With a tired smile, Melissa Whitney watches her eldest son play in the front yard.
“Look mom, I’m opening the door,” Keegan, 5, calls gleefully to her, twisting the handle of the front door lying on the front lawn.
Movers arrived at the breakfast hour, first removing the door from the Whitney family home in the Work Point military housing community in Esquimalt, before beginning the day-long job of loading boxes of personal belongings, beds and appliances onto a nearby moving truck.
Another moving truck is parked farther down the street, a telltale sign that military posting season – which heats up across Canada every summer – is in full swing at CFB Esquimalt.
Melissa’s husband, Master Cpl. Rob Whitney, is one of 14,300 Canadian Forces members, including about 1,150 from CFB Esquimalt, who will continue with their careers at another base, at home or abroad, this fiscal year.
The Whitneys are headed to CFB Suffield, near Medicine Hat, Alta., after a five-year posting to CFB Esquimalt, where Rob worked as a land communications and information systems technician.
Rob’s third posting allows Melissa and their sons, Keegan, and Luka, 3, to move closer to family.
“Change is always good,” says Melissa, the daughter of a British army medic father who spent much of his career on the move. “I don’t understand how people can be in the same house, in the same town for years and years and years. I crave change.”
Many military members view their career more as a lifestyle than just a source of income. Part of working for the Canadian military often means relocating for training purposes or filling positions left vacant by members who have been promoted to the next rank, or who are retiring or leaving the military.
“The whole focus of the military is having the right member in the right position at the right time,” says Chief Warrant Officer Cate Gaudet, who works within CFB Esquimalt’s administration branch, which includes the base orderly room where the files of posted members are managed. “Each position has very specific requirements.”
That means big change for families.
To help, the Esquimalt Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) launched an e-tool in February called Navigating Your Move. It offers a detailed, step-by-step explanation of what to expect during a move, possible challenges and a relocation checklist, among other links.
“It’s set up like a road map, so it’s like your journey through your move, from the time you get your posting message to the time you unpack your house in the new location,” says Colleen Cahoon, co-ordinator of FamilyNavigator.ca, the website that hosts the e-tool.
The website was launched by the Esquimalt MFRC seven years ago and today provides a list of services offered near or at each Canadian base, from housing, medical care and eldercare to special needs, child care and education.
“The problem for military families is that there isn’t consistency (in available services) from province to province,” Cahoon says. “Each family is different and they each have different needs once they get to the new place.”
Like many military spouses, Jennifer Campbell faced her move by first walking in to her MFRC in Greenwood, N.S. for an information package on CFB Esquimalt. She also went there for resources on how to help her shy daughter with the change ahead.
Jennifer’s husband, Cpl. Troy Campbell, is an air force firefighter who has been posted from CFB Greenwood to a ship at the West Coast naval base. The couple, their seven-year-old son, Michael, and daughter Belle, 4, are crossing Canada to begin their new life at the Belmont Park military family housing community in Colwood.
“It helped us check off some things on our list,” Jennifer says of using MFRC services. “For me as a wife and a mother of two small kids, I want to know where the school is, where the hospital is.”
When the couple came here on their house-hunting trip in June, they made sure to visit the MFRC in Colwood.
“We stopped in to get information on a list of doctors and dentists, because I guess doctors are like a gold mine to find,” says Jennifer, who had never travelled west of Ontario before her house-hunting trip. “I like that they had the 24-hour (info) phone line … especially now going without any family around.”
Staff at 32 MFRCs across Canada play a pivotal role in enhancing the quality of life for families, arming them with information that can help them settle in their new city, among other services.
“It’s that whole starting over each time you move. It’s hard for everybody,” says Mary Lou Climenhaga, the Esquimalt MFRC’s community integration and information and referral co-ordinator.
Despite the unknowns the Campbells had to navigate before leaving Greenwood, they remain excited about the future and life in Greater Victoria – for the most part.
“We can’t wait to get there. It’s just absolutely gorgeous,” Jennifer says. “The only sad part is leaving family.”
For Master Cpl. Whitney, postings are about much more than a career opportunity, and saying goodbye.
“It’s the mentality of ‘Oh, I’ll see you down the road,’” he says. “Technically, the military’s a small city, so I’ll run into people five, 10 years from now that I’ll still be good friends with.”