Newfoundland native Lieutenant Colonel Barry Leonard’s life is coming full circle
Leonard was an active member of the 510 Lions Air Cadet branch in St. John’s from the age of twelve.
Following his time as a cadet he served for 27 years in the Canadian Airforce. After serving his country for all these years, Leonard is now taking over as the commanding officer of the Ontario chapter of the Cadets.
Growing up a cadet
Lieutenant Colonel Leonard loved his time as a cadet, for many reasons. One of his favourite things about cadets was that it was open to anyone, regardless of colour, class, gender or religion.
“One of the big things I absolutely loved about the cadets was the fact that it was just completely non-discriminatory,” said Leonard. “I suppose it didn’t really matter what walk of life you came from. The whole cadet organization was incredibly accepting and tolerant with everybody. It was amazing, actually, because it didn’t matter what kind of socioeconomic status you were in, or what school you came from, what neighbourhood you came from in the city… Nobody really cared. Once you got there on a Thursday night to parade or once you were out on Saturday during the extracurricular activities everybody was one big team.”
According to Leonard, his time in the cadets also prepared him to be a leader and the best Canadian he could be. The program also passed on a lot of useful knowledge that helped him inside and out of the military.
“Thursdays we would take courses like citizenship and leadership. We would take theory of flight courses learning about aerodynamics, aviation regulations and rules. And of course with that we’d have courses on administration discipline — learning about becoming a good Canadian citizen. Saturday, that was the less academic stuff and the more hands on practical stuff. So we had some martial arts courses that I took. I was in aikido. I was also in the band, where I played percussion.”
Serving our country
Leonard never expected to join the military after high school, until he learned about the opportunity to go to a Canadian military college.
“I was about halfway through my twelfth year and a cadet officer, she came home from an experience at Collège Militaire Royal in Seant-Jean in Quebec. She was talking to us about her experience there, and I thought, ‘I had no idea that this thing existed.’ I didn’t even know that Canada had a military college,” said Leonard. “And of course I was looking for post-secondary education opportunities. So it’s about halfway through my twelfth grade year where I really kind of get an inkling for considering the military as a career.
“So I went down to the recruitment centre, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, I stared around a bit shocked at the whole thing. I was interested in becoming a pilot, and my father’s an engineer. I had experience and knowledge about what engineering was like, so I thought I’d be a good match. All that happened between February and June of my last year of high school. I wrote my last exam at my school and I took a week off, and then I flew up to British Columbia where I did my basic training.”
Serving with honour
Soon after, Leonard moved to Saskatchewan to get his pilot training, and then to Manitoba to get his helicopter training. He then moved to Halifax, where he piloted a Sea King helicopter doing marine search and surveillance and reconnaissance.
The first trial of his training would be the crash of Swissair flight 111, one the deadliest airplane crashes in history, off the coast of Nova Scotia.
A few weeks after 9/11 he was shipped to the Arabian Gulf and stationed on the HMCS Preserver, a supply ship, for about seven months. After his time on the Arabian Gulf, Leonard spent some time teaching young pilots to fly. He then went to England to receive an education in modelling and simulation in order to help train new pilots using flight simulators. From there, he was stationed in Qatar with the Combined Air Operations Center. After that, Leonard was sent to Ottawa to run a group responsible for flight simulation.
Leonard would then be sent to British Columbia, where he was part of an Inter-American Task Force for counter narcotics.
“We interdicted I think it was 2,200 pounds of cocaine,” said Leonard. “That was pretty cool, that was a great experience actually.”
Helping marine life
During this time he and the men he served with would try to help out the sea life in the area.
“We even saved some turtles, which was pretty amazing. There’s lots of junk out the Pacific Ocean and a lot of the marine life get caught up in the trash and stuff,” said Leonard. “So if we have opportunities to do little things like that to kind of help out where we can, that’s what we try to do.”
Leonard would then be sent back to England before being shipped to Ottawa, where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became the director of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s simulation strategy. He was then sent to the Washington, D.C. as part of the National Security Program.
After a long and distinguished career, Leonard has finally come back to his roots. This year he was named commanding officer of the Ontario Cadets, and he’s excited for the opportunity.
“It’s an honour. Truly it’s an absolute privilege. My wife and I, we just moved from Washington D.C. We were down there doing work with the Canadian Armed Forces and with the Western Hemisphere – with most of the countries from Canada down to Argentina,” said Leonard.
“This opportunity was proposed and I jumped at it. This is an awesome opportunity for me to try to contribute back to an organization that gave so much to me. Obviously coming into this job, the commanding officer for Ontario, I really getting that opportunity to kind of sit and look at the skills that I learned as a young adult in the Cadet organization in Newfoundland.”
‘A daunting experience’
With the massive size and population of Ontario, the scope of the job isn’t lost on him.
“That’s a daunting experience,” joked Leonard. “It’s pretty amazing, it really is. We’ve got 13-odd-thousand cadets who are enrolled and who are in the organization in Ontario and they’re supported by 2,500 staff which include regular force officers like myself, regular force enlisted and non-commissioned members.”
He can’t do the job by himself, however. Lieutenant Colonel Leonard couldn’t speak more highly of the staff and volunteers in the cadets, without whom none of what they do would be possible.
“There are so many people in the organization that are dedicated to producing, creating, developing and helping nurture these young adults so that they can become strong citizens of Canada.”
Leonard loves talking to people. He enjoys getting to know a persons story and what makes them “tick.” He hopes to be able to bring this side of his personality into his new position, aiming to not only help cadets in Ontario, but across the country.
“My aim is to get to know the units around the province and to try to figure out how we can support them as best we can,” he explains. “Not only inside Ontario, but we’re talking across the regions as well. Whether it’s the Pacific region, the Northwest region, our region in Central, the Eastern region in Quebec or the Atlantic Region for all four Atlantic Provinces. We’ve got to try to make sure that we take all these cadets across the country and make sure we give them a positive experience.”