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Author’s collection

British officer cadets in training.

Officer Training

an officer training corps for canada

by Captain Kristian C. Gustafson

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A pressing question facing the Canadian Forces (CF) is how to ensure the proper training and retention of officers within both the Regular and Reserve Forces. In terms of the cost and length of time it takes to train an officer of any branch or trade, the current high end-of-contract attrition rates for junior officers in the Regular Force,1 and the difficulties inherent in properly training officers for the Reserve Force, there is clearly room for improvement. In the existing education/training structure, the main effort for the Regular Force is, understandably, with the Royal Military College in Kingston, but there are a number of Regular Force officer candidates in civilian universities who fall outside that system. In the Primary Reserves, officer training is a haphazard mix of unit-based professional development and summer block training that often leaves officers in mid-training limbo for far too long. Taken together, the situation begs for an innovative solution to help the Forces recruit, train and retain a strong body of junior officers.

Recently, under the Land Force Reserve Restructure initiative, there have been calls to resurrect a training system that Canada abandoned some years ago: the Officer Training Corps. Under a plan put forward in October 2003, the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) is encouraging post-secondary educational institutions to make greater allowances for students enrolled in the CF. Simultaneously, Primary Reserve units are to build individual relationships with their local colleges and universities to encourage greater recruitment of students.2 While this would appear to be a step in the right direction, even though not yet fully articulated, this plan would not seem to go far enough to alleviate the problems in the training and retention of young officers.

It is worthwhile to examine the need for a fully established Officer Training Corps system, along with the problems and benefits of establishing such a structure, and the models Canada might look to. While the focus highlights the benefits of an OTC to the Army, the arguments apply equally to the Navy and Air Force. Ultimately, a basic – but hopefully well tailored – model of an OTC will be offered that might be well suited for Canada’s socio-military requirements. While it is not, on the surface, a self-evident necessity for Canada to re-start its OTC structure, a new and focused approach to an OTC system in Canada could be extremely beneficial for the health of the Canadian Forces officer corps, Regular and Reserve, and should even prove to be cost-effective.

the problem

Most potential officers for the Regular Force go through Royal Military College in Kingston, and there receive a rigorous course of study that covers many of the finer points of training required by junior officers by the time they reach their regiment or unit. Time is spent on training matters that regimental adjutants have no time to cover: drill, military history, mess etiquette, methods of instruction, and how to properly staff basic personal administration for oneself and one’s soldiers. This is not an onerous task. The amount of time it takes to teach these subjects properly is minimal compared to the time required to earn a bachelor’s degree in Arts, Engineering or Science. At RMC, one or two hours a week plus a weekend a month of formal instruction, with an additional hour or two of self-study per week, is currently sufficient to achieve an acceptable standard in all these peripheral – but necessary – topics. The weight of effort is with the formal education, but the value-added comes when the junior officer has all the corners squared away, so to speak.

However, there are a number of young officer candidates who do not proceed through the RMC system. By choice, or by necessity of degree, these individuals attend any one of the many civilian universities throughout Canada. As described by one ‘Civvie-U’ ROTP officer, cadets at civilian universities “are basically civilians for eight months or more of each of their first four years in the CF. Many officer cadets I knew abused this situation and failed to maintain their PT or deportment (i.e., they grew goatees!).” This is hardly the military image the CF should want to telegraph to the public, leaving aside for the moment the fact that these officers arrive at their regiments at a disadvantage to their peers from RMC. The latter, amongst other things, will have finished their Officer Professional Military Education (OPME) serials (courses which replaced promotion examinations), and who will have contacts throughout the CF in their cohorts from RMC. Moreover, being at civilian university makes “it difficult for young officers to internalize CF values and to understand CF culture.”3 This ‘internalization’ of values and culture, we all know, is a main factor contributing to retention of officers past the end of their initial contract obligations.


RCAC School photo

Canadian Officer Training Corps officer cadets training at the Meaford Tank Range, ca. 1960.

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While there may be some official requirement for such officers to parade with a local Militia regiment, there is little compulsion, structure or incentive for them to do so. As ROTP officers do not, in most cases, undertake any branch-specific training until after their second year of university, during their first two years of schooling they are unqualified to hold any worthwhile position in a regiment. Likewise, lack of qualification on weapons, and lack of any tactical instruction, leaves them unable to participate in field exercises. Even if they did try to participate with a local regiment, they would be in a position of, at best, mostly ignored low-level administration and, at worst, could compromise the safety of often-dangerous training. Boring or irrelevant training does not a satisfied officer make.

The problems do not lie entirely with the Regular Army, and there is another deficit in the officer training system whose solution may dovetail with the training of Regular Force officers at civilian universities. Officers who join Militia regiments are currently not subject to any formal course of officer development between their summer training blocks, and many times find themselves in training limbo for lengthy periods of time. Joining their respective regiments off the street, the individuals often parade at their units for periods exceeding a year before they begin any meaningful training, and up to three years before they are qualified to hold any position of responsibility. In the meantime, the unit invents tasks for the unfortunate young officer, who is stuck being regimental archive-dusting officer, or in some other ‘silly-little-jobs-officer’ position, without benefit of exciting or instructive on-the-job training. Essentially, this is because units cannot spare time or personnel to provide the required training. As the CF publication on training points out, “Reservists are generally well educated, and this must be considered when designing training; it must be challenging and rewarding in order to facilitate retention of personnel.”4 Similar to the ROTP officer, boring and irrelevant training does not a Primary Reserve officer retain.


RMC photo

Contemporary officer cadet training at the Infantry School, CFB Gagetown.

As the astute observer may note, many – and perhaps most – of the junior officers in Canada’s Primary Reserve units attend the same civilian universities and the same classes as their Regular Force ROTP peers. Indeed, as Training Canada’s Army points out, the majority of Reserve officers and NCOs under the rank of Captain/Sergeant are students.5 Likewise, the same training requirements apply to both the ROTP and the Reserve officer. Both need to drill, to teach, to administer, and to complete their OPME courses. Clearly there is room for some type of structure that would cater to the specific needs of training junior officers, both Regular and Reserve, allowing them to learn the fundamental requirements of their chosen professions while they await the branch-specific training that will make them officers qualified to lead soldiers. This describes, in general, an Officer Training Corps system. The question is, what type of system should Canada adopt for such a training structure, and can we seek guidance from either of our two closest military allies?

potential models

Two types of OTC model exist that are close enough for meaningful comparison. The author is most familiar with that of the United Kingdom, where the role of the University Officer Training Corps (UOTC) is not to produce officers for the Regular or Reserve Army, but rather “to communicate the values, ethos, and career opportunities of the British Army.”6 Along the way it seeks to identify and encourage those with officer-like qualities to join either the Regular Army or Territorial Army (TA), but, as noted above, this is not its primary or most successful duty. Priority is given to adventure training (UOTCs are mandated to spend 40 percent of their budgets on Adventure Training), though quite advanced training, such as live-fire platoon attacks, are carried out at annual camp.

In the British UOTC system, individuals have not actually joined the military; there is no liability of service, and they do not receive ‘regimental numbers’ (i.e. a Service Number). Recruitment and induction happen in one training night, and the individual may leave at any time with absolutely no obligation or administrative hassle. Officer cadets get put through two stages of training, called Military Training Qualification (MTQ) levels 1 and 2. The first MTQ gives the officer cadets their ‘soldier’ qualifications. This includes drill, history and army structure, weapons handling and firing, fieldcraft, basic infantry drills, basic navigation, etc. At the end of their first year at the UOTC, cadets are put through an examination that tests all the basic skills they have been taught throughout the year. Those who pass (and most do) are permitted to begin the next year’s training. A ‘bounty’ system helps to maintain high retention rates (over 80 percent) into subsequent years.

MTQ 2 subsequently gives the officer cadets skills more closely reflecting their status as would-be officers: advanced navigation, platoon/troop level tactics and leadership. As with their first year, MTQ 2 candidates must pass a centrally administered examination, which qualifies them as Junior Under Officers (JUO), an appointment within the rank of officer cadet. Having completed MTQ 2, but remaining in university, JUOs take up positions of leadership within the MTQ 1 structure, usually as section commanders. At the end of this third year, if they wish to continue with the military past the end of their bachelor’s degree (a three-year course in the UK), JUOs may proceed to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where they take their TA Commissioning Course. Some will return to the UOTC as second lieutenants to be platoon commanders, while others will seek the same job at a TA regiment. A chosen few will seek commissions in the Regular Army, and spend a year at RMA Sandhurst. (Regular Army commissions from the Cambridge UOTC number less than 12 percent per annum.7) The British, it should be noted, do not have an RMC Kingston-style military university.

The second model for OTCs is that of the United States. Like the British model, ROTC cadets do not officially join the army, but have rather just enrolled in a college credit class ‘with a difference’. They have no military obligation during their first two years of training, meaning that they cannot be mobilized or used for any operational duty.8 They must, however, attend the ‘military leadership and management’ elective class in which they are enrolled. At the conclusion of these four years of classes they are commissioned and go into the army. The US Army pays some or all of their university tuition fees, but nothing for training days; they are simply expected to attend training. After the second year of ROTC, cadets are expected to sign a contract agreeing on service in the army for a specified time.

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Close to 100 percent of 3rd year students will enter the army, and of that number 90 percent will go on active duty. The remaining 10 percent of ROTC cadets join the Army Reserve or National Guard.9 Corps assignments are based on merit, as judged by reports compiled over each cadet’s four years of service.

The ROTC program, as with the UOTC system, is divided into phases. The Basic Course, spread over the first two years, studies army history, organization and structure. Throughout, cadets are also instructed in leadership and management topics as they apply to the military. The Advanced Course is focused on tactical operations and military instruction, as well as “advanced techniques of management, leadership, and command.”10 In the summer, cadets attend courses at army camps, par­ticipate in adventure training, and some may shadow serving officers.

Neither of these models is directly transferable to Canada. It is doubtful that there would sufficient numbers of candidates in any university in Canada willing to join the Forces under either model. At Cambridge University, for instance, there are up to 200 officer cadets and second lieutenants at any given time (115 new recruits entered in October 2002, from a body of 15,000 students). If such numbers of officer cadets could be recruited at any university in Canada, they would be found at the expense of Reserve units. The (unscientifically determined) average number of officer cadets in US ROTC units is 60, although there are some much larger and a few smaller within the 600 different universities with ROTC programmes. Together, these schools produce 75 percent of the officers in the US Army.11 If Canada used the American model, the bodies would almost certainly be found at the expense of RMC. (There is a potential, discussed later, of the ‘ROTC’ system actually increasing the number of officers the CF could take in). While both the American and British systems offer viably-sized units for training and socialization, it is unlikely such numbers could be provided in Canada without ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’

The facts argue for Canada to once again mount some type of OTC structure. It is clear that neither the US nor British model directly applies to Canada. The question is, with regards to our particular circumstances, how should it be run?

a canadian structure

The Canadian Forces does not have the infrastructure to run an OTC system independent from existing military organizations, as with both the UOTC and ROTC systems. This would require a large number of permanent staff to be found, as well as greater infrastructure, and would in any case not find sufficient numbers of potential officers to undergo training. Likewise, on-campus locations, as the ROTC have, may not be feasible in view of the current political stance of most Canadian universities.12 What we do have in place, however, is the structure of the Reserves, with units in almost every sizeable ‘university town’ in Canada (with a few exceptions, such as Prince George, BC). In many cases, Reserve units are sited to take advantage of the location of the nearest university, as traditionally many recruits are drawn from these institutions, especially officers. These organizations have the resources and infrastructure that a Canadian OTC should draw from.

British Officers

Author’s collection

Members of a British Officer Training Corps scaling a wall.

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Taking into account the limited numbers of potential officer cadets for a Canadian OTC, as well as the limited amount of resources available to start any new OTC system, the following structure and training plan are offered as a potential example. Piggy-backing on local Reserve units, this would offer the advantage of pre-existing infrastructure, while producing a training programme that would achieve all the training objectives required to produce useful subalterns for the Reserves, and Regular Force subalterns who have the same level of training and military socialization as their RMC counterparts. The envisaged system is this:

  • Location and Infrastructure: The OTC would be set up in major university towns with a sizeable armoury or hangar in which it could have space. This unit would draw staff from the Reserve units in the area, with a captain or major in command. The OTC would have, as well, two Senior NCOs assigned as instructors. It would draw stores from an assigned Reserve unit, and pay for reserve officer cadets would come from their own affiliated units.

  • Recruiting: Regular Force officer cadets taking their education at the civilian university would be attached to the local OTC and would be required to parade regularly. Reserve officer candidates would also be attached to the OTC until they had finished their branch qualification training. Each OTC would seek a manning of 10 to 20 officer cadets.

  • Affiliation: Reserve officer cadets in the OTC would wear the badge of the regiment sponsoring them as they join the CF. Regular Force officer cadets would wear their branch/corps badge, as is currently the case.

  • Administration: The OTC would logically fall under the control of the Land Force Doctrine and Training System, which would set the standards of admission and graduation of potential officers, but it would be administered and supported logistically as a lodger unit of the local Militia brigade. The Land Force Areas would provide oversight.

  • Stages of Training:

    1st Stage: On entering the OTC, officer cadets would receive training resembling MTQ 1 in the British system. During drill nights, they would receive instruction in basic soldier skills, and they would be expected to begin the Officer Professional Military Education package of courses. For weekend exercises in the second half of the training year (winter/spring term at university), the OTC could form a section to join a neighbouring Reserve unit, or be integrated into that organization as individual augmentation at the level of private soldier. This phase of training should last one training year. In the first summer training period available, Reserve officer cadets should take their Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC). In the case of Regular officer cadets, this first summer would most likely be filled with second language training, as their BOTC would have been completed before entering university. A test package would be applied to confirm that year’s learning, and give the officer cadet the OTC equivalent of the other ranks’ ‘Soldier Qualification’ (SQ).

    2nd Stage: Having completed their ‘SQ’, in their second year, officer cadets would move to training akin to the British MTQ 2, or American ‘Advanced’, level of training. Cadets in their second stage of training would, for the autumn portion of the training year, assist in the instruction of 1st stage cadets. Moreover, they would undertake the study of methods of instruction, leadership and tactics in preparation for their first level of branch-specific training. In the winter/spring portion of the training year, they would continue to exercise with local Reserve units, now in the position of section commander or second-in-command of the OTC section(s). In general, they would also continue work on OPMEs, and would sit a test package to confirm their instruction from that training year. In the summer following this year, ROTP cadets would take their first phase of branch/corps training, and Reserve cadets would be expected to take at least one two-week block of branch training.

    3rd Stage: In the case of the Regular Army, after finishing their first phase of branch training, the officer cadets are integrated into a local Reserve unit appropriate to their trade, or of their choosing. These individuals should then be used as occasional instructors for the OTC, as required. While it is possible that these officer cadets could remain with the OTC until such time as they are commissioned, this is not necessarily the best option. Since the OTC will be a small organization, there will be little training benefit to be had from a third year of basic officer training. Rather, integration with a Reserve unit would provide them with the indoctrination into regimental and mess life that is part of the basic socialization of officers. Likewise, it would provide the Reserve regiment the benefit of useful young officers to assist them in their normal training. In the case of Reserve officer cadets, they would remain in the OTC into their 3rd Stage until such time as they had completed their first block of summer branch-specific training. Only after completing this training should the Reserve officer candidates be integrated with their regiment or unit.

  • The Exceptions: While it is possible for Reserve officer cadets to be fully qualified in one year, it is rare for this to happen. Where this does happen, it would be preferable that the candidates remain with the OTC in the autumn term of their second year. This would complete the training in methods of instruction, administration, and other subjects that are missed because of the tactical orientation of the current Reserve branch training. Other Ranks seeking their commission through the University Training Plan for Members (UTPM) should not be put into the OTC programme, but should rather be used as instructors, or immediately integrated into a Reserve unit.
RCM cadets

RMC photo

RMC cadets undergoing training aboard a Canadian Patrol Frigate.

why not non-commissioned members?

Some months ago, Major-General Ed Fitch posed the question: “Why would we bar NCMs from participating in some form of University Training Plan?” The reasons the model described here does not take NCMs into account are the same reasons limiting the scope of any Canadian OTC. First, while there are many Reserve NCMs who attend colleges and universities, they require no special training on top of what already exists. The Militia has for decades absorbed university-attending NCMs into their cycle of training and exercises. Indeed, the necessity to frame the Militia training cycle to the school year is described in Training Canada’s Army.13 To include Reserve NCMs in a University Training Plan would rob the Reserves of some of its finest soldiers and NCOs, essentially creating a Militia parallel to the Militia. This argument does not discount the need for a reserve education subsidy programme that is available to all Reserve personnel, given that the limited number of paid training days reservists are allotted does not cover tuition costs. However, the Reserve education subsidy issue, although related to OTC, is beyond the scope of the current discussion.

The case of Regular Force NCMs poses a more difficult question, largely because of the very small number who remain in the Regular Force while attending university, college or polytechnic courses.

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conclusion: benefits and costs

Clearly this is not an encyclopaedic prescription for an OTC system in Canada. It does not address, for instance, the case of officer candidates wishing to join a Reserve unit located far from any major university centre, or those ROTP cadets at isolated universities far from a Reserve unit. It is, however, a relatively simple endeavour. It would require no major shift in personnel or materiel to establish an ‘Officer Training Cell/Unit’ in an existing armoury. The assignment of one full-time officer, either Regular Force or a Reservist on Class B (full-time) call out, while not a negligible cost, is certainly not bank-breaking compared to its potential benefits. Likewise, it would be relatively inexpensive to find the pay for the additional Reservists required as instructors. In terms of physical plant, these organizations would take advantage of infrastructure at existing armouries, and the associated costs of offices and training equipment could easily be absorbed by the centralized orderly rooms that exist at most multi-unit armouries.

Established in major university centres across Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, etc.), OTC units would almost certainly have an enthusiastic complement of potential officer candidates. An appropriate course of training for OTC could be produced rapidly (do we not already have such a programme at RMC?). Most important, however, an OTC programme would have a most salutary effect on the quality of junior officer entering the regiments and units, and may even make a positive contribution to recruiting for the CF. This benefit might accrue by providing a less daunting route for many young people to enter the Canadian Forces. It might be more attractive for many to attend civilian university – a known quantity, with one’s friends – than to join the Forces through the unfamiliar and perhaps daunting world of the military college. This assertion, however, remains to be proven.

In terms of implementation of this system, it would be a simple matter to establish a pilot programme in a large urban centre; Toronto or Montreal come to mind as the most likely locations. Similarly, there is no reason that this system could not include Naval and Air Reserve units in its implementation: tri-service education of officers has already been proven effective at RMC. This might indeed provide the ‘extra’ personnel needed to reach a ‘critical mass’ in such an OTC system.

Overall, an OTC system in Canada can be viewed as a relatively simple method of rendering more efficient the training of those officers, both Regular and Reserve, who are outside the RMC system. It would provide ‘orphaned’ ROTP cadets a method of military learning and socialization that is already designed around the university year. In light of the potential benefits and the minimal costs of an OTC, there is little practical reason why the CF should not seriously examine such a system.

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Captain Kristian Gustafson, ex-Lord Strathcona’s Horse and now a member of the South Alberta Light Horse, is a doctoral candidate at Cambridge University in England. He is attached to the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps.


  1. http://www.dnd.ca/site/reports/CFGIEE/4c-e.htm
  2. Email, MGen E.S. Fitch, 12 September 2003.
  3. Email, Captain Alex Haynes, 24 July 2003.
  4. B-GL-300-008/FP-001 Training Canada’s Army, p. 94.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “The Light Blue Volunteer: Journal of the CUOTC”, 2002-2003.
  7. Cambridge University Officer Training Corps website, found at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/cuotc/intro/index.htm
  8. ROTC main cadet web site, found at: http://www.rotc.monroe.army.mil/
  9. Ibid.
  10. Email, Captain John Fio Rito of U.S. ROTC Cadet Command, North East. 23 July 2003.
  11. ROTC main recruiting we site, found at: http://www.armyrotc.com/
  12. ROTC units can only be removed from US Universities at the cost of losing all Federal Government funding. Only Harvard University has tried this, and it was quickly reversed. Conversation with Captain John Fio Rito, 23 July 2003.
  13. B-GL-300-008/FP-001 Training Canada’s Army, p. 94.

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