For very good reasons, all members of the Canadian Army (CA) must pass a visual acuity test as part of their medical requirements for enrolment. Fortunately in Capt. Rehan Ahmad’s case, this need to see at a pre-defined level proved to be a temporary barrier to a career in the Canadian Army.
“I wanted to be in the army since I was a kid but I had really bad eyes. It wasn’t until technology caught up [with this challenge] and I had them fixed that joining was an option,” explained the Regular Force officer, who had the lenses of his eyes surgically replaced to improve his vision.
In 2004, fresh from the completion of a degree in mathematics from Dalhousie University, job seeking Ahmad faced a sudden drop in demand for workers in his field after the high-tech crash in the early 2000s.
This challenge, along with his newly improved vision, had Ahmad, at the age of 42, reclaiming his youthful dream of joining the CA.
“A friend of mine suggested that I apply to become a CELE [Communications and Electronics Engineering Officer], which is with the Royal Canadian Air Force, but the recruitment officer recommended that I consider the Army Signal Officer trade. And that is what I am now,” said Ahmad, who is an Information Systems Security Officer with the Canadian Forces Health Services Group in Ottawa. It was an easy decision for Ahmad, despite his unusual entry age.
“I joined rather late and turned 43 during basic training. While I did injure myself once, trying to keep up with 20-year-old recruits, my age only became an issue on my actual birthday. The sergeant asked if anyone had a birthday coming up. I remained silent but one fellow volunteered that he was turning 22. So, we were assigned 22 push-ups to do. All I could think while I was doing those push-ups, was that I was so glad that I was not doing 43,” he laughed.
With a lot of life experience under his belt prior to becoming a signal officer, Ahmad has no trouble finding the positives that came with his career change. “There are so many things that I enjoy: the challenge, the opportunity for doing stuff that other people consider cool. Just going through Basic Training means that I have completed something that 90 percent of the country has not.”
His enthusiasm does not end there. “I have driven in an armoured vehicle. My head has stuck out of a tank. I fire weapons. All these things are regular occurrences in the Army that I would never be able to do as a civilian.”
While using typical CA equipment occurs during his training operations, most days Ahmad’s collection of tools, as a Signal Officer, are electronic in nature. “I am responsible for assisting our health services personnel with ensuring the security of medical information. This means I am mostly involved with the overarching security of the system.
Born in Pakistan, Ahmad and his family immigrated to Canada and settled first in Yorkton, Saskatchewan for several years before moving to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Both sides of his extended family, through his Pakistani father and Indian mother, have military ties. “There are cousins in the Pakistan Army and more cousins and uncles in the Indian Navy and Air Force.”
Ahmad has a theory about the CA as an employer ─ one that he has found provides equal opportunities for all. “Now, whenever I am doing something and people are judging me, it is not on the colour of my skin or my gender, but on how I am doing my job. Personally, I have dealt with very little racism in the Army compared to my civilian life. I am very proud of that.”
In fact, new eye lenses or not, Ahmad sees colour when he looks around the Canadian Army in a way that he didn’t during his first years as a child in Canada.
“My brother and I were the only two brown boys in the school in those days.”