It’s been 25 years since the infamous picture of Capt. Sandra Perron tied to a tree, in the snow, as part of a brutal training exercise, splashed front pages across Canada, and internationally.
Now, Perron is opening up about her experiences in the military and the challenges she faced as the first female infantry officer of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in her new book: Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada’s First Female Infantry Officer.
“It was very hard because I had to revisit a time in my life where I was torn between loving doing something that I’ve wanted to do all my life, all my teenage years, and going through such difficult periods of harassment and abuse and being rejected by the organization that I so desperately wanted to belong to,” said Perron.
Perron had a passion for the military from a young age and, in fact, grew up as a military brat with her father being a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Perron joined the cadets as a teen.
“I knew from the get-go that was the kind of career I wanted to have. I loved the physical aspects, the leadership, the mentoring, the coaching and the adventures we had as cadets,” recalled Perron.
She joined the military as a logistics officer, but when the combat arms were opened to women in 1989, Perron reclassified as infantry.
After making the career switch, Perron did two tours in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. She recalls the most memorable part of these tours was the connection she felt with her troops.
For Perron, being the first female infantry officer didn’t matter as much as fulfilling her lifelong passion.
“I wasn't thinking about being the first in the combat arms, or in the infantry, I just want to be in the infantry and go airborne, that was my dream,” stated Perron.
However, whether Perron gave thought to it or not, she certainly did stand out amongst her peers for being the first woman in that trade.
“I received more attention than my peers, and that made some of them very resentful, jealous and hateful, and they took their frustrations out on me. Probably in ways no one should have to endure, especially from people you go to war with,” observed Perron.
Despite the negative attention, all she wanted was to do her job.
Eventually, Perron left the military in 1995, and when the images emerged of that 1992 training exercise, the media chalked that event up as the reason why she left. But according to Perron, she left because of the years of little comments and harassment she faced.
“Truly what happened during the following years [following the training exercise] was much worse. I’ve always carried guilt at never having disclosed those stories because if I would have perhaps, it would have helped change the culture of the CAF more quickly,” noted Perron.
And now Perron is finally sharing those stories with the world in her new book.
Though writing her memoir was a difficult journey, she says she was encouraged by the renewed attention the military has drawn to sexual harassment in the form of Operation HONOUR.
“They put things in place to help the victims come forward, but now they have to go upstream and prevent it from happening; by changing their training, the education of their soldiers, to redesigning exercises, to implementing mentoring, and conduct the exit interviews to see what they can do better,” noted Perron.
She hopes audiences can learn her real story from her own words in her upcoming memoir.
“My military story is not a pretty one. I have to say that being a pioneer is not easy and my career was far from being a walk in the park, but what I’m hoping that they [readers] take away from the book is that I’m a proud Van Doos. Loyalty, group cohesion, the friendships I developed with those who chose to champion what I represented instead of resenting it, made a difference in my life and in my career.
Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada’s First Female Infantry Office will be available for purchase on April 6.