All in a mother’s day: two toddlers plus four Signals squadrons in three provinces

Article / May 12, 2017 / Project number: 17-1010

By Devon Atherton, Army Public Affairs

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Mother’s Day honours mothers and mother figures and their influence on family and society. It has been celebrated annually on different days in more than 40 countries around the world since the 1800s.

Winnipeg, Manitoba — For Lieutenant-Colonel Jackie Janzen, mom extraordinaire and Commanding Officer of 38 Signal Regiment, being a member of the Canadian Army (CA) Reserve Force has allowed her to balance the priorities of family and dedicated service to her country.

LCol Janzen explained, “My full-time job is actually being a stay-at-home mom. Madeline is two and Elizabeth is one. They are definitely my rambunctious two. I look forward to nap times! I’m like, ‘I love you, but Mommy needs a rest.’”

During evenings, weekends and her children’s naptime, she commands 38 Signal Regiment, which has squadrons spread out across three provinces. The regiment, which is part of 38 Canadian Brigade Group, has the important task of providing communication services to Reserve units in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, as well as to international operations as needed.

LCol Janzen took command of 38 Signal Regiment on January 14, 2017. Because the regiment was formed by integrating signal squadrons in Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay in 2012, she became its second-ever commander after serving six months as deputy commanding officer.

LCol Janzen said, “For me to have remained full-time in the Reserve would not have allowed me to become a Commanding Officer (CO) of the regiment because it’s a part-time position.” For the same reason, she could not have been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel had she remained full-time.

This arrangement works very well for LCol Janzen, as having two little girls takes up a lot of her time. However, after 20 years in the CA Reserves and deployments to both Bosnia and Afghanistan, LCol Janzen has found the transition into motherhood less challenging than expected.

“It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. Being in the Army has taught me to survive with little sleep! I say that jokingly, but a lot of early military training tests how well you work under stress. You get little sleep, and I’m so used to that now that as a parent I think, what do you mean a 3 a.m. feeding … that’s nothing! I can handle that!”

“As a Commanding Officer you are responsible for every facet of the regiment – and that is unique because no other position within the regiment has the same span of responsibility,” said LCol Janzen.

In her role as CO, LCol Janzen manages the administrative coordination of 38 Signal Regiment. Among many other duties, she oversees strategic unit direction, training, personnel considerations and overall operation of the unit.

“It’s quite a challenge in terms of trying to lead a unit that is so dispersed. It’s also a lot of work. I spend a lot of time on the road, especially on weekends. But having a family is also a big responsibility – and for my husband and I, a big priority,” she stated.

“We were both late in terms of age when we started our family, and we were ready to shift gears. For me, the military will always be a priority – but I also wanted to focus on my kids. What’s great about being a Reservist is that I never had to make a choice between them.”

“I think that because I started a family later in life, the benefits now are that a lot of my heavy training and courses that I needed to take are done. I have a lot more flexibility in my Reserve schedule to be a mom and also fulfill my roles and responsibilities in the Reserve.”

LCol Janzen spends anywhere between sixteen to twenty-four hours a week doing work for her unit. However, apart from Tuesday evening parade nights and weekend commitments, she has the opportunity to choose her own schedule and work from home. She has great confidence in her leadership teams at each location to handle the day-to-day business.

LCol Janzen cautions that the commitment to being a Reservist shouldn’t be taken lightly. Although the time requirement can start out fairly minimal, LCol Janzen wants anyone considering a part-time career with the CA Reserves to know that responsibility always increases with time, experience and rank. The higher up a person moves, the greater the time commitment and workload.

“It hasn’t been easy for me, I won’t lie,” said LCol Janzen. “Especially coming into such a high responsibility position this year, not least because I have two little kids at home. It’s been stressful. I have to travel a few weekends a month because my regiment is so spread out. I often have to go to Edmonton or Kingston for conferences as well, and keeping up with training is very important.”

This has meant that for LCol Janzen, she and her husband have learned to be flexible. Her husband, Stratton Janzen, is very supportive of her commitment to the CA. A division assistant manager for a commercial construction company, he takes over on weekends when she travels, and loves the time he gets to spend with his girls. “Stratton is just unbelievably supportive. He takes care of everything when it’s his turn, and I know he’s pretty proud. It’s so nice having him in my corner like that,” she said. 

And it isn’t just her family that has been supportive of her family priorities. With Mother’s Day in mind, LCol Janzen especially wants to speak to all women out there dedicated to their careers and to being a mom.

“In my view, being a mom is one of the most rewarding things a woman can do. I applaud all women who are mothers. The family atmosphere within the Reserves can be so supportive to a parent. It’s flexible and has so many great opportunities for advancement. We’re a close family in the regiment because we have to be in this line of work – we have each other’s backs all the time.”

This environment is what makes the Reserve worth it for LCol Janzen. She said that even though being a Reservist is a very serious and important job, “that doesn’t mean the people aren’t friendly, warm and encouraging.”

“What people don’t realize is that the Army isn’t just this big faceless organization like they may think. We’re all people – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters – and we’re working to serve and protect Canadians. If you’re a mother and you’re thinking about joining the Reserves, I truly support you whole-heartedly.”

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