From CTV Montreal, Published Thursday, January 3, 2019
Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan is one of the highest-ranking women in the Canadian Armed Forces and is the first and only woman from a combat arms occupation to rise to the general officer rank level.
She's also one of only 10 women currently serving at the general officer rank level in the CAF.
Her day starts out like an ordinary morning for most people – she drinks coffee and has a little family time helping the youngest of her four children get ready for school.
But before the sun comes up, Carignan also goes for a run and completes an intense strength-training workout.
If she can squeeze it in, she’ll dance.
“Currently I’m into flamenco,” she explained. “You need to have the right balance of strength, rigour, and discipline. And there’s a lot of common points between dance and the military.”
Carignan leads troops with the 2nd Canadian Division at the Longpoint base in Montreal’s East End.
Her role, primarily, is to prepare her troops to be combat-ready.
“My main responsibilities are to make sure my troops are ready to go, and by doing that, we make sure that we represent Canada adequately as well, wherever we go,” she said.
When she joined the army in 1986, she says she couldn’t have imagined earning the title Brigadier-General.
“I was just bored,” Carignan explained. “I was a student at college and I was looking for something exciting. I was also looking for something honourable to do – bring some contribution, do something a little bit bigger than myself.”
Women in the Canadian military were banned from certain combat roles until 1988. When that changed, Carignan jumped into action and served in missions around the world, including Afghanistan.
“What I’ve been fighting my whole career are perceptions, and I would say the three main ones are perceptions that women are not strong enough – perceptions that you can’t be good at combat. Perceptions that you can’t have a family and military career at the same time,” she said.
Carignan challenged those perceptions and has worked to recruit more women who today make up nearly 16 per cent of the Canadian Armed Forces. As she puts it, women need to see military leaders who “look like them.”
She’s a decorated officer, and her responsibilities extend beyond the base and deployments. For example, she took time over the holidays to meet with veterans at St. Anne’s Hospital.
Carignan also stresses the importance of asking for help and says the physical and mental health of her troops – and their families – is a top priority.
“We are being asked to move, being asked to deploy. We are being asked to be away, so we have a lot of help and support there to help us do that.”
For women considering a career in the Forces, Carignan has one thing to say.
“There’s always a challenge to accept that not everything is going to be perfect, all the time,” she added. “I think it’s the most difficult one.”
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