Lt.-Col. James Allen will take command of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School today, the latest posting in a career that has taken the former air cadet from Petty Harbour around the world.
Most recently, Allen spent three years stationed at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he was the Canadian Forces liaison officer.
Before Allen returned to Canada, an officer with the United States Army congratulated him on his new posting.
“He said, ‘The organization that you’re commanding is known worldwide and has an excellent reputation,’ so that was good to hear, coming from an American,” said Allen, chuckling at the friendly rivalry between the two countries.
Allen spent most of Thursday being briefed on his new position and rehearsing for today’s official ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
This posting is the latest in Allen’s 24-year career as an officer of the artillery that includes two separate missions to Afghanistan.
While it has been rewarding, the army wasn’t Allen’s first choice. He wanted to be a flyboy.
As an air cadet with the 515 North Atlantic air cadets squadron, Allen earned his pilot’s licence, and admits his career choice was influenced by one of the biggest movies of the time.
“Of course, that was when “Top Gun” was out and everyone wanted to be like Tom Cruise in one way or another, flying in cool jets and stuff, so the next logical choice for me was to want to be a fighter pilot.”
But first he wanted to go to military college and become an officer.
After graduation he applied, but didn’t make one of the aptitude tests.
Even in the military, people aren’t immune to job cuts, and at the time the air force was going through a series of cutbacks, with pilots being let go.
He entered the army instead, and began a career in the artillery division.
“And the artillery became my love,” he said, but he didn’t lose his love of flying. “Actually one of my expertise is dealing with attack aircraft and helicopters and bombers.”
Now, he’s taken the next step in his career and he’s looking forward to once again commanding soldiers, which he said he missed.
“It’s a command. Not very many officers get to command a unit in the Canadian Forces, so it’s, I won’t call it an elite group, but it’s a very select group,” he said.
As commandant of the artillery school, Allen is responsible for the training of gunners and the future direction of artillery within the Canadian Forces. He said it takes a certain type of soldier to be in the artillery division.
“The artillery is very demanding in terms of your ability to multitask, your spatial awareness, and of course as a young officer you’re given a lot of responsibility, and in terms of firepower you’re given one of the biggest enablers on the battlefield. The artillery is called the king of battle,” he said.
That position requires specialized training, and that’s where the school of artillery comes in.
“In terms of what the school delivers here, it’s predominantly advanced training for our non-commissioned members and officers,” he said.
While Allen is a career military man with a long list of accomplishments, he also defines himself as a proud Newfoundlander, one who embraces the term ‘Newfie’ without the negative connotations.
“Home will always be Newfoundland,” he said. “I’m a Newfie born and bred and I always will be.”
He’s also a family man, and credits the support of his family as being one of the reasons for his continued success.
In fact, his mother, Renee, made the trip to New Brunswick for the ceremony which will hand over command of the artillery school to Allen.
“She has been the foundation of my family when I was home and has always been a staunch supporter,” he said.
He’s raised his two children largely outside of the province, but makes a point of ensuring his kids know their roots.
“Whether we come back for good or not, there’s certainly the guarantee I will bring my children back so they understand they’ve got Newfie blood in them and they know what that means,” he said.