Introduction To The Canadian Armed Forces

Alright I know there are quite a few words and ideas that most people may not be super familiar with that you hear over and over in the news or because of Remembrance Day regarding the Canadian Armed Forces. What I want to do with this article is try and give a little guide or context for some of the information you might be hearing about. I will not be sharing much personal information just what I find online, but I will try and give some clarification and break it down for you.

Lets start with some basic ideas:

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) consists of several unified institutions specifically focused on the air, land and sea elements, which have their own specific branches, the Royal Canadian Air Force, Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy, respectively. 

Personnel belong to either the Regular Force or the Reserve Force which has four sub components including the Primary Reserve, Supplementary Reserve, Cadet Organizations and the Canadian Rangers.

Roughly there are 126,500 members currently serving with the CAF, split into 71,500 Reg Force members, 30,000 Reserve Force members and 25,000 civilian employees. 

The Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces is the Reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. 

The CAF is a separate entity from the Department of National Defence (DND).

Now this is a whole lot of info and I will start breaking some of it down. Lets begin with the military. When you say you know someone in the military you can refer to any person in any one of the branches of the CAF. Air Force, Navy, Army. They can be stationed anywhere in Canada, from the coasts to the prairies to the far north.

In the military you can work as either an Officer or a Non-Commissioned Member (NCM). This deviation will decide what kind of job you will take upon in the career path you want to take. For example you can be an Infantry Officer or you can be an Infantry NCM. The jobs, duties and responsibilities are much different whether you’re an Officer or a NCM. 

There is a ranking system in the military, which everyone follows. This basically means you can give orders or assign duties to those below you and have to follow what comes from above you. Yes you do have to follow orders, yes there are consequences if you do not follow through with what you have been told to do. Officers out rank NCM’s and can give orders to the NCM’s. (It is a relationship and needs to be highly valued and respected by all to create a high functioning team.) Higher ranking NCM’s (or NCO’s, dependent on rank) pass along orders to lower ranking NCM’s. The whole thing is a hierarchy. You follow what the guy above you told you to do. It is efficient and gets tasks done quickly when carried through correctly and planned out well.

Ok so now we’ve gone over the different branches which exist, the relationship between Officer’s and NCM’s and the idea of a ranking system.

There are many different trades and jobs you can do in the CAF. Not everyone is a sailor, infantryman or pilot. Within each branch you have specific trades and within the whole military you have general trades. For example:

  1. Infantry Officer/NCM are both part of the Army.

  2. Logistics Officer/NCM can be part of the Army, Navy or Airforce. (Everyone needs food and fuel.)

There are specialties you can work on within each of these trades. It is dependent what you want to do/what is needed at the time. Do you want to go on the reconnaissance patrols, drive a big truck or become sniper? All those require specific courses to be qualified in.

There are members of the Regular Forces or the Reserve Forces in Canada. Regular Forces work full time with the military, likely living on base. Reserve Forces work part time with the military. The Reserves are split into 4 subcomponents: the Primary Reserves, Supplementary Reserves, Cadet Organizations and Canadian Rangers. Primary Reservists train regularly a few times a month or on whatever contracts they can get. Supplementary Reserves are military members who are retired who can still serve and wish to work within the military. Cadets Organizations Administration and Training Service include youth training courses. For example, without getting in the thick of it, you can have Navy, Army or Air Force Cadets. The Canadian Rangers are individuals who work in Canada’s northern, coastal and isolated areas providing surveillance for the army and support for search and rescue.

Alright so lets just try to get this straight when you’re talking about your friend who is in the military. They belong to a branch (land, sea, air), a position and a rank (Officer i.e. Lieutenant or NCM i.e. Sergeant), a trade (Infantry, Artillery, Logistics) and they can get special courses, taskings or duties. Some people work full time, others work part time. 

Sometimes the work we do is administrative in garrison. Sometimes we work in our field with our branch. Sometimes we do ceremonies. Sometimes people go on courses. Sometimes people go on tours. There are variations and exceptions. There are people who know significantly more than I and can help explain it in different ways. Please feel free to ask your friends about what they do. 

I hope this has helped. If you would like some more information please check out the CAF website at or literally just type Canadian Armed Forces in a search engine. There is lots of good information out there if you are curious. None of us expect you to know it if all you’ve ever known is civilian life. It takes some of us several years and courses to understand it. 

There are Regular Force units out in Shilo, these include First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (1RCHA) (Gunners) and Second Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) (Infantryman). There is also a Primary Reserve unit in Brandon, 26th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA. Headquarters and logistics along with civilian employees are included as those working for/with the military.