Regiment getting new commander

Colin MacLean
Published on April 28, 2012

Brennan is bidding adieu and Heale is taking the helm. A ceremony this afternoon will see the command and colours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's first battalion passed from Lt.-Col. Alex Brennan to Lt.-Col. Andrew Heale.

"It's been an incredibly great ride," says Brennan, commanding officer since 2009 and a 26-year member of the unit.

Heale is taking over the storied regiment, a reserve unit since 1949, after being part of it for 28 years.

"It's a good feeling," he says.

"I started out at the lowest level possible and gradually worked my way up."

During his tenure, Brennan says, he tried to increase the regiment's footprint in the community.

He cites a 2010 visit by Princess Anne, the unit's colonel-in-chief, as a highlight of those efforts.

Another is the installation of plaques at Bowring Park that replicate the Caribou Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, the battlefield where the regiment was almost wiped out July 1, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme.

Even though such initiatives have been satisfying - and he's been decorated for his efforts during various deployments with the Canadian Forces - Brennan says the ultimate military reward has been leading soldiers.

"The greatest treasure for me was helping watch other men and women grow to become who they could become, and that's what it's about for me, helping to train in people," he says.

Training will also be a priority for Heale.

"I'd like to continue the (community) links and relationships Lt.-Col. Brennan built," he says.

"I think I might be more training focused and have a look at where we are with respect to our training and at least maintain, if not enhance, it."

The next couple of years will be incredibly busy for the regiment, with various events marking the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, as well as the 100th anniversary of the First World War in 2014.

The unit was heavily engaged in both, and Brennan laid a lot of groundwork for the commemorations.

Those efforts will continue under Heale.

"In the next six months, we'll sit down as a unit and identify the key events we need to, or should, participate in, in a way that we can properly honour our forebears," he says.

Brennan, a sergeant with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, describes juggling his police, army and family responsibilities as "cumulative exhaustion."

He says he's done what he can with the regiment and it's time to let new blood take over.

His plan is to "rebalance," and focus on his family and constabulary career. He's set to begin a master's in policing this fall.

As for his army involvement, he'll remain a lieutenant-colonel and take on a role at brigade headquarters (the regiment is one of many St. John's-based units in the 37th Brigade).

"I'll just have to see what's in store for me (from the army's perspective)," he says.

Heale has been employed as the regiment's deputy commanding officer for the past five years. He's done one tour of duty with the Canadian Forces, a United Nations mission in Syria in 2006.

The unit's historical significance is well known, but he also points out its current value to the province - as the lead unit in domestic response should the military be required.

"We play a very practical role," he says, citing the regiment's lead role in the Canadian Forces' response to hurricane Igor as an example.

The incoming commander will single one person out this afternoon - his predecessor.

"It's important to recognize the contribution Lt.-Col. Brennan made in the last 25-26 years, and in particular, what he has done for the unit in the last three years," he says.

As Heale takes charge, he acknowledges being the regiment's commanding officer is a significant responsibility, one he admits he hadn't considered when enlisting in the mid-'80s.

"I don't think I ever gave it much thought, other than being a good private."

The change of command parade takes place at 2:15 p.m. at the Canadian Forces Station drill hall in Pleasantville. The event is open to the public. Twitter: @SteveBartlett_