West Point memories not just for hockey players, 22461 Claire Bramma reveals


22461 Claire Bramma thinks back to her fourth year at Royal Military College and ponders the question: Exactly why did she seek a spot on the college’s team for the military skills competition at Sandhurst.

“Craziness,” she said.

There was, of course, more to it for the woman who had just finished her fourth year as a varsity volleyball player and whose busy timetable still had such academic trifles as a thesis to finish.

“It was to test my body,” she said, “especially knowing that I was going into combat arms, making sure that I could improve my fitness. That was one reason. The other was to make the most of what the college had to offer. Sandhurst is a unique opportunity to represent the college internationally.”

The annual event, held each spring at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., requires teams of cadets from academies around the world to compete in such military-type events as assault boat navigation, rappelling, wall climbing and weapons handling. RMC finished 13th that year, Bramma recalled, in part because a team member collapsed in the final leg and had to be replaced. With the substitution, a significant points penalty is imposed.

“It was fun, definitely the most physically challenging thing I did while at the college,” said Bramma, who graduated from RMC in 2002 with a degree in civil engineering. “Certainly the recruit obstacle course is your first introduction to it but the Sandhurst team was especially challenging.”

Bramma came to RMC from Whitby, Ont., in 1998 “with the intent on doing something different,” attracted to the college by its four pillars: academics, military, athletics and bilingualism. “The well rounded aspect and philosophy of the college was definitely a lure,” she explained. “When I was in high school I had a lot of different interests so it was nice to see a school that respected that well-rounded philosophy.”

Now a staff officer in the intelligence command headquarters in Ottawa, soon to be posted to the Canadian Forces College in Toronto for the Joint Command and Staff Program, Bramma “just got the bug to stay with the military.”

Her military occupation is as a combat engineer, doing such things as building bridges. “Then, of course, we blow them up afterwards.”

Academically, Bramma said, there was admittedly less opportunity in the civil engineering department at RMC to specialize than a student might find in a civilian university, but she relished a program that exposed her to many different disciplines.

“We did a general view of everything, so we got a little bit of the environmental side, the structural side, foundations, and also we got to do surveying and geomatics, and that really planted the seed for what I’m doing now in the geospatial intelligence business.”

Which, she explained, is a way of depicting data, information and intelligence on maps. She earned a masters of science in defence geographic information in the UK in 2006.

Now a major, Bramma’s career has taken her to Kabul as a troop commander in 2004 and a squadron commander in Valcartier. She was deployed to Haiti in 2010 for earthquake relief, an assignment she found particularly rewarding.

“Especially as engineers, because we bring equipment and resources that have a tangible and physical impact,” she said.

The group was charged with building transitional shelters for people in a displaced persons camp, who “were basically living under tarps in an open field.”

With the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, the Canadians prefabricated 105 of the things and built four of them in the 10 weeks they were there. None was more gratifying, Bramma said, than the first one, which was given to the family that had to vacate the space the engineers needed for a staging area. “We made sure we looked after our neighbours before doing projects around the city.”

Its capability for disaster assistance is something that is important for the Canadian Forces to have, Bramma said, both for strategic reasons and the on-the-ground effect.

“It makes Canada show its support for a particular area of the world, and at the same time it allows our soldiers to have a meaningful impact, even if sometimes only for the short term.”

While at RMC, Bramma won the Kelly Gawne Memorial Cup as the college’s outstanding female athlete three times, and she remains the only three-time winner of the award. A left-side power and later the middle blocker of the women’s volleyball team — and its captain starting in second year — she also dabbled in cross-country and ran a few races as a member of the varsity team.

The volleyball team made the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association playoffs two of her four years, but perhaps her best memory comes from beating Army at West Point in her rookie season as part of the annual exchange between the two schools most famously known for its hockey game.

“We had quite a large contingent for that weekend, and it was nice to have the support from your (fellow) cadets, because at that time the varsity program wasn’t that well advocated for home games,” Bramma said. “It was kind of ironic that one of our largest crowds was at West Point.

“Responding to the crowd support makes you play a little bit harder. Some people would call it a distraction but I saw it as a motivator. It was midway through the season, we were just trying to find our groove, and that West Point weekend really helped us to prepare for the second half of the season. It made our games much stronger.”

Bramma remains active in the sport. She played CISM from 1999 to 2011 and now continues to compete at the base and CF national level.

As with many ex-cadets, Bramma says perhaps the most important the lesson the college bestows is how to manage one’s time. The four pillars may make the RMC degree special, but they also make obtaining one the unique challenge she initially sought.

“To be able to do everything to the best possible,” she said, “you really had to manage your time properly.”

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