By Glenda McCarthy
Standing tall at Canada’s National War Memorial in Ottawa on November 11, Allison Tilly’s mind was filled with the sacrifices made by the people in the Canadian Armed Forces. Of the estimated 50,000 people in attendance, you could find Allison front and centre at the War Memorial as the sentry commander for the event where she was proudly standing guard. The emotional ceremony came less than a month after Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed during an attack by a lone gunman.
Allison has experienced several notable things during her career as a naval reservist with the Canadian Armed Forces, but she says the one that tops her list is participating in the emotional Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa.
A native of Conception Bay South, Allison’s career with the military has spanned more than a decade; she originally joined the Navy as a boatswain in 2004 while in her third year of university.
“When I first joined I was a student and the reserves seemed like a perfect part-time job with full-time employment opportunities,” she recalls. “During the summer months when you’re off school, you go away for training and courses, and I sailed a bunch. They also offered tuition reimbursement to post-secondary students.”
After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in 2007 from Memorial University she took a full-time contract and sailed for two years onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Summerside, a Kingston-class coastal defence vessel homeported out of Canadian Forces Base Halifax.
“During that time I sailed along the east coast, up the Great Lakes, up north to Iqaluit and Greenland. I have also worked as a basic recruit instructor where I trained new recruits in drills, military knowledge and physical fitness,” she says.
Allison worked at HMCS Carleton, the Naval Reserve division in Ottawa for two years prior to moving back to Newfoundland in 2012 and returning to her home unit, HMCS Cabot, as the Unit Recruiting Officer.
She held that position until enrolling at CNA in 2013 to study Medical Laboratory Sciences. During her time at CNA she continued working part-time at HMCS Cabot as the Deck Department second in command where she is in charge of training.
“I’m definitely a proud member of the Canadian Armed Forces and plan on wearing the uniform for many years to come. I am currently considering joining the regular force as a Medical Laboratory Technologist once I finish my current program,” she says. “I was living away when I first applied to CNA so it was nice to come back home while going back to school.”
She has always been interested in science and the medical field, so when it was time for a career change, the Medical Laboratory Sciences program stood out to her.
“It was kind of hard to find work with a science degree in just that area without extra schooling. I have a few friends who are lab technicians and they really enjoy it. It’s something that interested me and it was something I thought I’d like to work at,” she says.
“It’s also a trade in the military, which interested me. Possibly in the future I’ll work as a lab tech in the military but I’m doing this completely as a civilian career path. I’m in the naval reserves so the way the reserves work, it definitely caters to students.”
Around the same time that she enrolled at CNA, another highlight of her career took place in the Netherlands. In 2013 she represented the Canadian contingent at the 2013 Joint Task Force Nijmegan, a 160-kilometre march as part of the 97th annual International Four Days Marches in Nijmegan, which serves to highlight Canada’s proud military history while also renewing the special bond between Canada and the Netherlands that was forged during the Second World War.
“I was a member of the team from Canadian Forces Station St. John’s. We trained all winter and completed the historical march in July, where we marched an average of 40 kilometres a day for four consecutive days along with about 50,000 other marchers; approximately 5,000 military members in total.”
Allison feels honoured to have been selected as a participant for two significant events in her short career as a reservist. However, the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa has a special place in her heart. Each year the Canadian Forces pick personnel to represent each element of the Canadian Armed Forces to take part in the ceremony. Because Allison has excelled throughout her career, she was chosen for this unique opportunity based on her outstanding professional performance, demeanour, community involvement and physical fitness.
“My commanding officer informed me that she had nominated me for the position and I didn’t really think much of it at the time but then slowly it started moving up. I was informed that I was chosen out of the reserve force for the Navy, and put into the running with all of the navy itself. Then again, I didn’t think I would get chosen at all, but definitely it was exciting and overwhelming to be selected.”
For the ceremony, one person was chosen from the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force and RCMP to represent to the Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Each member was chosen for this prestigious honour by their respective organization.
As the Sentry Commander, Allison was required to call out the commands for the other sentries during the ceremony. In the past she has been routinely called upon to take on critical ceremonial roles in military parades and has an exceptional presence while serving as a mentor and role model for junior sailors.
“It was overwhelming,” Allison says of being selected to represent the entire Royal Canadian Navy.
“It was very humbling but I was glad to be a part of it and it was definitely something that has been the highlight of my career so far. It’s something I won’t ever forget. On the actual day, we did parade on the National War Memorial and as Sentry Commander I was in charge of the other four Sentries that stood guard of the tomb. It was a great experience to be there. It was emotional this year in particular and there definitely was a lot on your mind at that time, but I couldn’t have been happier to be there and be a part of it.”