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St. Albert soldier takes command

Brig.-Gen. Fletcher leads 3rd Canadian Division
2608 FletcherProfile 1235 km
THE BIG BOSS — Brig.-Gen. William Fletcher, shown here at CFB Edmonton, assumed command of the 3rd Canadian Division Aug. 14. The St. Albert resident has had a storied military career, and was the second person ever to receive the Star of Military Valour. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert’s Bill Fletcher was probably born a soldier.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” the brigadier-general said recently in his office at CFB Edmonton.

“I have a vivid memory of my father out here (at the base) jumping out of an airplane,” he said, recalling a family fun event from when he was a toddler.

“Ever since then, I wanted to jump out of an airplane.”

Fletcher grew up, joined the army and was awarded Canada’s second-highest honour for military valour for his courageous leadership in Afghanistan.

Now, after a two-year absence, Fletcher has come back to St. Albert and CFB Edmonton as one of the highest-ranked officials in Canada’s army and commander of some 13,000 soldiers in western Canada.

Brig.-Gen. William H. Fletcher became the commander of the 3rd Canadian Division and Joint Task Force (West) on Aug. 14. It is his job to oversee the training of Canada’s soldiers and to lead them in any domestic emergency west of Ontario.

“He’s in a position now of tremendous responsibility,” said Nick Grimshaw, a long-time friend who served alongside Fletcher.

Fish, knives and wrestling

Fletcher, 48, was still setting up his office when the Gazette spoke with him on Aug. 20. Already on display were his collection of vintage combat knives and a sort of zombie redcoat bobble-head figure – a reference to his love of the band Iron Maiden.

Fletcher joined the military in 1989 as a member of the 762 (Reserve) Electronic Warfare Squadron. His father, Bill (himself a soldier), insisted his son try a non-combat role, as he knew he would like shooting guns.

“Radio was fascinating, but then they gave me a machine gun, and that was probably their biggest mistake,” Fletcher joked.

“There was no going back after that.”

Fletcher has everything you need in a capable leader, said Malcolm Bruce, who served with the man for 20 years and now runs Edmonton Global – he is driven, capable and fun.

“He’ll be one of those guys that shows up at three o’clock in the morning at the operational post,” he said, because he wants to understand what life is like for his troops.

Fletcher is also an honorary Newfoundlander, having completed the “screech in” ritual (a rite that involves drinking rum, wearing a silly hat and kissing a fish) under his supervision.

“He has an affinity for fish, let’s just say,” Bruce said.

Grimshaw described Fletcher as a very down-to-earth family man who works hard and plays hard – a bit too hard, in the case of rugby, as he could rarely finish a game without getting injured. He is also a pro-wrestling fanatic, and would sometimes try to pull off WWE moves – moves he could rarely finish without getting injured.

“He probably has a belt somewhere, a wrestling belt that he brings out on occasion, and probably a Mexican wrestling mask,” Grimshaw joked.

Courageous commander

Fletcher served with peacekeeping forces in Bosnia before deploying to Afghanistan in 2006 as a major.

As commander of C Company, Fletcher led his soldiers through storms of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades as they assaulted heavily defended positions. On at least two occasions, soldiers at his side were cut down by enemy fire, and he stopped to give them first aid before returning to the fight.

Fletcher’s repeated acts of bravery earned him the Star of Military Valour in 2006 – Canada’s second highest award for wartime bravery. He was the second person in history to receive it.

“It’s still part of who I am,” Fletcher said of his time in Afghanistan – he has a picture of C Company on his office wall, and is still in touch with many of its members.

Fletcher rose through the ranks in subsequent years, leading the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. His most recent job saw him serve as deputy commanding general of operations with the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg as part of an exchange program.

Fletcher said he was struck by the similarities between the Canadian and U.S. armies – the Americans had many more troops, but like Canada were shifting back to conventional warfare from the asymmetric fights of the last decade.

Fletcher’s current opponent is the pandemic. Fletcher said his troops have scaled back training exercises and implemented safety measures to slow the spread, and have about 2,000 people on standby for emergency deployment.

Bruce said Fletcher is now one of the most decorated officers in the Canadian Forces, and would bring drive, commitment and strategic thinking to the 3rd Division.

“He’ll make sure (the Canadian Forces) are ready for whatever task the Government of Canada may need.”

Fletcher said coming back to St. Albert after two years was like coming home, adding the first thing he and his family did when they returned from the U.S. was visit a Tim Hortons.

“It’s been a very comfortable landing for us. We’re really, really happy to be back.”

Fletcher said he is a long way from retirement, and hopes to continue as a soldier with the support of his wife and two kids.

“I love what I’m doing, and the day I don’t is the day I’ll leave.”


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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