLP, 11538
-a “gronch” was a type of raid that one “flight” would do against another “flight”. You would try to pull their members into the showers on their flloor! Sometmes your own flight mmembers would end up in the showers! A “gronch” could also be carried out on a Wing wide basis where one year would go after another year. My senior year took on the first year this way. We arranged for them to be held in a “briefing” while the whole senior class emptied their bedrooms of their mattresses and then threw water on them from the roof as they came into Nixon Block. (That would have been a “wing gronch”!)
Colonel (ret’d) John Lesperance, 9802
Miscellaneous rules to keep things in hand. One example was that cadets were not allowed to hang food out their windows. I always thought that was a strange rule, but apparently some years before, cadets had been hiding fruit or meat in their rooms and it had gone bad, creating a health hazard (although probably less severe than the results of gronches described above). That year, the rule was imposed to prevent cadets storing food in their rooms. This prompted hungry cadets to hang the food out their windows to avoid breaking the letter of the CADWINS law. CADWINS was subsequently changed to forbid hanging food out of windows.
We did not receive CADWINS ahead of time, but were expected to know them intimately on arrival. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse!”
Timothy C. Green, CD, P.Eng., MEng, 11497
CADWINS was applicable to all Officer Cadets who were in the Military College System (RMC, RRMC or CMR). CADWINS was the short form for Cadet Wing Instructions and were the “bible” for life at the College. They described the roles, responsibilities and duties for the different positions within the Cadet Wing and the standard procedures for activities that the cadets would follow (for example, requesting leave). They also prescribed the punishments that could be issued by the Senior Class for discipline infractions. CADWINS were not sent out in advance, it was another one of the myriad of items that a cadet had to read and learn about on arrival at the College. The benefit to the CADWINS was that charges for infractions at the College did not follow an officer into their career (as I recall in the late 80s, CADWINS were done away with and cadets became subject to the Code of Service Discipline) and were used to guide and develop discipline within the Cadet Wing.
LCdr (Ret’d) Rick Bracken, 11747 (RMC 1974-78)
I was in the marching band in my first year. I first played the cymbals and quickly graduated to the glockenspiel. One of the perennial favourite songs was “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” that had a short glockenspiel solo section in it. (One Sunday morning I forgot to shave. To save myself from being seen during the inspection, I covered my face with the glockenspeil.)
Timothy C. Green, CD, P.Eng., MEng, 11497 (RRMC 1973-77)
I joined the band and played trombone. As for the RRMC band, we played standard marching band music for all parades at the College, including the Friday Morning SOC Hop (what we used to call the Staff Officer Cadet’s Friday Morning Parade that finished in just enough time for us to race into our rooms, change into shoes from drill boots, lock up our rifles and get to class).
Commander Darren Rich, Chief of Staff RMC , 13789
What I did not realize by joining the band was that we were also to act as the duty bugler every 3rd or 4th day. That meant getting up earlier than everyone else and playing reveille on every deck to wake up the cadets. Many (all ) of them were sleep deprived and were not morning people so we were targets of pillows, water bombs and other missiles. The abuse increased as we had to play twice on each deck so toward the end of the exercise it got pretty hostile. We also had to play as the flag was raised in front of the castle and later at sunset when it was lowered.
I can still remember being taught some of the pieces minutes before playing them alone in front of the wing. Several times one piece ran into another and I often had to fake it before I could make it. Looking back, it was a lot of extra work I did not need. We were the first onto the parade square and last off. We had extra gear to keep shiny and spotless. On the other hand we did a lot of standing on the parade square while the rest of the cadets marched around doing some very complicated stuff which we did not have to memorize. On graduation parade in 1967, we stood so long in the blistering heat that my boots sank into the tar on the parade square. When I tried to move I almost blew my knee caps off 🙂
Ray Riddel, 8572 (RRMC 1966-68, RMC 1968-70)