Last December, with final exams underway, Cpl. Cal LaKing left behind his text books and picked up an assault rifle.
The fourth-year psychology student at St. Thomas University spent eight days in Goose Bay, Labrador learning how to survive and keep working when temperatures dip below -30 C.
“It was very good experience for me since it was only my second time working with the actual infantry, going out and doing my job in the field. I slept next to them, I was running the communications for them,” said LaKing, a reservist in the 722 Communication Squadron based in Saint John.
His job and school conflicted, which meant then associate registrar Karen Preston had to rearrange his exam schedule.
Even then, LaKing said transitioning from military life to university life takes getting used to.
“The way you carry yourself as a soldier is very respectful, very professional. You’re noticed wherever you go. In a civilian mall, people watch you, they know you’re there,” said LaKing. “When you step back as a student, you realize that you still have to carry yourself in a professional manner, but that people aren’t watching you. It’s not a hard transition, it’s just a strange one.”
A handful of St. Thomas University students like LaKing are in the Canadian Forces.
Many train once during the week and every second weekend.
“It requires one day a week, but they’re completely understanding of being a student. Tonight [Friday], for example, I’m going to miss work because I have school work to do,” LaKing said.
There are also weekends spent on the shooting range.
In the summer, there are usually full-time courses to refine their skills.
After his father joined the military, LaKing saw it was a good way to make money and get experience. But school has always been the top priority for him.
“I can usually manage my school work through the week and I’m still able to do my job and go to school.”
“They know you’re a student first,” said Sapper Rosalynn Alessi, a combat engineer in the reserves with 1 Engineer Squadron in Fredericton.
As a combat engineer, she does things like learning how to build bridges, working in the community using power tools and basic soldier skills.
The third year interdisciplinary major in youth law is on the STU rugby team and is a residence advisor at Rigby Hall.
She agrees with LaKing that the military is understanding of student schedules.
“I always leave [rugby] practice a little bit early, but I still have to get into my uniform so I’ll be about 15 to 20 minutes late. I just tell them upfront
and they’re good with that. If you can’t come in for training because you have a paper or something important is happening, as long as you let them know, they’re really good with it.”
Like LaKing, she said the transition from military life to student life can be different.
She did her basic military qualification course on the weekends last year between January and March while going to school the rest of the time.
“I found it was difficult because you’re used to working with a structure and everyone doing what they’re told to do. Being an RA – last year in
Holy Cross which wasn’t so bad – during the times when there is more commotion I sometimes get frustrated because I’m telling someone to do something and they don’t,” she said.
She said the main thing is deciding what you want to prioritize.
“Some people play sports, some people volunteer all the time. I’m in the army. I don’t really see much of a difference from any other extracurricular activity,” she said.
It has been a busy few months for LaKing.
He worked at Gagetown for five weeks, did a two week computer course, worked for three weeks in Kingston, Ont. and did a month of
training in Nunavut.
“Three days after I got back from Nunavut, I got married, so it was a really busy summer.”
Now he’s back at STU studying psychology.
Next year, he hopes to study either social work at STU or speech language pathology at Dalhousie University.
Alessi has started looking at doing wilderness-based therapy as a job after she finishes school.
“You work at camp with kids. You take troubled kids camping on a weekend or teach them to kayak or climb mountains.”
But there’s no question about whether she’ll stay with the military.
She’s looking into doing a tour overseas.
“I’ll definitely stay as a reservist because I love my job as a reservist and combat engineer. It’s fun and you get to work with your community.”
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