Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2004   by CARS Magazine

No life like it!

Master Cpl. Eric Beaumier has learned that being a vehicle technician in the Canadian Armed Forces is a lot different than being one in civilian life… even if some of the work bears a striking resemblance.

As section commander of small engine repair at Cape Gagetown, NB, Eric leads a 17-man crew which, on any given day, could be busy in the shop rebuilding starters, installing new alternators, or tuning up all kinds of engines in ATVs, skidoos, lawn tractors, outboard motors, jeeps, or trucks. Pretty routine stuff.

But they could also be assigned to drive a “soft-skinned” (unarmored) wrecker along a Croatian border highway while Serbs on one side and Bosnians on the other are firing mortar rounds at each other.

“When you first arrive in a war zone, the bombs exploding everywhere are nerve wracking. But after a month or so, you jump up on the roof when it starts, to take pictures. You just get used to it,” says the 15-year career army man.

“One of our jobs there was adding ceramics to military vehicles to improve their armor. We’d add two tons to the weight of each one.”

Besides that seven-month tour in Bosnia in 1995, Eric also served a seven-month stint in Haiti in 1997, was part of the emergency response in Montreal after the devastating ice storm in 1998 and has been posted to Canadian bases in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. He’s also had the opportunity to visit Italy twice on R&R leave.

The Northern Quebec native signed up for military service at the age of 17 and has never regretted the decision.

For one thing, he points out, the pay scale for his job as compared to a similar ‘civvie’ job is very good. Pay is determined by rank. The starting pay for a private is $25,000, by the time you make corporal in a few years, you’re earning about $42,000; master corporals earn more than $50,000.

“I’d never be making that in a similar job outside the military,” Eric says.

“It’s a lot more than the money, though. The army of today cares about safety, quality of life and taking care of its troops.”

Besides the opportunities to take specialty training in your trade to advance your knowledge and career, personnel trained in other ways, as well, such as cultural preparedness before being shipped off shore.

But nothing could totally prepare Eric for the cultural gap he witnessed first-hand in a small, remote town in Haiti where the Canadians had to surround the camp with barbed wire to deter the curiosity of throngs of adults and children who were mesmerized by a television set. “They had never seen a TV before! They’d crawl up into the barbed wire just for a glimpse.”

It was also in Haiti where Eric and his fellow camp members captured two poisonous tarantula spiders, kept them in a fish tank, and named them Sprocket and Ratchet.

“It’s just a whole different world there,” he says. “Like you wash your clothes and hang them outside to dry in 45 degree heat, but they don’t dry because of the humidity.”

One particularly harrowing assignment he had in Haiti was participating in the recovery of 480 bodies from a taxi boat disaster. The overloaded boat (with a capacity for only 200) was ferrying passengers from one coastal village to another when it sunk.

The passengers were trapped because they’d been locked in the hold to prevent them from jumping off and swimming to shore near their destination to avoid paying the fare.

But the desperate conditions of the people there were really brought home to him one day when Eric and a fellow officer found an abandoned newborn infant on a deserted beach. They took the wee one back to camp and began preparations for one of the members of his team to adopt him, but it wasn’t to be.

Eric swallows hard. “He died when he was only five weeks old. The exposure before we found him was just too much.”

Back in Gagetown, Eric points out a BV206 track vehicle, for which he has taken specialized training, as well as many other camouflaged vehicles like tanks and Leopards.

“In the Bosnian mountains, you have to remove the air filters from gas-powered vehicles, because there’s not enough oxygen,” he notes.
To him, it’s just one more little difference between military and civilian mechanics.

Military offers generous bonus for signing up

Because there’s always a need for vehicle technicians in the Canadian military, qualified civilian automotive technicians could qualify for an incentive bonus of from $10,000 to $20,000 just for signing up, explains Major Stuart Annis, commanding officer of the Canadian Armed Forces recruitment centre in Fredericton, NB.

"There’s always a need for vehicle technicians (referred to as VEH TECH in military lingo)," Major Annis says.

While military life isn’t for everyone, there are some distinct advantages for those who take a shot at it, including long-term job security, world travel, and opportunities to develop new skills through training programs.

"You never stagnate in this job," he says.

Untrained recruits who show aptitude are taught through a Skill Trades Entry Plan (STEP) which includes classroom training and on-the-job postings where they learn how to service, maintain, repair, and overhaul a wide range of vehicles and equipment.

Successful applicants attend a 10-week, physically demanding basic training course to learn policies and regulations; safety procedures; first aid; survival under nuclear, biological and chemical conditions; drill, dress and deportment; weapon handling and firing; cross-country navigation and survival under field conditions. They’ll also undergo rigorous physical fitness training.

VEH TECHS must be resilient, able to work in all types of weather – from extreme heat or cold, to extreme dry or damp – and any variation of challenging working conditions – including poorly ventilated, noisy, dusty, and confined quarters. They must also be tolerant of situations requiring stooping, lifting heavy weights, kneeling, crouching, and standing for long periods of time.

Mental stress increases considerably during exercises or operational conditions, the military warns.

Places of employment span all Canadian Forces bases and stations within Canada, including the arctic, and locations throughout the world in response to NATO and UN requirements.

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1 Comment » for No life like it!

    I’ve read the article and have read all the comments here. The big thing that needs to be remembered is that the government stepped in and required all manufacturers to create tire pressure monitor systems on their vehicles. But they stopped there. What needs to happen is making it law to have a universal system that can be serviced with a single tool. As a small shop owner, I can not afford to buy all the tools required to service every TPMS on the market. This is where I feel a lot of shop owners and technicians are frustrated with these systems the most. This would not only help the techs and small shop owners, but our customers as well. I hate having to take my customers’ vehicles to dealerships, or even worse, having to send them there on their own. The government needs to step in and regulate these things before they make it a mandatory safety requirement. They did it with the OBD connectors, it’s time they did it with TPMS.

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