By Jeremiah Hemens, Army Public Affairs
May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, a time to reflect on and celebrate the contributions that Canadians of Asian heritage continue to make to the growth and prosperity of Canada.
Vancouver, British Columbia — Sergeant Amelia Chia’s experience at the Soldier for a Day program showed her the diversity within Canada’s military and helped her become a proud member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
Early life and heritage
Born in Singapore in 1987, Sgt Chia is a proud Chinese-Canadian who currently works as a public school teacher at Ecolé Riverdale Elementary in Surrey, British Columbia. She has also been a member of the Army Reserve for the past 14 years, currently working part-time as a Supply Technician with 39 Signal Regiment, while pursuing a Master of Education.
“I chose the Supply trade when I was 17, knowing I would become a teacher and intentionally chose a military occupation that is transferable across elements – known as a ‘purple trade’,” she explained. “If I needed to move anywhere, I could easily pick up and go while continuing those careers. I figured logistics in the civilian world could be my backup if teaching didn't work out.”
She said she learned a lot from Chinese school on Saturdays when she was younger. “My parents are not terribly traditional. They raised us in more of a church culture than a Chinese culture. We celebrated some Chinese holidays, but not to the degree that our family does in Singapore and Malaysia.”
Her family, consisting of herself, parents, and younger sister, immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia in April 1991. She fondly remembers the day her whole family became citizens together.
Regarding heritage in the workplace, Sgt Chia said, “As a Chinese-Canadian member in a regiment with an already significant Chinese-Canadian representation, my heritage feels like a collective norm in my daily experience in the Army. I see the growing diversity in the CAF and that is part of a journey of resilience and strength.”
From Army Cadet to Army Reservist
Sgt Chia’s experience with Army Cadets was positive overall, but she did not think the affiliated Reserve regiment would be a good fit for her interests and abilities. However, when her Career Counsellor at Eric Hamber Secondary School introduced her to the Soldier for a Day (SFAD) program, it completely changed her mindset towards the military.
(SFAD is offered by various regiments at different times across Canada. More information can be had by contacting a local recruiting office.)
The SFAD program Sgt Chia attended was hosted by 744 Communication Regiment, now 39 Signal Regiment.
As a 17-year-old, Grade 11 student, Sgt Chia had the opportunity to go for a weekend of work experience at Albert Head Camp, which is a training facility sometimes used by Cadets, attached to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in British Columbia.
Sgt Chia explained, “It was there I saw a diversity of people, learned about various trades, saw women in uniform, and also met members who were openly gay and lesbian. Witnessing the healthy work dynamics of all these people contributed to my feeling of ‘there's a place for me here,’ where I felt safe and welcome to be myself.”
This led Sgt Chia to participate in both Cadets and the Army Reserve until she was 19, when she reached the mandatory age-out for Cadets.
Many benefits from joining the Army Reserve
Education Reimbursement for the Primary Reserve and financial assistance for post-secondary education were both significant factors that encouraged SgtChia to join the Army Reserve.
While this assistance helped reimburse some tuition, she used the consistent income from summer training courses for tuition fees in the fall semester. Continuing part-time employment with her regiment during the school year contributed to her financial well-being so she could afford student luxuries such as bubble tea, sushi and gas money.
Being an Army Reservist has also helped her professional career. Being able to include the Army Reserve on her resume has been incredibly beneficial, distinguishing her from her peers. She said it even helped her land an interview, leading to an offer for her first teaching position.
Deployment to Afghanistan put future stressors into perspective
Sgt Chia was deployed for six months with Task Force Kandahar 1-11 Mission Transition Task Force in the Kandahar Airfield (KAF) in Afghanistan. Working as a Signal Stores Asset Manager, she was responsible for repatriating communications equipment back to Canada or back to Kabul, as required.
In addition to demanding work days, there were the dangers of being in a war zone. She described numerous instances where she had to seek shelter in a bunker because the KAF was routinely targeted with rockets.
In addition to these threats, “There was a suicide bomber who tried to drive his ‘jingle’ truck through an entry point. He didn't get in, but he must have panicked and detonated just outside of the main gate.”
(The term “jingle truck,” in military slang, describes a highly decorated vehicle with chains or pendants attached to the front bumper, which results in a jingling sound.)
Sgt Chia is grateful to have experience the challenges of deployment. “Not only did my deployment set me up financially for my Bachelor of Education program, but I was mentally and emotionally ready for the challenge. It allowed me to put future stressors into perspective. It drove me to make meaning of my experience in Afghanistan.”
She noted, “My Bachelor of Education program gave me a similarly high level of drive and sense of purpose I had when on deployment, which was missing in the eight months in between. During that lull, I experienced pretty intense depression, so it was important for me to face the next challenge with a strong sense of purpose and get back on my feet.”
Satisfaction from her military career includes strong moral code
Sgt Chia’s military career has been a source of many satisfying components in her life. She listed her circle of friends, the privilege of being paid for travel and adventure, attending and instructing courses, driving vehicles and shooting weapons not accessible in the civilian world.
Reflecting on her Reserve experience, she stated, “I have come to recognize that I have made significant sacrifices for being in the Army Reserve, but it has also been a part of my identity- building through adulthood. It has inevitably shaped a part of my value/moral system that I employ to this day.”
“The Army exposes me to unique real-world challenges. It puts perspective on the struggles in my life. It has defined resilience in my life. I am always striving, so the Army gives me goals to strive for.”
Career balancing like climbing two rope ladders at once
Sgt Chia currently faces challenges in balancing the workloads of her two careers as a part-time Reservist and an elementary public school teacher, both of which require continuous education, professional development, training and exercise.
When describing this balancing act she says, “My analogy is like trying to climb two rope ladders at the same time. One is not terribly successful when trying to climb them concurrently. In my experience, I've been most successful when focusing on a set of goals for one, then switching to the other career and working towards the set of goals for that career. Sacrifices have to be made on both sides for both careers to succeed.”
Now, however, she is excited about the possibility of the two ladders joining.
Contributing to health and wellness at 3rd Canadian Division
Sgt Chia is a member of 3rd Canadian Division (3 Div)’s Readiness, Resilience and Growth Steering Committee (RRG SC), a group of wellness service providers combined with unit representatives from across the Division. The RRG SC was established to support 3 Div’s efforts related to Total Health and Wellness in the CAF. As a member, Sgt Chia was invited to contribute to the development of a training component to RRG called ‘Growth and Resilience Integrated Training’ (GRIT).
Over the course of the last year, 3 Div RRG team members developed a GRIT program for 3 Div, and delivered a 5-day pilot serial in February 2019. This initiative recognizes that an integrated approach that includes all domains of wellness (physical, emotional, familial, social, spiritual, intellectual) is essential to creating more resilient environments and outcomes for soldiers.
RRG Program converged with Master’s of Education
“In my thesis and my own practice, I acknowledge theories and research that support an ecological view of the self, and the need for an integrated model to represent the networks that connect us,” she noted.
“When I heard the vision of the 3 Div RRG team, I knew I wanted to be part of that journey. I was not expecting my Master of Education program in Ecological Education to converge with my CAF career, but it has been an incredibly powerful confluence.”
“The next steps are to make some macramé to join the two rope ladders.”
Next steps for this multi-tasker
After graduation, she plans to consider another operational deployment and in the next five years, hopes to carry on with the work of the RRG SC.
She will continue to strive for goals like these that she sets for herself, and there is no doubt that she will continue to achieve them.