Role Models: Karen McCrimmon first woman ever to command a Canadian Forces Air Force Squadron

Karen McCrimmon is a role model. (Photo from Karen McCrimmon Facebook page)

One of the reasons I started this blog was to examine the woman’s role as a wife and mother in today’s society. To do that I started to look to women I know who have been able to balance being a wife, mother and have had a successful career.
I recently sent out a Twitter message and a few emails to these women in hopes they would share their knowledge and advice with me and other women.
The first interview I did was with retired Lieutenant Colonel Karen McCrimmon. I first met Karen a few years ago when she ran in the federal election and I was working as a reporter for the local newspaper. I remember our first meeting clearly she was wearing this fiery red jacket and had well styled red hair to match. We sat down for a short interview and I was immediately fascinated with her story. Even so, it was my job to write an unbiased account of her and why she wanted to run.
From that day forward she earned my respect.
Since then, no matter where our political views lie, she has also treated me with the utmost respect.
She is kind, passionate, determined, humble and a community asset.
Normally, I work with words and structure them to tell a story. However, this time I want to let Karen’s words stand completely on their own as they are powerful and insightful. (I have bolded some sections to emphasize their importance)
Below is the interview that I conducted with Karen over e-mail on her career, family and some wise words to live by.

Karen shares a laugh in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2004.

Q#1: What did you want to do when you were a little girl and were you encouraged to pursue those dreams? Where did you go to school and what for? How long were you in the Air Force? What are you doing since you have retired? Tell me where do you consider home, I can imagine that you travelled a lot in your profession?
A#1: I don’t really remember ever talking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I do however remember thinking that when I grew up, I wanted to have control over my own life and be in a position to make my own decisions. I was born in Weston, Ontario as my Dad was a technician on the Avro Arrow. When the government shut down that program, he had to scramble and take any job he could find. I remember talking about this with my Mom and she said that when my Dad was unemployed and underemployed, it was the hardest time in her life and she did not have an easy life. I was in the Canadian Forces (now the RCAF) for 26 years. After retiring, I went back to school and studied mediation and negotiation and I now have my own small business in the field. Both Rob and I feel immensely blessed to have found our home here in Constance Bay. We have traveled all over the world and lived in a lot of different places, but I can’t even imagine ever living anywhere else.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Canadian Forces the first woman ever to command a Canadian Forces Air Force Squadron (429 Squadron Trenton, my hometown). (Photo from politwitter.ca)

Q#2: Karen, you are a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Canadian Forces and have the distinction of being the first woman ever to command a Canadian Forces Air Force Squadron (429 Squadron Trenton, my hometown). Why did you want to get into the Canadian Forces and what goals did you set for yourself? Was it more difficult as a woman to achieve these goals, being in the Air Force in general and earning the distinction of being the first woman to command a squadron? What challenges did you face? In 1995, you were awarded the Order of Military Merit, one of the highest peace time military awards, why did you receive this honour? What did it mean to you to be recognized for your hard work and dedication?

A#2: I actually started my military life in an Army cadet corps and then a Army Reserve unit where I joined at the rank of Private as an Administration Clerk (as that was my only option). I excelled in both the cadet corps and the militia unit and felt quite comfortable in the military environment. Once I finished my degree, I felt quite comfortable joining the RCAF.
After having been on my first squadron for a while, I decided that I would someday like to command a squadron as I felt that I could do a better job looking after people.
I sometimes felt that I had to prove myself more than my male colleagues needed to but fortunately I was good at my job and well respected as a competent crewmember. I feel that the only way to practice leadership is to be the example you want your people to emulate. Integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, generosity, fairness, compassion, courage, resilience, self-discipline, hopeful and emphasis on working together as a team.

I do not know specifically why I received the award but I believe it may have been my ability to encourage different viewpoints, craft creative solutions, build consensus and a team to get things done. It was a very humbling experience and it humbles me still.

It just made me appreciate this great country all the more and made me aware of how power and wealth are used as weapons against the ordinary people of the world. It is a good part of the reason why I am in politics today. Democracy is what provides hope, opportunity and protection to common people and without it we are at the mercy of those who seldom show mercy. Without openness, transparency, accountability and checks and balances – there can be no democracy and without democracy – no freedom.

Q#3: Sometimes as a woman there is a perception that we must not let our female or emotional side shine or affect our work. As you flew tactical transport C130 Hercules around the world carrying out humanitarian and military operations in places such as Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, I know you saw places in extreme poverty that were devastated by war or exploitation.
As a woman, how did these experiences affect you personal and when you carried out your day to day duties?
In different countries were you ever treated differently as a woman? How did you handle those situations?

A#3: Being a women in so many countries where women are possessions and not people with rights just makes me all the more determined that the clock will not roll backwards here.

Empowering and educating women is the key to a better future for everyone.

Karen McCrimmon looks on at a campaign event with then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff (Photo from Karen McCrimmon Facebook page)

Q#4: You recently ran for political office in the last federal election and lost to the incumbent, why did you want to run for political office and as a woman what challenges did you face? Did you feel like you needed to break the ‘glass ceiling’? What did you learn from the experience and would you do it again?
A#4: I think I answered this question above. I don’t think I faced any additional challenges as a woman, in fact the ability to connect and communicate with people made the whole experience quite enjoyable. I learned how lucky I am to live here and get to meet some really amazing people.

Q#5: As a wife and mother of two children how did you balance your career and personal life? Did you ever feel like you were putting one in front of the other? Did your children understand when you were away for long periods of time?
What advice would you give to mothers or other young female wives who are trying to balance these tasks?

A#5: It was a real challenge to find balance. I made sure that every day, I took the time to show my children and my husband how much I loved them. When I was home, I always put the hours between 5 and bedtime aside for the children. If I had work that had to get done, I did it after they went to bed. My home wasn’t always spotless, the Christmas cards were usually New Years cards, and I always bought easy care clothes. These were some of the decisions I made to try and find that balance. As Commanding Officer, I would put the leadership requirements and the critical demands of the squadron members first when needed. Management and administrative requirements came in a distant third after the family.

My advice is that: You can have it all – Maybe just not all at once and all of the time.
Don’t worry about being perfect.

• Perfection is my willingness to be less than perfect.
– Greg Clowminzer, Zen Master

Whatever you give away, you will get back. Try love and selflessness.

Q#6: Do you consider yourself a role model? What would you say to those who look up and admire you?
You have worked in a fairly male dominated profession and have been extremely successful. In 2012, do you think there are still challenges that women face on a daily basis in the work force, what still needs to be done to overcome these challenges?
Below is a little bio I have posted on my website and part of the focus I look to examine is what it means to be a wife in the 21st Century, do you have any other comments on being a wife in the 21st century?

A#6: I try to live my life as honestly, generously, compassionately as I can. I want to leave this world a little better than I found it. The poem call Success which is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson was my mother’s favourite poem and this is how I try to live my life.

“Success”
Inaccurately attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

If you give of yourself and your time to help ease the pains and struggles of others, you will find that the significance of your own troubles will diminish in time.

Share this advice from a book by Robert Heinlein with your partner:

“If during an argument with your partner, you discover that you are indeed correct – apologize immediately. “ And see who says sorry first! It will break the tension.

One final gift from my Mom: “It’s not happiness that makes you grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy! Practice gratitude every day.”

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jacj
    Oct 13, 2012 @ 06:37:03

    proud to know you

    Reply

  2. Russ
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 10:07:21

    I’m very proud of you for deciding on politics!!! Have you ever considered forming a federal party with vets instead of running for the liberals??? I will never vote liberal or conservative as for the last forty plus years,,we get premiss’s beforehand and the opposite when elected. If we had a Vet federal party, at least 98% of us would be honest and do the right things versus greed and corruption that is ongoing in Ottawa. It’s time for us Vets to unite and show the rest of Canada what were maid of and what we would do if elected vice lying through your teeth!! My opinion that you would serve your fellow brothers and sisters as a veteran party vice liberal party!!!!!! Maybe you can convince the rest of the runners to consider a major change to the liberal party,,,,,Imagine if the truth was told,things were transparent,,,thats what a Veterans party would bring to the table along with major support from our families and friends!!!!!!!!!!!! Food for thought , w.o ret Russ Snow,rural N.S

    Reply

  3. Sandy Brace
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 18:30:13

    I hope she stays away from politics. It has a way of removing integrity from otherwise honourable people.

    Reply

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