by Bill McLeod
MGen Alain Pelletier assumed command of 1 Canadian Air Division (1 CAD), Canadian NORAD Region (CANR), and the Joint Force Air Component (JFAC) from MGen Christian Drouin at a parade and ceremony held in front of the Air Division Headquarters Building in Winnipeg, Man., on May 16, 2019.
The triple commands meant that the parade had three separate signing ceremonies with three lieutenant-generals in attendance.
LGen Al Meinzinger, commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, presided over the change of command for 1 CAD and was also the reviewing officer for the parade. LGen Christopher Coates, deputy commander of NORAD, signed the change of command for CANR and LGen Mike Rouleau, commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command, signed the change of command for the JFAC.
After the parade was formed up on the sunny but gusty morning, but before the ceremony began, a low and slow flypast in front of the seated VIP guests and dais by a pair of noisy Canada geese drew a laugh from everyone.
After the review of the parade, MGen Drouin addressed the crowd at the ceremony and reflected on his experiences.
“I will repeat here what I said at my change of command in 2016,” he said. “Aren’t we living in a great country? I came from a modest upbringing and barely spoke any words of English. I got the opportunity to fly helicopters and they paid me to have that much fun — pretty cool. To eventually end up commanding our country’s operational air force is simply incredible.”
MGen Drouin went on to thank the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg for their support for various programs, such as the relocation program that the province’s special envoy for military affairs, Jon Reyes, has been championing.
He also said that, despite growing up a “Habs fan by birth”, he was now a Jets fan.
Following the signing of certificates for the three commands, LGen Rouleau related a story about his experience with the RCAF.
“I took the Challenger [aircraft] here with the Air Force commander. He gave me a lift and it was awesome, and I got off the plane with my suitcase and my briefcase,” said Rouleau. “It was raining sideways. I slipped on one of the stairs and, before I knew it, I was on my behind at the bottom of the stairs and LCol Dave Snow, who was flying the Challenger, was there to grab me. It dawned on me that it was like the story of my career with the Air Force. When I was down and needed help, someone from the Air Force was there to get me out of there.”
LGen Coates’ remarks focused on the NORAD mission. “Our success at NORAD hinges on our inter-operability, which is especially complex because of our unique bi-national structure,” he said. “We rely on cohesive actions by our regions for mission success.”
“NORAD headquarters has been taking a serious look at our ability to deter adversarial aggression in today’s dynamic security climate, especially with the increase in the scale and complexity of our adversary’s military activity. The close coordination that you drove with [the Alaska NORAD Region] to respond to activities in our Arctic helped NORAD stretch our resources to deliver a harmonized strategic message to our adversaries.”
“This is clearly an emotional day as we bid farewell to an experienced dedicated commander within the RCAF and we welcome another,” said LGen Meinzinger. “I think it’s even more poignant as it’s MGen Drouin’s last week in uniform and I know today is certainly more precious, poignant, and meaningful to him and his family.”
LGen Meinzinger then spoke of the successes that 1 CAD experienced under MGen Drouin’s leadership and congratulated MGen Pelletier on his new command role.
“I know firsthand the capabilities and the outstanding qualities you bring to the post, your tremendous skill, your professionalism, your leadership, and your class,” LGen Meinzinger told MGen Pelletier. “You have commanded at all levels and I believe you are perfectly suited to move the operational Air Force forward.
“You are the right leader at the right time to tackle the challenge ahead.”
MGen Pelletier expressed his pleasure at being asked to take command.
“I’m thrilled and honoured to be amongst you today on a traditional Winnipeg cool and windy day, to take command of the famous 1 CAD, a division that stems back to 1957, if my history is right, the operational arm of the Air Force,” he said.
“It is my intent to continue advancing the yardstick well set by MGen Drouin, in the improvement of the command and control of RCAF activities in order to better support the whole spectrum of Canadian Armed Forces operations at home and abroad.”
At the end of the ceremony there was a real flypast by a CH-146 Griffon helicopter — not Canada geese — from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, followed by a reception.