Growing up in Ottawa, one day Roger Girouard decided to join the naval reserves by taking part in a summer student program, starting off as a bosun on HMCS Carlton.
As it turns out, it was a choice that took him on a 35-year career with the Royal Canadian Navy, later becoming a ship’s captain and retiring in 2007 as admiral.
Only, Girouard, a Sooke resident for the last decade, never retired.
After teaching for a while at Royal Roads University, he looked back towards the sea and took on a career with the Canadian Coast Guard as assistant commissioner for the Western region.
The thing is, he never expected to become an admiral, or one day command an entire fleet.
“All I ever wanted was my next job. You slowly grow into it, and realize that you’re in the corner office, with about 7,000 people working for you, uniformed and civilians. You recognize that the number 1 responsibility is to help people do their jobs,” Girouard said.
To him, in the navy was more than just a job – it was an ongoing journey.
“It was never the same two days. It was fascinating, and getting to hang around the neatest people on the planet of all uniforms and stripes devoted to making a difference,” Girouard said, adding the aspect he enjoyed the most about his job was working in challenging situations and making a difference.
One of his biggest challenges came in 1998, when serving as head of search and rescue operations in Halifax, just after Swissair Flight 111 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, taking all 229 souls onboard down with it.
After the doomed MD-11 went down, the call went straight to Girouard’s rescue centre.
“When we realized what it was, we ramped up in a big way and then we ran an operation that lasted three months from start to finish,” he said, noting the intense part was about 40 days straight, working with 35 different agencies and departments, the province and commercial entities to coordinate the recovery efforts. Girouard was also assigned as the liaison to the families of the victims, an experience he recalls as “a daunting privilege.”
“It was challenging because of the tragic circumstances, but I took solace that I was helping people get through it.”
Girouard also led a team to help with the floods on the Fraser River in 2007, as well as prep Canada for the Olympic Games.
After joining the Coast Guard three years ago, Girouard has helped coordinate countless search and rescue efforts, along with recovery operations, and the more recent Bella Bella oil spill incident.
In a way, his job’s dynamic and unpredictable nature is part of a life he hasn’t really left.
“It’s a great bunch of people who love what they do and they inspire me, same way my sailors did in my last life,” he said.
When he’s not out on the sea, Girouard dedicates his time to volunteering in the Sooke community, hanging out at the Royal Canadian Legion in Sooke and supporting the local sea cadet corps.
“There’s a navy league corps named after me that I’ve got a lot of time for, and I think [Sooke] is one of the greatest little towns in the country,” he said. “I’m just delighted to give back in a way.”