Army reservist saluted for service

Duane Hicks

After more than 12 years with the 116th Independent Field Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery, Master Bombardier Nathan Cousineau has wrapped up an experience of a lifetime.
Cousineau, who first joined the army reserves on April 22, 2005 and officially was released Jan. 21, 2018, was honoured Saturday afternoon surrounded by his comrades who had convened on land near the Fort Frances Curling Club to conduct Exercise “Frosty Gunner.”
Battery commander Maj. Jon Baker presented Cousineau with the Canadian Forces decoration for more than 12 years of good service, as well as a certificate from the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery for serving the Royal Regiment “with distinction and honour” and “has carefully and diligently discharged his duties with loyalty, courage, and dignity.”
Maj. Baker also presented Cousineau with a certificate granting him the honourable title of “116th Independent Field Battery Gunner” and will be accorded due honour whenever he enters the 116th’s midst.
“I appreciate the recognition I’ve gotten today,” Cousineau said after being presented his awards. “I am really satisfied with my career.
“I feel like Kenora offered me all of the opportunities that a soldier really could ask for,” he added, noting he believes other reservists in attendance here Saturday can achieve just as much as he has.
Cousineau, who is a teacher at St. Michael’s School, couldn’t speak highly enough of his time with the 116th.
“Kenora is one of these unique units that really offers their soldiers a lot of unique opportunities to excel,” he remarked.
“It seems like that unit has produced a lot of ‘rock star’ soldiers who have done a lot of cool things.
“It’s a great opportunity for young people to go out and try new things, and have a cadre of experiences added to their life,” added Cousineau.
“I would do it again if I could.”
From when he joined at age 17 to now, Cousineau has benefitted from being a reservist in many ways.
“As a young person, I was paid above minimum age to work full-time throughout the summers,” he noted.
“As I got older, I benefitted from education reimbursement programs and I successfully completed university.
“As an adult, I went and found full-time employment, and the opportunity to serve overseas,” he recalled.
“It progressively got more interesting, there was better pay, and the opportunities just expanded,” Cousineau added.
“It was great.”
Cousineau had set benchmarks for himself and was able to achieve all of them.
Two of the highlights were a tour in Afghanistan in 2013-14 and being deployed to Glacier National Park, where he was part of “Operation PALACI,” lived on a mountain summit for more than five months, and used demolitions to cause controlled avalanches.
He also has acquired many skills that have applications in everyday life.
“With the Kenora unit being an artillery unit, I was able to gain skill sets in surveying, and being able to use survey tools and equipment, that have benefitted me in a civilian appointment,” Cousineau said.
“Math was a huge skill set I gained working in the field.
“I am pretty comfortable using a map and compass, and being a geography teacher, that’s really come in handy actually,” he noted.
“I’ve learned to work on small engines or big truck engines–I’ve learned how to be a 10-tonne airbrake driver,” Cousineau said, citing a couple of more examples of skills learned.
“I am looking at retiring and becoming a dump truck driver,” he chuckled.
Maj. Baker said that when Cousineau first joined in 2005, he “quickly made an impact on the unit and became a fixture.”
“You’re reliable, smart. You took on a leadership role right away,” he told Cousineau.
“You’re always proposing new ideas to me on how to improve the unit, how to improve training.
“You did just about every possible thing we asked you to do as a reservist in the army,” added Maj. Baker, noting that just the dedication to regularly drive to Kenora from Fort Frances (and when he was going to school in Bemidji, Mn.) for weekend training is “noteworthy.”
He said Cousineau completed several artillery career courses (reconnaissance technician and command post technician), instructed several courses, including basic winter warfare, helped out at recruiting events, and helped organize local speaking engagements.
Cousineau always nominated his various employers for Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) awards. When he was a part-time firefighter in 2013, for instance, the Fort Frances Fire Department was given the CFLC’s Ontario Award of Excellence in 2013.
He worked with the Arctic Response Company Group, as well as the Influence Activities Company (Civil-Military Co-operation and Psychological Operations) and was a qualified PSYOPS analyst.
At the time of his release, Cousineau was the top ranked Master Bombardier in the reserve artillery units in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northwestern Ontario, and ranked the third-best Master Corporal amongst all trades and all reserve units in 38 Canadian Brigade Group.
Join the army
Cousineau highly encouraged others to consider joining the army reserves and those interested in doing so don’t have to look far: the 116th needs more recruits.
Maj. Baker said the total strength of the unit is around 40 reservists right now, and they would like to grow that number.
“Fort Frances is one of those areas where we’d like to see some growth,” he noted, adding it’s the second-most populous community in the regiment’s catchment area and he would like to build a “new nucleus” of recruits built here.
Recruiting sergeant Kevin Allard said the time commitment in being a reservist is reasonable (two weekends every month) and the benefits are many.
“As a young person, it allows you to maintain your schooling, wear a uniform, and learn to be a professional individual in any trade that you choose,” he explained.
“And the benefits outside of that, to your employer, are innumerable because you develop leadership skills, managerial skills, and an incredible work ethic that–whether you know it or not as a reservist–you are beginning to naturally apply to your workplace,” added Sgt. Allard.
“You become an incredible tool to your employer,” he stressed. “And if they don’t know you’re a reservist, they sometimes wonder where these skills are coming from.”
For students, there’s even opportunities to have parts of your education paid for.
Sgt. Allard added there is a fair amount of flexibility with training, allowing reservists to balance their commitment to the 166th with their work and home lives–and, in some cases, other military assignments.
As the name suggests, the 116th does focus on artillery ordinances. But before specializing, all reservists learn basic soldierly skills and also can take courses that allow them to do trade-specific things.
Being a reservist also provides numerous opportunities for travel and life experience, and to apply the skills they’ve learned.
Sgt. Allard advised anyone interested in applying for the army reserves to go to forces.gc.ca and follow the instructions there.
Within 24-48 hours, the applicant will receive a response from Sgt. Allard and discuss the individual’s goals, what courses they’d like to take, and more.
If they’re serious about applying, they then can carry through with the application process.