Major Sarah Heer’s almost twenty-year career in the CAF can be categorized as both accomplished and momentous. This one time CAF athlete of the year has led troops in war zones and times of natural disasters as an artillery officer.
As a young competitive swimmer, joining the military was a natural next step for the young, ambitious athlete. In June of 1997, Heer decided to join the CAF and attend the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston.
Less than a year after joining, Heer was heading off to Rome, Italy with team Canada for the World Military Games. She returned home with a bronze medal and was named the CAF Female Athlete of the year in 1998.
“It was pretty overwhelming. The CAF is full of incredible athletes, so I felt very fortunate to win that award,” recalled Heer.
While tackling the world in competitive swimming, Heer continued her training as an infantry officer. Then, wanting a greater challenge, she later switched to artillery officer.
“I really enjoyed that involved both physical and mental aspects of the job, so I stayed in that trade and was happy in it,” said Heer.
Upon graduating from RMC, Heer was posted to Petawawa with the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Over the course of her career, she’s been posted to Petawawa on several occasions, Toronto and is currently serving in Ottawa.
Heer has been sent on three deployments. From 2003-2004, she was deployed to Afghanistan for six months. Stationed in Kabul, Heer was responsible for close to 30 soldiers and three LG1 howitzers. She recalls that the operation opened her eyes and allowed her to put in practice the training she had acquired. She also worked as a duty officer in the tactical operations centre.
“I felt very honoured to be there representing Canada and serving our country, and I was especially honoured to lead soldiers in that environment…just the experience itself and the camaraderie with that group of officers and soldiers is something that will stay with me forever,” noted Heer.
Heer also deployed on two disaster relief missions as the operations officer with DART. In January of 2005, she was sent to Sri Lanka and in 2009 to Haiti. The deployments involved coordinating tasks and coordinating with NGOs.
“What struck me was how much of a need there was there,” recalled Heer.
Heer’s deployment to Haiti had an added personal dynamic for her, it was the first time she’d left behind her two children.
“It allowed me to see, although it was difficult to leave them, that I was very fortunate that I could do it, and I could deploy, and my kids were okay, and they were proud of what I was doing as well,” noted Heer.
Over the course of her career, Heer has grown comfortable with her role as a leader and has found her place within the CAF, something she’s had to learn over the years.
“Somebody once gave me the advice that just be yourself. Once I sort of came to my own and established this is who I am, and this is the type of leader I’m going to be, things got a lot easier for me, and I was a lot more comfortable in the positions I was in. You have to face each position like it’s a challenge and try to do your best at it, and that is what I’ve always tried to do,” stated Heer.
The first women for Artillery Career Manager, Heer believes that being in the CAF is an exciting opportunity whether you are a male or female.
“Being in the artillery, or even being in the CAF, it’s been an incredible opportunity for me. Regardless of your background, race, or gender it’s an organization that offers an exciting and challenging career. For me it’s always been about being able to serve my country…for me, the CAF has offered me the chance to see the world whether it’s through deployments, exercise courses or different conferences and seminars I go to. But I also feel extremely fortunate that I am in a position where I get to lead soldiers both here in Canada and on operations. So, I just think the CAF is an incredible opportunity for men and women, and I’m very proud to be an artillery officer in this organization,” said Heer.
Heer advises other women, new to their military career, to be true to themselves while achieving anything they set their mind to.