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In My Own Words: RAdm Bob Auchterlonie
RAdm Bob Auchterlonie
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November 11, 2020

I have three loves in life – my family, hockey and the Canadian Armed Forces. And all three are deeply intertwined.

I suppose I should start with who I am. I am a rear-admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy, serving as commander of Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC), the Naval Forces in the Pacific Ocean in Canada. I'm also the commander for the entire Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in British Columbia. Basically, I’m the senior military leader on the West Coast.

I am also lucky enough to be the patron for hockey in the CAF; this means I advocate for the game, which is pretty easy … after all, it’s hockey! I work with our military personnel team in Ottawa to make sure the funding is there for the hockey program, to keep our regional and national championships going, in addition to the hockey on the ice at bases from B.C. to Newfoundland & Labrador.

It’s something I love doing, because hockey has been such a big part of who I am for as long as I can remember.

I grew up in Cumberland, B.C., in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. I lived across the street from the hockey box (we never really got cold enough for an outdoor rink) and played there as often as I could. I first got on the ice with my sister, Susan, who was a figure skater, when I was four or five years old, so by the time I got into organized hockey a few years later, it was a bit of a natural thing – I could already skate well and had been playing the game in the box for a long time.

I was very fortunate. We were a relatively small town, but there was a group of us around my age we were pretty good. None of us were fantastic, but we had a very talented team. Almost half went on to play junior hockey, university or college. We had real success for six or seven years, even winning a few provincial titles along the way.

And playing with the same kids year after year, they become my best friends. By the time I finished high school, I played hockey with the same group for almost 10 years. That's who I spent all my time with. I was on the ice there five, six days a week playing competitive hockey. And because we were successful, we got to play a lot.

Even now, more than 30 years after I finished playing minor hockey, my best friends are guys from the Valley that I played with. We all followed different paths – I'm in the Navy, we’ve got an investment advisor, the head of maintenance for the school board, an environmental engineer – but we still get together. We're 50 years old, but up until not too long ago we still got together to play in tournaments. The fun is still there. The connection is still there.

The game isn’t always about the here and now, what you’re accomplishing today. It’s about the memories and friends you will have for a lifetime, long after the final buzzer has sounded on your hockey career.

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Approaching the end of high school, like most young people, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do next. My sister and my coach, who was an RCMP officer, both suggested attending military college. My family has a background of service – it served in World War II, much like most Canadian families – so it seemed like a good idea. Obviously, it worked out alright. I spent four years at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., during which I played for the varsity hockey team. Hockey allowed me to do what I loved doing while going through the challenges of a military college environment, which can be fairly demanding. It served as a bit of an escape, and it was a lot of fun.

After I graduated, it was on to active duty. I think it's a bit cliché, but the old adage is ‘Join the Navy, see the world’ and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I started as a naval warfare officer. I spent years learning the mariner trade and eventually captained my own ship. I spent the bulk of my time, my first 20 years after graduation, at sea. I've been fortunate to spend time in the Pacific, the Atlantic – I've sailed in all the seven seas.

Travelling around the world gives you a very good perspective of Canada. It is important to see where you’re from in a different light and really appreciate what we have as Canadians. Where I'm from on Vancouver Island, I think it is one of the nicest places on the planet. More than once, I have looked back and thought, ‘Wow, I had it pretty good when I was young, playing hockey with great kids in a great place.’

I have been able to keep my connection to hockeywhile travelling the world. Hockey is one of the things we export in the CAF. I’ve been able to lace up my skates in Dubai and play against the famous Mighty Camels. I’ve played in Hong Kong. Today, our Forces deployed overseas are playing anywhere and everywhere, from Latvia to the Ukraine to the Middle East.

That part of hockey where you're with your teammates, it's the same anywhere in the world. Regardless of where folks are stationed, they get that same feeling they've had since they were kids – going to the rink, getting dressed, talking to your teammates, going on the ice, having fun. Whether overseas or at home, you get that same feeling. It's a real connection to Canada.

Hockey is big part of the fabric of the CAF. Every base has an arena. Every base has a men's, women's, and old-timers’ team, and a vibrant intramural league. Whether you're in Victoria, in Comox, in Edmonton, Moose Jaw, Winnipeg and all throughout Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes – at every base, there are people playing hockey. It all goes back to teamwork. The Canadian Armed Forces are just one big team – there are 101,500 of us, and we're all working on the same team. In the business of defence, we are in a competitive environment and you don't want to stifle that competition. Hockey helps that.

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As I said off the top, I have three loves. I’ve discussed my career and my connection to hockey, so I should tell you how my family ties in.

Like most military spouses, my wife Tammy never gets the credit she is due. We have moved more than a dozen times and I have literally spent years away from home. Somehow, she raised our two boys, got them to hockey and all other activities while I was away, and managed to work full-time for the past 30 years.

To illustrate the challenge of a military spouse, I was at sea in the Middle East, 12,000 miles away when my oldest son, Michael, was born. But I have been home as my kids grew up and lucky enough to support them in hockey. I coached both of my boys from U9 all the way through U18. Michael is 23 now; he's articling to become a CPA. And Fraser is 18, almost 19, living at home, going to school and playing Junior B hockey in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, really enjoying himself.

As I got older, I realized the influence that my coaches had on me. I had such a great foundation growing up with coaches that really inspired me, so I wanted to do the same for my boys and the kids they played with.

And they played with plenty of different kids. Because of my job, we moved a lot. But regardless of where we ended up, hockey has been a real easy touchpoint for the kids. Whether we lived in Victoria, in Halifax, in Ottawa or out of the country in Rhode Island, they had an immediate connection. They had acquaintances, friends and teammates as soon as we moved somewhere, because they could associate with the kids they were playing hockey with. When you move a lot, it can be difficult for kids. But to be able to move into a cohort of kids they're going to be teammates with, it is pretty seamless. And it worked out well for us.

It really has been the best of both worlds for me – I had 20 years to see the world and serve my country, and I’ve had the better part of the last 15 years to be a dad and teach my sons the lessons I have learned through life and through hockey.

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Hockey is part of the fabric of our nation. It is how the game thrives in small towns, on outdoor rinks and in rickety old community barns that makes us who we are. I remember watching a WHL playoff game at the iPlex in Swift Current, Sask., in 2018, when one of my youngest son’s best friends helped the Broncos win the league championship. The atmosphere was something else. Being there, feeling the passion for the game … you feel good about being in Canada.

I’ve been fortunate to live everywhere, and I absolutely love to get out and watch local minor hockey or the local junior league. It’s just a real genuine connection to our country and to our game. It’s pretty empowering. And that's what I think that really ties us together as Canadians.

Those players may not move on to the NHL, but they’re going to focus on teamwork, they’re going to focus on socialization with their peers, they’re going to focus on fitness – they’re going to develop into terrific citizens. That’s the power of our game, and the same goes for our military. Both have played leading roles in shaping my life and the lives of my family, and I don’t know where I would be without either of them.

Thankfully, I don’t have to choose.

 

About the author
RAdm Bob Auchterlonie is the commander of Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC), based out of CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, B.C. He has been an active member of the Royal Canadian Navy since 1991, spending two decades at sea with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships in both the Pacific and Atlantic fleets. RAdm Auchterlonie has also served in a number of senior positions, including four tours with National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa before taking his current role beginning in June 2018. A former captain of the varsity hockey team at the Royal Military College, he lives in Victoria with his wife Tammy, with whom he has raised two sons, Michael and Fraser.