LGBTQ advisor has both military and Asian roots

Article / May 4, 2017 / Project number: 17-0112

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By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

May, which is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, is a time to celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Canadians of Asian Heritage who have helped shape the diverse and prosperous country that is Canada today. This is one in a series of articles on Canadian Army members of Asian heritage.

Edmonton, Alberta — Captain Matthew Hou is an ambitious 29-year-old soldier who joined the Canadian Army Regular Force in 2006 at the age of 17 and has accomplished quite a lot in just 11 years.

Capt Hou has attained a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), a Master’s in Public Administration from the American Military University and a Master’s of Science from Boston University, on top of ongoing Army qualification courses and a rotation in Afghanistan in 2013 with Operation ATTENTION as a logistics mentor to the Afghan National Army.

“I completed some of the courses for one of the degrees while I was overseas in Afghanistan. It helped that the material was directly applicable to improving security in a dangerous place,” he said.

Capt Hou is currently posted at 3rd Canadian Division headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta, where he serves as a logistics supply officer, officially known in “Army-speak” as G4/J4 Supply, 3rd Canadian Division Headquarters / Headquarters Joint Task Force West.

“What I do is essentially develop policy and monitor requirements in western Canada for the Army and my team’s job is to ensure the soldiers who are working in the warehouses get the right supplies at the right time,” he explained.

“I think it’s a great way to contribute planning skills, to be able to think on your feet, and also to be a soldier,” he continued, noting that all members are trained as soldiers, even if their day jobs are mostly inside work.

“I think as a leader at any rank, the most rewarding aspect is leading a team and having a positive influence on operations. The output is way better than the sum of its parts,” said Capt Hou.

His various other postings were with 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton and 1 Service Battalion, also in Edmonton. “What I consider home is 1 Service Battalion. It’s a logistics unit and the home station for Army logisticians in Western Canada.”

Capt Hou’s next stop is a posting in Ottawa with the office of Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) in July 2017.

He is also the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) advisor for 3rd Canadian Division in support of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Operation HONOUR. Its mission is to eliminate harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian military.

Capt Hou, who identifies as gay, was the organizer of the first Canadian Armed Forces’ entry in Edmonton’s Pride Parade in 2013. He has been involved each year since.

In regard to personal racial and gender issues in the Army, he said, “I have also been asked if being gay has been a barrier to being part of the team and no, I have not had an issue.”

He spoke with pride about how his team supported him with the parade entry. “That was amazing because my boss and some of my coworkers at the infantry battalion – which might be seen as an organization that has more barriers to being different –  those, my straight allies, were the ones who said, ‘hey, I want to show up and be part of what you’re doing. I believe in what you are doing and I want to support a member of the team.”

“So, no big issues in terms of sexual orientation or ethnicity, absolutely not. There are some social issues that are challenging as an organization but the leadership and resources are the main way we overcome those issues,” he said, citing Operation HONOUR as an example.

“I have bad days like anybody has, but what I really love about Canada and our Forces is if you really want to do something, be somebody, you can do it. We don’t have barriers any more based on who you are and I think that’s amazing because not a lot of the world is like that.” 

Capt Hou joined the Army in Vancouver in 2006 and when it came time to choose a university, RMC was the clear winner. “RMC was incredibly appealing to me: the four pillars: academics, athletics, bilingualism and leadership. It was a university experience that was so different from McGill where I was also accepted,” he said.

Another reason for his interest in RMC and the Army in general was a family connection: his uncle, Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Yung Jin Hou. “My uncle was the first Korean-Canadian to graduate from RMC in the late 80s. He’s very modest about it,” he said. “He retired after serving as a signals officer for over three decades. He continues to work as a public servant contributing his significant experience to the federal government,” he added.

He has other family members in the Korean military, including a still-serving uncle on his mother’s side who is a general in the South Korean Army. “He deals with north-south relations and it is really a very intense job because of the constant threat.”

In addition, he noted, “My mom’s dad was also in the South Korean military; he retired as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 1980s.”

His paternal grandfather served in the Korean War and he became a Korean Veterans’ Association member in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario after immigrating in the 1960s.  Serving as a sergeant in the South Korean Army, Capt Hou’s grandfather, a first generation immigrant, is very proud of his family’s subsequent generations who have served in the Canadian Army.

Although it may have seemed inevitable, Capt Hou said, “There wasn’t any family pressure. It was entirely my choice, but just by having the exposure, I think it was great to have people who already served.”

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Capt Hou began his travels early. “My nuclear family moved out to BC when I was very young and that’s essentially home for me,” he said.

His paternal grandparents immigrated to Canada from South Korea when his father was just 13 years old. Capt Hou said they were trail-blazers, being one of the first Korean-Canadian families in Kitchener-Waterloo. His dad found himself the only Korean child and one of only three people of colour in a sea of mainly German descendants during middle school.

Capt Hou spoke with humour about his family’s immigrant experience, saying that ethnic food was a big concern, as was the desire to assimilate.

“My grandfather said, ‘we are not going to eat Korean food, we are going to eat Canadian food,’ which meant German and Mennonite food, like sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes, in 1960s Kitchener-Waterloo. But after about a week of that, they said, ‘we can’t do this, we get headaches without kimchi’” he laughed.

They had to travel to Toronto to get Korean groceries. “Immigration today is completely different; they were essentially pioneers,” he said.

Capt Hou’s cross-cultural experiences stood him in good stead during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2013. As a mentor to Afghan senior logistics officers, stationed in Kabul, he contributed to Canada’s last rotation in Afghanistan.

“I was at the Kabul Military Training Centre – it is Afghanistan’s largest military training organization. It was an amazing place. The throughput at that base was mind-blowing with roughly 4,000 recruits a month and up to 25,000 in training every day, because they are fighting a war. These numbers are mind-boggling for Canada where we are a 68,000-member Regular Force.”

“The challenge there was, as part of the cultural training, we were made aware that in Afghanistan it was very much about developing a relationship first and then you get the job done. It was about investing time, showing up and having a lot of chats about personal life, having tea,” he noted.

“The Afghans are very much about being a full person at work, which is not the way we always do it in Canada. We largely separate work from personal life. I took that as a great learning experience, and I try to apply that to my work and life,” he said.

Capt Hou gave two examples of where his team was able to make a difference: one with regard to vehicle maintenance and one with soldiers’ laundry services. Since this deployment was three months in length, quick solutions were needed.

Said Capt Hou, “The important thing is to have local solutions to local problems, not to have Canadian solutions to local problems.”

“At that base they were tracking vehicle usability and serviceability with books, by hand,” he said. It was a satisfying achievement for Capt Hou and his team to get that maintenance information onto a computer using software that was easily taught in the time available, unlike the more complicated spreadsheet software that would more likely be used in Canada.

Another challenge they had was that although NATO had provided industrial-sized laundry equipment to the base, it was not set up, nor was training in place. “They had thousands of soldiers and they were all scrubbing their uniforms by hand in their limited spare time,” he said. It was having an effect on basic training because they were not resting as they should have been.

“By the end of the tour, we were able to close that gap.” He said it had a great tactical effect because there was much wasted time, water and soap, with poor cleanliness in spite of it all.

“This is what I love about logistics. Especially, even at the strategic level, when you’re planning policy, in the back of your mind there is always an effect on the ground that we know will directly impact soldiers.”

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