TV & Movies

What It’s Really Like to be in the Canadian Armed Forces

Ever wonder what a rocket scientist, or a ballerina, or a fashion editor actually does? In our new 9-5 series, we asked our favourite boss babes what a day in the office entails. This week, Sergeant Christina MacNeil gives us a glimpse into her grind

Sergeant Christina MacNeil, Air Force Supply Tech in The Canadian Armed Forces

Sergeant Christina MacNeil, Air Force Supply Tech in the Canadian Armed Forces

Age: 31

Length of time in current gig: In the Canadian Armed Forces for 10 years, but at my current rank for six months.

Education: I went to university for one year before I decided I wanted to join the CAF. I did my basic training in Montreal, which is where you spend three months learning how to be a soldier, and you get your kit, your combats and your camping gear. Then I went to Borden, Ont., to do my trades qualification. I’m an air force supply tech, so my job is to issue weapons, ammunition and rations, and if we go out on a big exercise, I have to make sure everyone has everything they need.

When do you wake up? 6 a.m.

Typical hours: 900 to 1600 [that’s 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in civilian speak]

What kind of preparation do you do before you get to work, so you’re on the ball when you arrive? I take my Great Dane, Bruce, for a walk, and then I go to the gym and do 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weights. Then I have a smoothie and go in to work.

What do you typically wear to work? I wear black boots, a blue beret and combats, which is a camo tunic with my name and rank on it, and camo pants. My hair is long right now, but I had a buzzcut for seven years. It was so much easier. When you’re out in the field on an exercise, you can’t shower for up to two weeks at a time. And it was more comfortable when I had a helmet on.

What’s the best part of your job? The people. You get to meet so many different people and they become your best friends, because you all share the same heartache and you’ve been freezing in a tent together. We’re like one big family.

What’s the worst part of your job? Being away from my family and my home. I’m from a small town in Nova Scotia, and I spent most of my career in Edmonton, and now I’m in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Have you ever been deployed? I went to Afghanistan twice. The first time, I was in the Kandahar Air Field, which is the main hub for the CAF, and I was sent there to supply the troops on the front lines. When a Chinook [a huge military helicopter] came in, I would get on top of these big shipping containers and attach them to the bottom of the ‘copter. I only weighed 120 pounds at that point, and I almost blew off a container once. I also went out on supply runs for the FOBs, so I saw outside of our zones. Coming from a small town, it shakes you up. You see less-fortunate people back home, but it’s nothing compared to someone actually living in a cardboard box. It’s a war-torn country, people are getting shot at, their families have been killed. You learn to appreciate the things you have and the family you have. It’s one thing to watch the news, but you can turn it off go have dinner with your family. But I was there, and I was in the middle of it. You’re there to help, but there’s nothing big you can do. I’m a better person because of it, but I can see why it affects people the way it does.

Who do you admire most in your profession and why? Warrant Officer Karen Tremblay. She was my boss for four years, and she really mentored me. She was air force, and we worked at an infantry unit together that was dominated by men. As a woman in the CAF, your standards are still the same. We’re treated equally and expected to do the same things as our male counterparts. But your personality and hard work will get you really far. And that’s what has helped me.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Be better than the next guy. It makes you always want to do better and be better, at life and at work. If I see someone who is doing really well, I strive to be like them and then work my butt off to be better.

If someone else aspired to do your job, what qualities would they need? They would have to be understanding, energetic, compassionate and physically fit.

What do you to unwind after work? If I’m free on the weekend, I go up to Hiawatha Park, which is about 15 minutes away. A two-hour hike will take away five days of stress. The gym is a big de-stressor for me, too.

More #CareerInspo:
What It’s Really Like to Be a Sports TV Anchor
What It’s Really Like to Be a Rocket Scientist

What It’s Really Like to Be a National Ballet Principal Dancer
How to Stay Career-Focused Without Burning the $@*! Out
How Do I Keep My Job and My Brash Social Media Persona?