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Sergeant (Ret’d) Geneviève Gauthier

While her friends were watching films like Dirty Dancing, Geneviève Gauthier preferred to watch Full Metal Jacket or other war films. At age 17, she joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and progressed through the ranks to become the first female engineer sergeant in the Regular Forces.

Fort McMurray, Alberta

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Afghanistan

Joined

1994

Postings

  • 1995-2000; 2000-2002: Valcartier, QC,.
  • 2000-2002; 2008: Gagetown, NB.

Deployments

  • Ice storm, Montréal, QC, 1998
  • Central African Republic, 1999

During her first semester in nursing in CEGEP, her internship supervisor told her, “You’d make a good nurse, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what you want to do.” In her quest for unique adventures and experiences, Geneviève Gauthier decided to go to the CAF recruiting centre in Rimouski. Three weeks later, on the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landing, she enlisted. “It was as though it was meant to be.”

She has fond memories of her recruit course in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. “I loved it. I sometimes still dream that I’m back in St-Jean." Her next course, which would allow her to work as an engineer, proved to be much more difficult. Fortunately, her warrant officer always encouraged her during tough times by saying, “No, Gauthier, we’ll keep you. They’re waiting for you at the 5th Combat Engineer Regiment. You’re good.”

In 1999, five years after arriving at the 5th Regiment, Gauthier was deployed for the first time outside the country, to the Central African Republic. Her unit was responsible for all radio communications for the contingents of the countries present during the UN peacekeeping mission. “This eye-opening mission allowed me to learn what was going on in the world, and to see how fortunate we are.”

“When I joined the Forces, there weren’t many women working in the combat arms trades. I pushed myself to the limit and it was the most difficult course that I’ve ever completed. I managed to achieve this incredible goal.”

Upon her return from Africa, she completed several leadership courses that led to her initial promotion to the rank of Master Corporal. As the only woman enrolled in these courses, it was important for her to succeed. “When I joined the Forces, there weren’t many women working in the combat arms trades. I pushed myself to the limit and it was the most difficult course that I’ve ever completed. I managed to achieve this incredible goal.”  

In May 2007, her efforts were further rewarded with the rank of Sergeant. “It was my proudest moment during my time in the CAF. I achieved something that no one else in Canada had accomplished before me, which was to be the first female engineer sergeant in the Regular Forces.”

Five months later, she accepted an eight-month deployment to Afghanistan. Although she would be stationed in a static position at the Kandahar base, Gauthier found herself on more dangerous grounds on a few occasions. She was part of one of the teams that oversaw the paving of Foster Road, a sadly infamous sand road. It was on this road that many Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan lost their lives to improvised explosive devices.

“It’s strange because on the one hand, my workers loved working for me ... on the other hand, the Taliban were not pleased that a woman was in charge of 400 Afghans. My name found its way into the nearby mosques because I was evil incarnate.”
Photo

Geneviève Gauthier with an interpreter and Afghan children.

Since Gauthier was in charge of the 400 Afghan workers hired for the paving, she had become somewhat of a figurehead for local residents. “It’s strange because on the one hand, my workers loved working for me. I was given a name in Afghan that meant “the matriarch.” On the other hand, the Taliban were not pleased that a woman was in charge of 400 Afghans. My name found its way into the nearby mosques because I was evil incarnate.”

Fortunately, she and her comrades were lucky—no lives were lost while working on Foster Road. She did, however, suffer through the anguish of watching a friend’s vehicle blow up right before her eyes. “The minute you’re on the road in a vehicle, you’re rolling the dice. Sébastien Gauthier was in front of me … waiting to hear the condition he was in on the radio … to this day, if I hear a “kaboom” sound, my knees get weak. Thankfully, he survived.”

A few months after returning from Afghanistan, she requested her release from the CAF. She was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I gathered the courage to get diagnosed. With four children, I couldn’t afford to not always be there for them. We recently passed the one-year mark since a close comrade took his own life. I believe that it’s important to seek treatment… and, if it can inspire my friends to do so as well…”

With courage, integrity and loyalty, Geneviève Gauthier has left her mark. She is one of our Canadian Veterans.  Discover more stories.

If you a Veteran, family member or caregiver in need of mental health support, the VAC Assistance Service is available to you 24/7, 365 days a year at no cost. Call "1-800-268-7708 to speak to a mental health professional right now.


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