Sergeant-Major, yes, Ma’am!

Article / March 8, 2016 / Project number: 16-0055

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — Master Warrant Officer (MWO) Shelly Bellisle is the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of 38 Service Battalion (38 Svc Bn). She is the only woman RSM in 3rd Canadian Division (3 Cdn Div), a vast swath of Canadian real estate reaching from Thunder Bay in Ontario across four provinces to the Pacific Ocean.

Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and raised in a rural community just north of the city, MWO Bellisle joined the Canadian Army 26 years ago. Today, she not only commutes 140 km once or twice weekly to her office in Saskatoon, but also works in three different time zones in the course of a year. The service companies under her command, 16 (Saskatchewan) Service Company in Alberta, 17 (Winnipeg) Service Company in Manitoba and 18 (Thunder Bay) Service Company in Ontario provide transportation, supply, food services and maintenance support to all field units within 38 Canadian Brigade Group.

While that takes a high level of commitment, even these geographic gymnastics pale in comparison to MWO Bellisle’s devotion to her troops. “I can’t describe fully how much I love the challenge and resiliency of the soldiers I serve and mentor,” she said.

As for her personal family, things can only be described as busy and successful. MWO Ramsay Bellisle, her husband is currently the Quarter Master Sergeant Instructor of The North Saskatchewan Regiment (N Sask R) and will be taking over as RSM of the same regiment later in 2016. Their children, Brenan, 17, and Miranda, 15, keep active with high-performance sports, jobs and the Service Corps of Scouts Canada.

Luckily I really enjoy driving, volunteering and coaching,” MWO Bellisle said.

Our son recently expressed interest in the military after high school,” she added. “We are still helping him decide which direction will suit him.

Like many Reservists, MWO Bellisle has a civilian day job. She works as a Supply and Services Officer with the Correctional Service of Canada at Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

My work with both Correctional Service of Canada and as an RSM in the PRes [Primary Army Reserve] does have several similarities,” she noted. “Both require a keen awareness of human behaviour. Both groups either demand or require consistency and a structured environment. The main difference would be one group actively sought out the opportunity to participate and serve.

Q & A with MWO Bellisle

Q: How did you come to join the Canadian Army Primary Reserve?

A: I attended a small rural high school and had a few friends in the class ahead of me serving with the local unit. Whenever I would ask about what they did I was never satisfied with the answers and needed to find out for myself.

In my grade 12 year in 1990, there were eight of our graduating class of 27 who joined B Company of The North Saskatchewan Regiment in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Q: Are you from a military family? Was that one reason that you joined?

A: I am not from a military family and only found out I had a great-uncle in the Second World War two years after I joined. But I can guarantee that I joined a family.

I initially joined the Primary Army Reserve, or as it was then known, the Militia, as an infanteer. Shortly after joining the unit, I entered a Supply Technician (Sup Tech) position. I was told I could still do all the infantry things but have access to more employment as a Sup Tech. It was the perfect world.

Other taskings allowed me to accept several positions at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, CFB Dundurn [Saskatchewan], Canadian Forces Base Wainwright [Alberta] and Canadian Forces Base Shilo [Manitoba].

Q: Was there any issue with being a woman when you joined?

I joined with two other female friends and had several others in my basic training. The unit had several female non-commissioned members and an officer when I joined. The experience was inclusive and equality wasn’t an issue as I recall. Everyone had a job and purpose.

Q: Could you describe your deployments, both internationally and in Canada?

A: I attended the annual Fall Exercises, called FALLEX, in September 1991 in Lahr, Germany. I was selected due to my trade as a Sup Tech and then chosen to assist the medics and drive/attend the ambulances.

This was a very enlightening experience working within a global operation exercise with 4 Service Battalion. This exercise also gave me my first view of Canada on the international stage. We were respected in every community we entered and our conduct and professionalism helped maintain that reputation.

I attended Operation PEREGRINE in Kelowna, British Columbia in 2003 to support the fighting of fires in British Columbia that summer.

This was a very important opportunity for me to directly serve Canadians. The outpouring of gratitude from the local population was humbling and bordering on embarrassing. Part of my job was purchasing for the line crews. I was asked to purchase a wireless hand-cranked shortwave radio from Radio Shack. While I was being served, a couple came in looking for the same item to try to find out if their house survived in the burn zone. The sales rep came out with the last one and the couple refused to take it even when I said their need was more important than mine. To avoid an emotional situation I did purchase the item but walked the couple to Sears who was rumored to have them as well. They were successful and their house was still intact.

I can’t say if I would prefer international deployment over domestic operations. Both experiences were rewarding and insightful. My most challenging and rewarding task was aiding the families of deployed troops and our members when they returned from Afghanistan.

Q: What was your path to becoming an RSM?

A: I have had the honour of serving and supporting troops in a number of units and one Tactical Group I have served with. With the North Saskatchewan Regiment and the Saskatchewan Infantry Tactical Group, I was the stores person, then the company and eventually the regimental quartermaster over 22 years.

Within that capacity, I was continuously liaising with other units, civilian organizations, international troops and Canadians from all corners. I have had training opportunities to work with U.S. troops on exercise exchanges in Canada in 2007 and the US in 2013, which have been extremely enlightening. This experience with people was a huge element in preparing me for my Sergeant Major position.

In 2012, I transferred to 38 Service Battalion. This was an extremely challenging choice since it was like leaving my family after 22 years, but I could not progress in rank at my previous location. Within the first six months with my new organization, I became Company Sergeant Major of 16 Service Company in October 2012. I then transitioned to RSM of the Battalion in March 2014.

My goal is to serve as long as my contributions are needed. I would prefer to stay at the rank of MWO but will weigh my options as I move forward. My role as RSM has been one of the most rewarding of my career to date.

Q: How unusual is it to be a woman RSM?

A: It is my understanding that I am the only female RSM in 3 Div, so I would say I appear to be unusual but I certainly don’t feel that has any impact on the job or relationships I have.

Q: As a female CAF member and senior leader, what is the message you would like to send out as a role model to young women and also to young men?

A: I will reference the mottos of both units I have served with. Cede Nulls (Yield to None) is the motto for the N Sask R and United and Enduring is 38 Service Battalion’s.

These seem like simple phrases but they encompass the values and purpose I strive to live by. Life will be filled with challenges but nothing is insurmountable or unattainable. Surround yourself with trustworthy people while being that person in return. Hard work and critical and creative thinking will eventually lead you to success, even if the end result isn’t what you envisioned initially.

I would like to think that I have had a fraction of the impact on the lives of some of my troops as they have had on mine. I have to say they are predominantly male. A role model can be anyone who you have respect for and will reciprocate that respect. None of that hinges on male or female. I strive to actively listen and support whichever troops seek me out and find my style of mentoring and leadership beneficial to their success.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

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