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Veteran success story: Melanie St-Jean

Veteran success story: Melanie St-Jean

"The Transition Lifeshops retreat was very therapeutic for us women Veterans. It enabled us to share, let our guards down and be vulnerable," says Melanie St-Jean.

Time in the Canadian Armed Forces

Melanie (Mel) St-Jean followed her dreams to a successful military career. By many measures, as a mother and independent business owner, she also had success in life after service. Still, this Army and Navy Veteran felt something was missing. Reconnecting with military Veterans has empowered Mel to pursue new dreams.

Born and raised in Granby, Quebec, Mel joined the military in 1991 at the age of 17. After training for a year in British Columbia, she was posted to Halifax on the HMCS Nipigon followed by electrician training in Rimouski, Quebec. In 1994, while posted in Newfoundland, she gave birth to her first child Maxim and married in 1995. Two years later, she had her second child Alexandre and decided to stay home with her two boys. Mel released in 1998.

Melanie on the HMCS Nipigon in Guantànamo Bay, Cuba during a NATO exercise.

With an ambitious mind, Mel completed a two-year dental assistant program. She returned to CAF in 2002, this time to the army as a paramedic. Her next stop was in Shilo, Manitoba. She says this was the most rewarding time in her career because she worked at the base medical centre, which tested and increased her knowledge and skillset to a remarkable high.

However, things at home were difficult after one of her sons was diagnosed with medical issues. As a result, she and her family decided to return to Quebec where she joined the 5e Régiment d’artillerie légère du Canada (5 RALC) in Valcartier.

You really learn the true meaning of team spirit and support in the military.

In 2005—during a 13-km training march where she lugged a fifty-six pound ruck on her back—Mel suffered a back injury requiring treatment. She was medically-released in 2008, with no plans of returning.

Adjusting to Retirement

Faced with the challenges related to her back injury, Mel searched for natural and herbal remedies. Her passion turned into her own business and soon she launched 'Peau de Fleurs,' specializing in natural products and herbal medicine. She ran the business for five years and then closed its doors and redirected her efforts to support her sons during their challenging teenage years.

On her way to San Francisco aboard the HMCS Oriole.

In 2010, she began a career as an Executive Assistant at DND through the Veterans Hiring Act (VHA). Mel is thankful for this career transition service because it facilitated her transition as a former Canadian Armed Forces member into the public service. 'I felt supported because it eliminated a lot stress that I would have otherwise had,' says Mel. Returning to the workforce was an adjustment though. 'People don’t realize how overwhelming and how intimidating it can be for us, even our families pay the price and hold us accountable when we return, and you’re faced with so many challenges and guilt … to this day I carry some of that.'

She managed to settle in and welcomed the stability of her employment. However, 'something was missing.' She was searching for what she left behind in her military career—the patriotic duty, the bond with fellow soldiers and the meaning attached to her work. 'You really learn the true meaning of team spirit and support in the military and team building is on another level, plus the structure and the bond that we have as soldiers is truly unique,' says Mel.

When someone says ‘I’ve got your back’ in the military, it actually means something because the mindset is different, it’s part of our training and who we are and it’s a matter of life or death.

The friendship and trust she discovered in the forces were difficult to find in her civilian life. 'When someone says ‘I’ve got your back’ in the military, it actually means something because the mindset is different, it’s part of our training and who we are and it’s a matter of life or death.'

Transition Lifeshops Two Day Retreat

Melanie with her sons as her youngest Alexandre ties the knot.

In February 2019, Mel and a friend attended a Transition Lifeshops retreat from A New Dynamic Enterprise in Lac Beauport, Quebec. From the very first moment, she felt the right energy. 'This is what I‘d been looking for, this is what I need, this is what I’ve been missing.' says Mel. She had no expectations but was pleasantly surprised. The powerful vibe amongst the group of women was very familiar. It resembled her military connection with fellow soldiers because a certain trust was established from the start.

Mel felt comfortable and enjoyed her retreat as the two days were packed with activities chosen by the coach and counselor. There were great moments of discussion and sharing. 'It was very therapeutic for the eight of us to be able to share, let our guards down and be vulnerable.' Mel took the opportunity to open up about her divorce. 'I never really spoke about it and it was still very raw for me so it felt good to share my pain without any judgement.'

The retreat places an emphasis on self-care and the importance of staying true to one’s self. Mel learned new coping strategies for how to better deal with stress and address the pain stemming from her divorce while establishing sound friendships that she can count on to this day. The trust that Mel found within the group allowed her to open up more freely and begin healing to rebuild her life as a single woman.

The retreat places an emphasis on self-care and the importance of staying true to one’s self.

Today Mel is immersed in her studies at Laval University with the support of the Education and Training Benefit while working full time in the public service. By next year, she will have a double multidisciplinary degree in Professional editing and Ethnology. Mel is more motivated than ever to cross things off her bucket list. Her perspective on life is to aim high and to surround herself with the right types of people. Once the pandemic is under control, she hopes to travel to Morocco with two of the eight women from her retreat group. She’s found her group and she’s not letting go!

Note: Transition Lifeshops are two-day retreats designed for women (Veterans, soon to be Veterans and wives or partners of Veterans). Participants are put through a series of exercises that will enable them to embrace transitions as a wonderful opportunity for growth. Edmonton-based A New Dynamic Enterprise received two rounds of funding from the Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund for its Transition Lifeshops seminars.


Further reading