While most students were still fumbling their way through midterms, Hans Mulder, a criminology and history student at UFV, was on his way to Yellowknife.
Mulder joined the Canadian Forces seven years ago, but never thought it would take him all the way to the Northwest Territories, especially not during the winter. It was only October 17, but more than 2,000 km north of his home in Abbotsford, it didn’t feel like only the beginning of autumn.
Hans is one of few UFV students that also work with the Canadian Armed Forces, and is one of four members of his local regiment that was chosen to participate in the Vigilant Shield 2017 Field Training Exercise, an annual exercise sponsored by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), led by Alaskan NORAD Region, Canadian NORAD Region, and Continental NORAD Region.
The exercise is designed to provide training opportunities that just don’t exist in the Fraser Valley, and with the extreme conditions of the Northwest Territories it did just that.
“It’s a joint Canadian / U.S. venture that was brought about in the Cold War days to protect the polar north from Soviet incursion,” Mulder explained. “It’s still happening, but the focus is a little different.”
Along with his colleagues, Mulder worked to provide security for the U.S. air force, who were on their own training mission as well.
“They were out there to test their capability to operate up north if we needed their assistance or if they were deployed there as some part of a NORAD activity,” Mulder explained. “Anytime you have aircraft on the ground, like in the hangers or at the airport, there needs to be security, so the army provides security for the air force.”
“I was up there as part of a force protection platoon and we were there to secure the facility, conduct presence patrols, and just maintain the outer perimeter because there’s always more than one layer of security for these types of activities.”
As a member of the army reserves infantry, Mulder regularly participates in training and courses, most of which are far from easy. Between days without sleep and long treks through the wilderness, infantry training is stressful at its best.
This mission, however, was quite different from the standard training that Mulder usually has to participate in.
“Some of the staff that I’ve had on courses in the past usually say that deployment is generally less stressful than some of the courses,” he explained. “The idea behind that is that you want people to learn how to handle worst-case scenario stress on their training and that way during their deployment they’re able to cope and deal with that.”
Mulder knew what he was getting into when he joined the Canadian Forces in 2009, but for him, it was worth it. From guaranteed work to various training opportunities, the pros that come with joining the Armed Forces outweighed the cons.
“You’re guaranteed summer employment because there’s always stuff going on in the summer, training courses,” he said. “Next year I’ll do 13 weeks in Gagetown at the infantry school. That’s an advantage as well — you’ve got some employment lined up.”
Another perk included getting part of his tuition paid for, an incentive that the Canadian Forces offers to its officers.
“There’s a requirement in the forces for a degreed officer core and in order to make that happen, if you join and you don’t have a degree you enter as reserve entry scheme officer,” Mulder explained. “The reserve entry scheme officer means that the Canadian Forces will reimburse you up to $8,000 towards a degree, so a maximum of $2,000 a year for four years.”
However, it isn’t easy, especially being a student. Balancing papers, exams, and projects is already tough enough, but throw training in the mix and it becomes almost unbearable. However, for Hans, it hasn’t been that hard, especially with help from his professors.
“I’m taking four courses this semester but I’m mostly able to balance the two. It’s not always easy but it works,” he said. “I’m really impressed at the way the university or particular profs have been accommodating of this sort of thing. It’s actually really great being able to do both and have the university to some degree make that possible.”
That being said, university is still difficult, regardless of whether you’re in the army or not. However, Mulder explained that the training is transferable.
“The army teaches you excellent time management,” he said. “You learn to work with stress and deadlines.”
Aside from his studies, Mulder also noted that the skills learned are transferable into the workforce — and vice versa.
“Any job that exists in the civilian world exists in some way in the army,” he said. “There’s really an awful lot of different opportunities. Depending on where your interests lie, there are so many opportunities available.”
There’s no denying that being in the army includes a lot of stress, but Mulder has found that it’s actually improved his studies.
“You’re going to learn a stress that anybody can learn in a classroom, but under stress, people get tunnel vision, they get selective hearing, there’s all sorts of things that happen,” he explained. “In training we’re not exactly trying to replicate it, but we’re learning and teaching people how to deal with the stress so they can still perform that skill in a stressful situation. Not everybody can do it, but as long as you don’t quit, it can be done.”
In the end, after the chaos of the semester finally comes to an end, it’s worth it. All of the early mornings spent on training exercises and the late nights spent catching up on homework mean that Hans is one step closer to finishing university and working with the army full-time.
“I do expect to stay involved in the army for quite some time to come,” he said. “I’d be very interested in doing a deployment in the next couple of years, maybe as part of the disaster assistance response team or in some other capacity with stabilization operations somewhere.”
“We like to joke in the army, especially in the infantry, that we’re just suckers for punishment,” Mulder continued. “But I always wanted to do this, to do the army, the primary reserve, and there’s a lot of challenge there.”