By Sub-Lieutenant Andrew J. McLaughlin, 31 Canadian Brigade Group Public Affairs
Hamilton, Ontario — Captain Sarbjit Singh (Rene) Juneja’s South Asian heritage means a lot to him. It has also provided him with context and a sense of pride in his role with the Canadian Army Reserve (ARes).
“My father emigrated from India in 1978 and my mother emigrated from Guyana in 1974,” said Capt Juneja, who has served with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s) in Hamilton for over two decades.
“Being part of a strong and storied regiment for the past 21 years is something I hold with high regard, and I strive to maintain that honour by being the best officer I can be,” he said.
An ambassador of his heritage to interested colleagues
His South Asian roots are an important – and related – part of his identity as a soldier in the ARes. “I grew up learning about the history, the challenges and the great accomplishments of people of Indian descent, which in many ways were similar to those of my Regiment, all of which I am proud.”
Capt Juneja sees a clear link between the roots of his cultural identity and what makes the Canadian Army so strong through its diversity.
“Having an understanding and appreciation of my heritage has allowed me to share this with my colleagues in the Army. More often than I realized, people are interested in learning about other cultures and religions,” he said. “That has allowed me to build better relationships and often it has allowed me to clear up misconceptions people have.”
Help with tuition led to 21 years of service and counting
Capt Juneja spoke nostalgically about his reasons for joining the ARes.
“As a kid I always thought it would be cool to be a soldier,” the Hamilton resident said. “However, I never gave it much thought until I was exploring options to help pay for post-secondary education.”
The Army helped him pay for an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, and provided employment while earning a Master of Business Administration from McMaster University, in addition to a Certified Professional Accountant designation.
“The Army assisted with a bursary in my first year of university,” he recalled. “However, the main benefit from being a Reservist is learning how to effectively manage your time and maintain balance, which is key to being successful both in your civilian and army life.”
Civilian job in finance in contrast to Infantry Officer duties
Married and the father of three children, Capt Juneja works for St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton as a Senior Financial Analyst. His family and his civilian employer recently supported some personal and professional development overseas.
“I just returned from Operation UNIFIER a few weeks ago,” he said with pride in the Canadian Armed Forces’ mission to help Ukraine remain sovereign, secure and stable. He developed infantry training for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, returning March 19, 2018 following a six months’ deployment.
“During my time there, the Ukrainian officers and soldiers alike were very complimentary of our soldiers and the training they received from us,” he said. “I believe it was our approach and professionalism; building the trust that is key to being able to build a relationship with the Ukrainian soldiers and therefore being able to make a positive impact.”
The cultural diversity Capt Juneja had experienced in Canada helped in this regard. “There were many challenges: cultural and language barriers, to name only a few; but knowing that we as Canadians were moving the Ukrainians further toward a more stable future – just like my parents sought by coming to Canada – made it all worth it.”
Proud to lead soldiers representing Canadian diversity at its best
Capt Juneja doesn’t see himself pulling up the roots of his Army career any time soon. “I enjoy everything about being an infantry officer, a Reservist, and an Argyll – from the challenges of training exercises, to the opportunities to serve your country domestically and abroad, to the comradery and just being around so many different personalities.”
The ARes is a place where all backgrounds – race, religion, ethnicity and any other identifier – are accepted and embraced, said Capt Juneja.
“Being in the Army Reserve has allowed me to realize a side of me that perhaps I am not sure I would have been able to if I had not joined,” he said. “It has allowed me to challenge myself to go further both physically and mentally. It has given me the chance to be a leader within a group of Canadians that represent every facet of society.”
Capt Juneja has made lasting friendships across the vast spectrum of Canadian diversity. “The friendships I have formed with serving members and former members of The Argylls has definitely made a lasting impact on my life. We are a close-knit group and we take care of each other.”
All in the family – two brothers also joined The Argylls
Capt Juneja’s family has now grown deep roots within The Argylls, in addition to that strong South Asian heritage.
“Both of my younger brothers were with The Argylls. My brother Hari and I joined at the same time and he served for 13 years and was a Master Corporal. My youngest brother, Shaan, joined later as he is many years younger than I am.”
Officer Commanding position today, eye on horizon tomorrow
In May, he is taking over as Officer Commanding The Argylls’ rifle company.
When asked where he hopes to be in ten years, Capt Juneja reaffirms his connection to his Regiment, and the culture he is proud of.
“In ten years, I hope to still be serving with my Regiment; and hopefully one day I will be considered to serve as Commanding Officer of The Argylls. That would be the greatest of honours; for myself – and for my family.”