By Anne Duggan, Army Public AffairsVictoria,
British Columbia — For Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Alolega, the Canadian Army (CA) Reserve has always been his end goal in a career marked by his preference for practical decisions. He has lived a life of careful planning and forethought from immigration to education and in military and civilian service.
LCol Alolega, Commanding Officer of 39 Service Battalion in British Columbia, is also a regional financial manager at Employment and Social Development Canada. In charge of hundreds of Canadian soldiers in Victoria and Richmond and 30 civil servants spread across western Canada and the three territories, the Reservist has travelled far from where he started as a bright student from Uganda.
As a young man in Uganda, nearly 12,000 kilometres from his current home in North Vancouver where he and his wife Marion are raising daughters Elizabeth and Nicole, thoughts of career took a back seat. “I did not think of what I would be doing professionally back then. Instead, I wanted an education and a fair chance to work for success.”
LCol Alolega’s habit of well-thought-out decision-making and planning began in his mid-twenties when he applied to the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), a non-profit organization that provides education opportunities to disadvantage youth around the world.
WUSC granted him a year of tuition at a Canadian university, and he used it for the first year of his undergraduate economics degree at British Columbia’s Langara College. He continued his undergraduate studies at Simon Fraser University for three more years and accepted the offer extended to all WUSC scholarship recipients of remaining in Canada.
Since making the pivotal decision to apply to WUSC, he has carefully navigated a life full of thoughtful changes: from moving to a new country to joining and serving with the Canadian Army’s Regular Force and then transferring to the Army Reserve. “The Army offers the ability and flexibility to transition between the Regular Force and the Reserve. This has been so beneficial to me.”
LCol Alolega, who transferred from Regular Force to the Army Reserve in 2008, originally chose the trade of Logistics because of its versatility when he joined the Army immediately after graduation. His second degree, a Master’s of Business Administration in International Business from the University of Alberta, was made possible through the CAFEducation Reimbursement program which fully covered his tuition fees at the time.
“I thought the Canadian military was a good employer because of all the career options. I chose Logistics because those skills are easily transferrable to civilian work.” CA Logistics Officers are in charge of the detailed coordination of moving soldiers, equipment, and supplies.
As Commanding Officer of 39 Service Battalion, one of Canada’s largest reserve units with approximately 200 Reserve soldiers and about 40 Regular Force members, LCol Alolega knows what his battalion’s mission is. “The reserves were conceived to augment the Regular Force and lately that has been oriented to domestic operations. As soldiers, we protect Canada’s interests internationally but our most important job is that we are the first people to help out in times of need, like with natural disasters.”
Recent Canadian natural disasters like the summer of 2016’s wildfire in Fort McMurray and 2013’s flood in southern Alberta, had Alberta’s Reserve regiments either on standby or actively supporting emergency measures. In British Columbia, much preparation by 39 Service Battalion is made for emergencies like earthquakes. Regular practice, in the form of 3rd Canadian Division exercises like Exercise WESTERN DEFENDER, hones the battalion’s ability to operate in an environment where there are no traditional forms of communication, a vital ability in times of emergency.
“We have a close working relationship with our community partners – the local police, firefighters and municipal government. We often invite them to come in and observe our domestic exercises. We demonstrate that we can actually talk to each other over the Georgia Strait (Vancouver to Victoria) using our military equipment – Combat Net Radio,” he explained. “Military Logistics come into play during war but these same skills are needed during the recovery from a natural disaster. In both cases, they require transportation services, electrical and mechanical engineering, food services, personnel management and supply chain services. Times of natural disaster tend to be logistics-heavy.”
The chance to do some heavy lifting was the motivation behind LCol Alolega’s decision to join the CA. “My biggest achievements were all the result of the opportunity to do big things that comes with being part of the Canadian Army. When I began as a Logistics Officer, I was very willing to do all of it – transportation, finance and supply assignments. This experience led to my deployment to Bosnia (2003) and to Afghanistan (2006). I also was part of the relocation of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from Winnipeg to Shilo, Manitoba (2004). That was a lot for me to achieve in a very short period of time.”
It turns out that doing big things was hard to give up for LCol Alolega, though he had always planned to leave the Regular Force. The Army Reserve was his way to continue to be part of the exercises and operations that make such a difference at home and internationally. “I wanted to continue in the Army but I also wanted a way to use my education in the civilian world. The Army Reserve is the solution.”
Regular Force members who are considering opportunities to start new careers outside the Canadian Army may consider transferring to the Army Reserve rather than leave the Army entirely. The Reserve provides financial strength, long-term career stability, and continued worthwhile service in the CAF. Most benefits, including pension options and health and educational support, would remain and should the member wish to transfer back to the Regular Force in the future, the process is simpler and faster than re-enrolment.