Jennifer Armstrong-Lehman has made history as the first woman assigned to the position of honorary colonel of Canadian Forces Base Borden.
“It’s a huge honour and it’s certainly a milestone. There have been senior honorary colonels on the base (before), I’m just the first female honorary colonel for the base,” said Armstrong-Lehman, mentioning Hon.-Col. Renee van Kessel, who is currently on the base, and former Barrie mayor Janice Laking.
“I really want to recognize the women who have gone before,” she said. “I think what’s important is that our governing structures have a diversity of people in them and, by doing so, we have a better government in general.
“When we have a government structure that better reflects the make up of our society, it’s better all around.”
Armstrong-Lehman has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in international relations. After graduation, she joined the Department of National Affairs and Trade as a foreign services officer.
She was posted to the Canadian mission to the United Nations in New York City, spending almost a year there working on various files, specifically as part of a team focusing on debates during the second Iraq War.
Armstrong-Lehman is also a fixture of the Barrie community, as founder of Politics for Women, a group that aims to get more women interested in municipal, provincial and federal politics in the city, and as the wife of Mayor Jeff Lehman.
“I’ve always been interested in international relations,” said Armstrong-Lehman. “I took politics and world issues when I was in high school, and was always really curious about how countries relate, how they make decisions, how they go from being friends, to fighting, to going back to being allies again.
“During my university degree, I was particularly interested in Europe as they went through centuries of war, ending up coming together to form the European Union. Looking at, how does that work and why does that work?”
Armstrong-Lehman was contacted last year by officials from CFB Borden, which is located about 20 minutes west of Barrie, to see if she had interest in the position.
“I was hugely honoured to be asked,” she said, adding the application process commenced after she expressed interest.
She said she found out she had been awarded the position in the fall by the Minister of National Defence, but had to keep it under her hat until now to allow for the planning of the ceremony to hand over the reins from Hon.-Col. Jamie Massie, a well-known Barrie businessman.
“I’m inspired by the amazing accomplishments that Hon.-Col. Massie has achieved over the past 10 years,” said Armstrong-Lehman, pointing to the Borden Legacy Project, the memorial wall and the urn at Memorial Square in downtown Barrie as examples.
“He also started Operation Hero, a scholarship program. There’s so many things he’s done," she added. "I’m going to use what he’s done as an inspiration.”
Armstrong-Lehman says her first challenge will be learning as much as she can about the needs of the base before making decisions about what she wants to do in the position.
“The role is to represent the members of the unit or base to their surrounding communities. It’s a little bit of an ambassador (role), fostering the decorum of the members, honouring the history and traditions, sharing the stories of your unit or base with the surrounding communities and engaging with those communities to ensure those linkages... are strong,” she said.
“I’m hugely honoured and privileged to have this opportunity to put my skills and abilities to support the base, and I’m looking forward to helping to tell the stories of the base and connect it to the surrounding communities the best I can.”