What are the chances? NATO Meritorious Service Medal recipient Major Gillian Parker

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News Article / August 28, 2020

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By Emily Lindahl

In the fall of 1992, inspired by a friend and fellow IBM employee who reached for the stars, Gillian Parker walked into a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting centre in pursuit of a personal dream; to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and earn her pilots wings. The next 27 years of service would be filled with challenges and opportunities, highs and lows, but most of all accomplishments as part of a larger team. 

Major Parker has fit a lot into almost 28 years in the CAF. She instructed on Tutors and she flew Hawks and Hercules in both Search and Rescue (SAR) and tactical roles, including three tours in Afghanistan. Operations were particularly rewarding “because we put into practice everything we train so hard to do as a team.”

Major Parker also completed two demanding postings as a staff officer; one at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) as an EA and at one Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) as a SAR staff OPI. She was a Flight Safety Officer and has written for the Directorate of Flight Safety’s publication Flight Comment. Throughout her career, she has also proudly attended, contributed to, or been directly involved in the Canadian Women in Aviation conferences.

In 2016, Major Gillian Parker was posted to NATO Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany for perhaps the most demanding challenge of her career. Her next three years were spent on detailed planning for the multi-national Air Forces EXERCISE TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018.

Not only was this a NATO “High-Visibility” Exercise, but the largest NATO Live Exercise to date. This exercise took place in the land, seas, and skies of Norway, and involved over 50,000 troops, 200 ships, and 120 aircraft which utilized air bases in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. To add complexity to the logistics and planning, the exercise took place at end October/November, which presented interesting weather and daylight challenges.  

Major Parker’s multitasking, detail-oriented, and staff planning abilities were stretched to their limits. As one of two leads for the Air planning leads, Major Parker tapped into a select group of thirty-five military members from 31 different NATO and partner countries, each one an expert in their field. She found working with different nations, languages, ranks and social norms challenging at times, but also extremely rewarding, showcasing “NATO teamwork at its finest”.

Three years of planning culminated in an integrated and successful exercise that challenged all participants and arms across the spectrum of combined Alliance capabilities. “Seeing it all come together from conception, site visits, planning, workup and detailed execution was a testament to commitment and ability on behalf of every planner involved, including the Land and Maritime planners and certainly our Norwegian Military hosts,” says Major Parker. “I was also very proud of the contributions of the Canadians. CAF participated in TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018 with over 2000 troops, 2 ships and 11 aircraft, not to mention Canadians deployed to NATO positions, filling key positions within NATO exercises. I believe we are a proven commodity.”  

On her posting back to Canada, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Roussell, her Commanding Officer while in NATO Air Command, advised Major Parker that Canadian Contingent Commander Colonel Dan Constable, had submitted a nomination in her name for the NATO Meritorious Service Medal (MSM). On reflection, she noted “I didn’t think there was any chance for personal recognition, as so many people had many such a huge contribution, overall. As a team, we delivered.” She is very appreciative and humbled to receive such recognition for her effort.

Now back in Canada, Major Parker settled into a new role as Officer Commanding the Transition Centre at Canadian Forces Base Borden. While her pilot’s soul misses flying, she brought her experience to a different, but very important and satisfying mission, one all about people.  Major Parker’s role was about supporting ill and injured CAF personnel and their families during the challenges of transition, be it either back into their CAF occupation or into the civilian world. “The staff here inspire me every day, with their caring and resilience, as they as they empower the supported members throughout the transition process.”

In a ceremony at NDHQ on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 Major Gillian Parker received the NATO Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding work during her posting to NATO Allied Air Command in Ramstein Germany. With physical distancing protocols in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was joined by her husband, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret’d) Ed Staniowski, and Colonel Dan Constable.

In a letter accompanying the MSM, Brigadier General Darlene Quinn, Commander Formation Europe, Canadian National Military Representative at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe noted that “although the award only speaks to Major Parker’s work within her NATO role, it is also indicative of her work ethic within the CAF and the Canadian community in Germany, where she volunteered to organize community events that helped to foster a close and mutually supportive Canadian contingent in Ramstein.”

Bravo Zulu Major Gillian Parker!

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