Military Police Commander achieves another first

Article / November 9, 2017 / Project number: 17-0344

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — There are several notable aspects to the career of Lieutenant-Colonel Vanessa Hanrahan: The native Newfoundlander was half of the first female command team to lead a Canadian Army (CA) Military Police Regiment – and now she is marking one year in the role of Commander, Canadian Army Military Police Group – another first for a female CA member.

In conversation, however, LCol Hanrahan is far keener to talk about other CA officers who provided mentorship that helped her reach the upper echelons of military policing.

In the following interview, she discusses those who have inspired her, the experience of serving in Afghanistan, and being more than just a picture on the wall when you are a leader.

When did you decide military policing was the career for you?

I actually started at St. Mary’s University in Halifax wanting to join the RCMP. I’d been a naval cadet in Newfoundland and in my second year of university, I decided I wanted to do something with the military again. So I joined what was then the Communications Reserve.

The year I was set to graduate, I actually started enquiring as to what I could do in the military that would involve policing. I actually spent an entire day following a military police officer in Halifax and I applied. About four months later I was accepted so I graduated and came in as a military police officer in an Army uniform.

Where did your interest in law enforcement come from?

I have only one person in my family who was in the military and no one in policing. I think it was just seeing the RCMP around town. I lived in a small community that they police.

They were  positive role models for me and, in essence, I got to combine two things that I really enjoy, which is the military way of life and policing. So I got the best of both worlds. I get to work a lot with civilian police and I really enjoy those interactions.

What were the earliest days of your career like?

Because I came in as an officer, I didn’t have to serve in a patrol car. My first posting was here in Ottawa in 2000 and it was my choice to go out and spend some weekends over a period of six months learning what everyone does on patrol – because it’s very easy to sit in your office and make decisions about what people were doing at 4 o’clock in the morning but if you don’t understand the dynamics you don’t necessarily see it from their point of view.

You were involved in training and mentoring Afghan National Police members in 2010 and 2011. Please describe that experience.

I worked directly with Brigadier General Nasrullah Zarifi, the Afghan National Police officer responsible for training in Kandahar Province. There were lots of questions posed about whether he would even work with me. We didn’t know how that dynamic would play out but it worked out really well. He was quite a forward thinker. He was very open, very quick to embrace me and that allowed all of his staff to quickly embrace me. And I think it opened a wider dialogue about the role of women.

What are your other career highlights to date?

One of the biggest for me as a major was commanding 2 Military Police Regiment out of Toronto. What made it really interesting was, I had a female Regimental Sergeant Major: Master Warrant Officer Annie Andrews. We were the first female command team in a military police regiment.

I had just come out of Afghanistan to take over that regiment and went from a 40-person team to leading over 300 people. How do you make sure you’re not just a picture on a wall? How do you make sure they know you have their best interests in mind? I think that’s where I truly learned how to command from a distance because that’s sometimes what it takes. The lessons I took out of that I’ve carried with me ever since.

Can you speak to your experience as a woman in the CA?

I think I’ve been quite fortunate. I’ve never once had someone say to me, ‘I don’t think you can do it because you’re a woman.’ General Patricia Samson led the Canadian Forces Military Police Group in 2000 when I joined. And Colonel Dorothy Cooper replaced her. Col Cooper has since retired and I still see her regularly. She’s been a great influence. She believes you can do whatever you want – that the only thing that limits you is you. She’s right.

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