An empowering Chief

CPO1 Janet Graham-Smith at Albert Head CTC on Vancouver Island. Photo by Captain Peter Fuerbringer, Public Affairs Officer, Albert Head CTC

CPO1 Janet Graham-Smith at Albert Head CTC on Vancouver Island. Photo by Captain Peter Fuerbringer, Public Affairs Officer, Albert Head CTC

Captain Peter Fuerbringer, AHCTC Public Affairs Officer ~

CPO1 Janet Graham-Smith is almost embarrassed at the intimation that she’s a trailblazer of sorts, but after an hour listening to her remarkable life’s story, there really isn’t another way to describe her.

Her ability to set big goals and simply stick with it until she succeeds is a character trait that has enabled her to accomplish many firsts throughout her 35-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces.

CPO1 Graham-Smith grew up in Nova Scotia near Canadian Forces Base Greenwood. As a child she would see military people and male army cadets doing interesting things on the base, which at the time were unavailable to her as a girl. The only community programs open to her were Brownies and Girl Guides, which she joined as an outlet for our adventurous spirit.

But in 1975 things changed.

Girls were given the right to take part in the Cadet Program, and in that same year, she joined the local Air Cadet squadron and stepped off into what would lead to an extraordinary life.

“I wanted to join cadets so badly because I knew they got to do really interesting things that weren’t available in other programs,” says CPO1 Graham-Smith, “So as soon as girls were allowed to join, I did, and never looked back.”

She thoroughly enjoyed her cadet career, experiencing leadership, aviation, drill, orienteering and travel to other parts of Canada.

“As a teenager, we got the opportunity to rebuild a glider during the winter and then fly it in the spring. What other 16 year old gets that opportunity? That to me is what made me so excited to go to cadets; experiences that didn’t happen anywhere else for people my age.”

She felt empowered through the program, grabbing on to every opportunity she could. Amongst other accolades, she became the Chief Warrant Officer of her squadron, and received her pilot’s license thanks to the many scholarship opportunities available to cadets in the aviation field.

At 19 years of age, CPO1 Graham-Smith aged out of the program. Not wanting to pursue a traditional education like many of her peers after high school, she decided to join the Canadian Armed Forces in the logistics branch.

“I joined CAF because I felt comfortable in that world,” she says. “I really only meant to join for three years, but I loved the adventure of it so much that I stayed for 35.”

Her career goals evolved and true to her form, she set her sights on the top non-commissioned officer role of Coxswain.

“When I told people that I wanted to become a Coxswain, they told me that it would be impossible considering women weren’t even allowed to go to sea,” says CPO1 Graham-Smith. “But the impossible becomes possible when you just don’t quit, and it was so rewarding when I was first able to deploy out to sea, and then become one of the first female Coxswains on a Canadian warship.”

Despite multiple deployments, missions and service-related accolades, she is humble about these pioneering moments in her life, and genuinely surprised at how her example has affected other women in service.

“I remember this female Leading Seaman who would say ‘Chief, I love looking at you because every time I see you, I see what I can be.’ I think that’s when it sunk in that all those times breaking into the boys club, overcoming obstacles and believing I could, were important not just for me, but for others.”

In 2015, CPO1 Graham-Smith returned to her roots. With a little prodding from a friend who had switched from the Regular Force to serve with the Cadet Program in Victoria, B.C., she transitioned into another phase of her career.

“I really came to terms with what I needed to do following a cadet leadership workshop I had been invited to teach. A female cadet came up to me with wide eyes and said she was amazed because she had never seen a female Chief before. That pretty much made my decision to become a general service NCO in the cadet organization so I could do my part to empower these young people the way I was empowered at their age.”

When asked where she finds her purpose now, she states simply that her focus is to teach cadets to believe in themselves so that when they face their own obstacles in life, they know they can overcome.

As part of a senior leadership team dedicated to making a positive impact for all cadets attending Albert Head Cadet Training Centre this summer, CPO1 Graham-Smith is on track to accomplish this goal as well.

She is working alongside dozens of other CAF officers at Albert Head Cadet Training Centre this summer delivering curriculum in leadership, aviation, fitness, survival and music. She’s just one example of many Canadians who choose to serve youth as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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  1. Doug Danby says:

    She started as an Army Cadet in Base Borden, back in 1975. I was in her cadet corp and knew her well.

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