From swimming to the big guns’ sheer firepower: Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Heer

Article / October 23, 2017 / Project number: 17-0239

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By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

October is Women’s History Month in Canada and this year’s theme is “Claim your place”. Since Confederation 150 years ago, many capable and strong women have claimed their rightful places in our country’s proud history, including those serving in the Canadian Army (CA). Here is the second part of a profile of one such woman, Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Heer, a member of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RCA).

Ottawa, Ontario — Lieutenant-Colonel Sarah Heer joined the Canadian Army in 1997, attending the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC).

Remarkably, deep water brought her to the land forces and big guns of the CA. A competitive swimmer from an early age, she was intrigued when a CAF member and former swimmer described how being a competitive athlete set her up for success at RMC and for a career in the military.

“After that talk, I started thinking about joining. I wanted something that was going to challenge me physically and mentally like competitive swimming did and I found both in attending RMC and becoming an Artillery Officer,” said LCol Heer.

During her four years at RMC, she competed for Canada at the World Military Games, earning a number of medals and the title of the CAF Female Athlete of the Year in 1998.

Although she set out to become an Infantry Officer, she soon set her sights on the Artillery. “I was drawn to the diversity of tasks in the Artillery, the teamwork involved at all levels and, honestly, the sheer firepower that it could bring to the battlespace.”

After graduating from RMC, she joined the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (2 RCHA) in Petawawa, Ontario and chose to end competitive swimming. “My priorities shifted to my career in the Artillery, and more specifically, leading the soldiers of the Gun Troop that I was privileged to command.”

Career and deployment experience: 20 years and counting

LCol Heer’s experience within 2 RCHA has been extensive: Gun line and Forward Observer experience, a stint as Unit Adjutant in the Regimental Headquarters and another as the G1 (Personnel and Administration) for 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. She commanded E Battery, 2 RCHA from 2011 to2013.

She completed her Joint Command and Staff Programme and Master’s in Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto in 2014 and was posted to the Strategic Joint Staff as a Regional Planner for Latin America.  LCol Heer followed this with a year as Artillery Officer Career Manager in 2015. She was the first woman to hold this post, a fact that she downplays. “To be an effective CM, I think it’s important to be respected, credible, and have the ability to quickly build a rapport with the officers you manage,” she said.

Deployments included both warfighting and humanitarian missions: Kabul, Afghanistan in 2003/2004 and Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) deployments to Sri Lanka in 2005 and Haiti in 2010.

She deployed to Kabul for six months in 2003/04 as a Gun Troop Commander with F Battery in support of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group. Her duties included the reconnaissance and deployment of three Howitzers, the training and personal administration of 30 soldiers and acting as a Fire Support Coordination Centre Duty Officer in the Battlegroup Tactical Operations Centre.

Support on the home front while on deployment

“I think my challenges were like most soldiers deployed – missing my husband and being away from my loved ones is never easy,” she recalled. “I didn’t have children at that time; we were in our first year of marriage,” she said.

“I look back and realize how fortunate I was to deploy so early in my career, as it was a unique experience to put all your training into practical operational experience so quickly. It allowed me to not only build my professional competence, but also my confidence in my own leadership approach.”

As the Company Operations Officer on both DART missions, she coordinated tasks and worked closely with non-government organizations, the higher Joint Headquarters and other nations.

“The level of devastation was severe and the amount of immediate need required by so many was what struck me in both deployments,” she said. “It was inspiring to witness the strength and resilience in both the Sri Lankan and Haitian people after facing such a significant disaster.”

Once her daughters arrived, leaving for duty in Haiti was more difficult, but she knew her husband had her back. “Our girls, Jenna and Lauren, were four and two at the time. It was tough to leave them, but it also allowed me to see that as a family, we could get through it successfully.” 

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