As Brigadier-General (Brig.-Gen.) Pascal Godbout took command of the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) on Friday, Jun. 2, 2023, there was both acknowledgement of the challenges his predecessor faced and a sense of hopefulness for the college whose motto is “Truth, Duty, Valour.”
Rear-Admiral Josée Kurtz passed her responsibilities as Commandant of RMC to Godbout in a traditional military change of command ceremony under the review of Major-General (Maj.-Gen.) Craig Aitchison, Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA), at historic Currie Hall on the RMC campus.
In her address to the assembled dignitaries, staff, cadets, family members, and friends, Kurtz first joked about her own relationship with RMC since first applying to the College in 1986: “That first call I received indicated that being a cadet was not meant to be — a difficult decision to accept for someone who had long dreamed of going into the military.”
“Needless to say,” she continued, “I was a little surprised when, 35 years later in 2021, the phone rang with an outstanding offer I could not refuse: to go to RMC as Commandant.”
Kurtz, an officer of the Royal Canadian Navy, compared her two years at RMC to sailing a ship through waters that were rough at times.
She took command “at low tide,” she said, in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut the college down and forced learning to go online.
One storm she faced as Commandant was the tragic deaths of four officer cadets on the cusp of graduation in April 2022; she described it as a “terrible accident that left a permanent wound on the College, and one I personally will never completely heal from.”
She also characterized the release of Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour’s Independent External Comprehensive Review of policies, procedures, programs, practices, and culture within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence (DND) as a “squall” that brought with it “important and necessary considerations at RMC in support of evolving our culture and eliminating misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
She celebrated her staff for their assistance in her time as Commandant and, after a number of thank yous, she welcomed the new commandant in French (translated): “Finally, Pascal, welcome. If I leave you with anything today it is my assurance that RMC is a rich and special institution with a host of extraordinary people.”
In his own address, the new Commandant thanked “the Armed Forces Executive Council and Maj.-Gen. Aitchison for the vote of confidence in appointing me to this role. As importantly, I would like to thank the teams I have served with over the years, who have helped shape who I am today… While we do have significant challenges ahead, I see great opportunities to work together to build on past successes, address the recommendations made by Madame Arbour and other reports, and show the world that the Royal Military College of Canada truly provides an education with a difference.”
He noted that he has “experienced firsthand the powerful impact that faculty, the training wing, support staff, and peers can have on fostering the success of students… So I want to say thank you on behalf of all current and former students for what you do. I am so excited to work with you all and learn from you.”
Thanking Kurtz, he noted, “The thoroughness of your handovers and dedication to the very end of your appointment as Commandant has been commendable. You are an inspiration, and [are] leaving large shoes to fill.”
In acknowledgement of his new role as a leader of young people, Godbout spoke to the parents of current and future naval and officer cadets: “Thank you for supporting these young adults and entrusting us with their care as they embark on their career in the CAF. Coming from a small town in the Gaspé Peninsula with no knowledge of the military except for the Sea Cadets, I still remember the trepidation I felt arriving at the college. Our goal is to create a safe environment where our undergraduate students can be their authentic selves, balance the demands of academic life, maintain a fit, healthy lifestyle, become bilingual, and begin acquiring the military skills to be successful leaders in the CAF. As the parents of two daughters, one who is still in university and the other having recently graduated, my wife and I understand and empathize with the challenges faced by students today.”
Brig.-Gen. Godbout joined the Canadian Forces as a Communications and Electronics Engineering Officer and obtained his commission in 1995 after graduating from the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean.
He holds a Master of Arts in Defence Management and Policy from the Royal Military College of Canada and a Master of Business Administration from Athabasca University. He is a graduate of the Joint Command and Staff Programme and the NATO Defence College Senior Course.
Having held commands in Kingston, Afghanistan, Cold Lake, North Bay, and Borden, Godbout returns to Kingston from Yellowknife, where he was the Commander of Joint Task Force North, which contributes to the defence of Canada by providing a Canadian Armed Forces presence in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.