12203 Ray Mackley and Claude Scilley nostalgic talking about the old days

NB The following article is from an interview conducted by Claude Scilley, formerly a journalist with the Kingston Whig-Standard, and published in the eVeritas in May 2015. The banner photo is from the 25th Reunion, with Ray and Manja, along with Pete Avis, Mark Sellars, and Tom Keogh.

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By CLAUDE SCILLEY

 Within the branches of the Canadian Forces, the functions of a military logistics officer are fairly homogeneous and transferable.

“The procurement, the contracting, the supply chain types of things are very similar,” 12203 Ray Mackley says. A career Air Force officer, at one point, Mackley even found himself responsible for the initial provisioning for Army projects. “Back then, as a logistics officer you were seen more as purple in colour; you weren’t light blue or dark blue or green like the Army.

“Logistics folks were used to being put in different environments.”

Every now and then, though, a head-scratcher comes your way. “For 39 years I was either in the Air Force or supporting the Air Force,” Mackley explained from his Gatineau, Que., office, where, as a civilian, he now oversees a staff of about 120 as the director of maritime procurement, supporting the Navy. There’s a Navy culture and a Navy jargon, he said, that, even after almost four decades in the field, left him with a thing or two to learn.

“I remember one of the very first meetings, they were talking about all these train wrecks in Halifax, and I’m going, ‘Train wrecks? What the heck? Have they moved the railroad line right next to the jetty? Is that how they’re loading ships now?’” Mackley made a mental note to learn more about these train wrecks.

“It turns out that’s the navy’s term for when you have to cannibalize a part from another piece of equipment,” he said. “It’s called a Tran Rec, for transfer requisition, but they just call them ‘train wrecks.’

“Meanwhile, here’s the Air Force guy, trying to picture in his mind the CN rail line running right next to the ship, and coming off the track and running into the ship and I’m thinking, ‘What? Why isn’t this big news? Why wouldn’t this be on The National?’”

That he would ever have to know such an obscure bit of naval slang never occurred to a young Ray Mackley as he grew up in Lethbridge, Alta. That’s because, as he now says, “we didn’t know anything about the military.”

Mackley was bound for pre-med studies at the University of Alberta in the spring of 1975, and his twin brother, John, was planning to attend the University of Lethbridge to study physical education when the recruiter came to enlist not either of the boys, but their father.

“Our father was the guidance counsellor at the high school,” Mackley explained. “The Canadian Forces decided at that time to take guidance counsellors on a tour of the military colleges to see if they could encourage them to recommend, to graduating high school students, to consider the military colleges as a possible choice.

“That’s how, very late in our senior high school year, all of a sudden all plans were off for us and we were going to RMC in Kingston. We were a little bit nervous, not knowing anything about it, but from the description that our dad had given us of the area, of Kingston as a city, the college grounds, how everybody’s running everywhere, and all the sports you get to play, we were pretty excited.

“It’s funny. We received dry-land training workout packages from the football and basketball coaches before we got any word about whether we were going to be accepted. They beat the recruiting branch to the punch. It was pretty funny.”

The Mackley brothers both made it to RMC in August of 1975.

“We’d been used to playing on all kinds of sports teams all our lives,” Ray said, “and we saw the military as just a bigger type of a team. The sports and the military are a lot alike: people doing things together to achieve a goal. It didn’t seem to us to be that big a shift from what we were used to.”

The month-long recruit camp may not have been that big a shift, but there were a couple of things that took some getting used to.

“It was pretty intensive,” Mackley said. “Back then they take you right from high school and … it was quite a shock. We were busy running everywhere, learning how to march, polishing shoes, pressing uniforms.

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“You’re just learning the other dozen or so guys in your recruit flight by name and then it comes your squadron’s turn to get a haircut. Back in the seventies most of us had longer hair, so there was quite a difference between what a guy looked like with long hair and short hair in some instances. About three quarters of them, you had to learn all over again, what they looked like.”

At the time, basketball teams in the Ontario University Athletics Association weren’t permitted to practice until mid-October.  Mackley, a 6-1 point guard, and his brother, a 6-3 shooting forward, both made the team and, they were told by coach Ken Harvey, it was the first year two freshmen had ever started on RMC’s varsity basketball team.

The first game that year was at Queen’s. “We had the entire cadet wing come over to watch the game. It was a very close game but right at the buzzer my brother, John, sank a jump shot. The headline in the sports section the next day was ‘Johnny’s jumper sinks Golden Gaels.’

“We didn’t win a lot of games in the OUAA but there was some extra motivation for the cross-own rival and having the whole cadet wing there to cheer was pretty special.” Mackley said the Redmen never lost to Queen’s in his four years at RMC.

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Caption (right) – During his time at RMC the guys rarely called him Ray – it was always: “Dr. Ray”, or “Doctor” or “The Doc”. This was because the biggest basketball star back then was “Dr. J” – Julius Erving. In 1979, the editor of the school’s newspaper, ‘The Arch”, approached Ray about an idea he had for a sports article. Ray would dress up like some guy with his PhD, complete with suit, briefcase, and hat – palming a basketball. (Ed note: Very nicely done!)

An economics and commerce student, Mackley went on to be a logistics officer, specializing in such things as procurement, supply-chain management and acquisition. His first two postings were at Portage La Prairie, Man., and Moose Jaw, Sask. He was then posted to Sioux Lookout, north of Dryden, Ont., one of a string of stations through the central prairies and northern Ontario and Quebec that was known as the Pine Tree Line.

“My new wife and I were driving up that barely-more-than-a-gravel road north of the Trans Canada. The further and further we went, the more we were looking at each other, going, ‘Uh-oh, what have we gotten ourselves into?’ but that turned out to be such a fantastic posting.

“It was a really great job, because you had the vehicle maintenance folks, you had transport folks; you had Canex, the retail store; supply and food services—it was really a great all-around job. You were a big fish in a little pond.”

Four years later, Mackley was the commanding officer when the station closed. “I still have the station flag,” he said, a keepsake of the military tradition that when a unit is demobilized, the last commanding officer keeps its flag.

Mackley recalled Sioux Lookout as almost idyllic.

“It was such a tight-knit community, such a small town, great outdoors; you got to play all the sports and enjoy the wilderness. And the lakes? The water’s crystal clear.

“The real shocker was getting stationed from there to Ottawa. You went from being a big fish in a little pond to being a tiny little guppy in an ocean. When I was at the radar station, back then you had a secretary taking dictation from you, I had a staff car, people saluting the flag on the staff car. When I got to headquarters in Ottawa, there were guys two and three ranks higher than me standing in line at the photocopy machine.

“I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. That was a shock.”

In Ottawa, Mackley worked in Foreign Military Sales, working with the U.S. Defense Department to procure equipment. From there he was posted to a NATO Air Force base in Germany, and then he subsequently won a competition to take a civilian job in the Netherlands where he was responsible for establishing the management agency that was responsible for acquiring and organizing NATO’s fleet of AWACS aircraft. He spent eight years in Holland, the country where his wife was born.

“I just loved it,” said Mackley, who was again active in basketball, not only playing, but coaching a women’s team and a team of teenage boys. “Eight years in the Netherlands, my Dutch got pretty good,” he said. “The 14-, 15-year-old boys taught me a lot of the Dutch swear words. It was pretty funny.”

Mackley is asked whether he ever reflects on his time at the college.

“All the time,” he said. “It was a fantastic experience. It was very challenging going from being one of the brighter kids at your high school to being just an ordinary guy at military college. There were a lot of smart guys around.

“It was a big change for a guy from a smaller prairie town. I was only 17 … and going to downtown Toronto, playing U of T or Ryerson, and you’re walking down Yonge Street—it was special for me.”

In addition to his memory of his first intercollegiate game against Queen’s, Mackley harbours one other special recollection from his rookie season. “I have a memory of being knocked unconscious three times in my first year, running into kneecaps,” he said, explaining. “There were some big players in that league.

“I also remember, when you’d come to on the floor, and look over at the bench and everyone is kind of laughing, and when you’d get back, coach would say, ‘How you feeling? OK? Get back in there.’”

Mostly, though, the memories are fond ones.

“The fourth-years gave you a hard time razzing you, but they certainly looked after your best interests on those trips. It made the military college a lot easier to deal with, because you had that escape for sports, and it was something with which you were intimately familiar.

“When you’re playing basketball, on the court, it doesn’t matter whether you’re at a civilian university or a military university, it’s all the same. It’s what you were used to. It was a sanctuary, plus you got to leave the college on those road trips. It made things a lot better.

“Whenever you go through difficult times together, you really forge a camaraderie. Sports teams are like that. People that played sports certainly had an advantage heading into the military college environment, working as a team, through difficult things, achieving challenging things together.”

Mackley took off the uniform in 2007, retiring as a major. Since he left the service to take the civilian NATO job, he had to start climbing the ladder all over again. “I reached major by the time I was 30, but when came back in 2002 I had to start over. I reached major twice.”

Mackley lives in Ottawa with his wife, Manja. A son, Glenn, is a constable at Queen’s Park and they have two grandchildren. John Mackley left RMC after second year; he later completed a phys-ed degree at Lethbridge and ended up in the oil business in Calgary.

As a logistics officer, Mackley conceded it’s not always easy being the guy who has to sharpen the pencil and figure out ways to make do with less. “There were cycles,” he said, in a job that could be both frustrating and rewarding.

“You could let it frustrate you but there were some challenges and you could come away from your job at night knowing you worked hard and made sure the best possible work was done with the fewer resources that you had.”