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  • Writer's pictureMartin Zeilig

Chasing Challenge and Change

Capt Bettina McCulloch-Drake, a member of Winnipeg’s Transition Centre, was interviewed by The Voxair to discuss her career and her future plans. She is currently on assignment with 1 Canadian Air Division Public Affairs, and will be medically released from the CAF on 25 August of this year.

Capt Bettina McCulloch-Drake Photo: Capt Bettina McCulloch-Drake

“It’s a bitter-sweet feeling,” confesses Capt McCulloch-Drake. “A couple of years ago I had renewed my terms of service to continue serving up to age 60, and now I am leaving before accomplishing some of what I had set out to do.” “Still,” she continues, “some time has passed and I have had time to think about what else I can do. I have also had time to reflect on what I have experienced so far and what possibilities still exist.”

A career in review

Captain Bettina McCulloch-Drake joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on 28 June 1991, shortly after graduating from Kingston Ontario’s Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute. Joining the CAF as a naval signalman, she completed her basic recruit training as part of the SYEP (summer youth employment program) at Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) CATARAQUI in Kingston.

“I joined for the challenge,” she said during the interview. “I also wanted to be part of something bigger, where I could make some difference.”

In September of 1991, she transferred to HMCS CARLETON in Ottawa (Ontario), where she was part of the ship’s company from September 1991 to August 2009. As a Reservist, she has served in Esquimalt (British Columbia), Cold Lake (Alberta), Quebec City (Quebec), and Halifax (Nova Scotia) as well as in Borden, Trenton, and Ottawa (Ontario).

Aside from her time on ship, Capt McCulloch-Drake worked on shore in support of a variety of organizations. One of her first assignments out-of-trade was as a unit recruiter and basic recruit instructor from 2001 to 2004.

“Helping others learn was one of the things I enjoyed most about being a recruit instructor,” Capt McCulloch-Drake says. “Of course, I learned a lot too.”

After her assignment as a recruiter and recruit instructor, she went on to work with the Canadian Navy Heritage Team, a group of people responsible for the planning and execution of the annual National Battle of Atlantic Commemoration in Ottawa.

“It was a privilege meeting and working with the veterans,” says Capt McCulloch-Drake, who spent nearly four years with the Team.

“Even though I will soon be considered a veteran in the eyes of the federal government, I have a hard time counting myself one next to those who served during the First and Second World Wars.”

Less than a year after taking her commission as a public affairs officer (PAO) in December 2006, Capt McCulloch-Drake accepted an assignment to the Directorate General of Reserves and Cadets (DGRC) where she filled a number of roles including managing editor, editor, speech writer, and public affairs advisor.

“It was a tremendous experience,” she says of her experience working in a public affairs office with military and civilian communication professionals.

It was thanks to one of her assignments in support of DGRC that she also met her husband Capt Finlay Drake, an aerospace engineering officer, in Borden, Ontario.

“You never know what each moment will bring,” she says with a smile. “One minute you have plans to remain where you are, the next minute you decide to make a change and your life takes on a different direction.”

Transferring to the National Defence Headquarters Primary Reserve List in August 2009 to accompany Finlay, Capt McCulloch-Drake completed Class A and B work for a variety of Department of National Defence (DND) and CAF organizations.

It was while on assignment with 8 Wing Trenton that Capt McCulloch-Drake received an offer to join the Regular Force.

“Three times a charm,” laughs Capt McCulloch-Drake, who had applied for a transfer to the Regular Force two other times in her career.

Posted to Winnipeg in July 2014, Capt McCulloch-Drake served as the 17 Wing / CFB Winnipeg PAO from 2014 to 2018.

“I owe much to my mentor Gloria Kelly, my photo-journalists Bill McLeod and Darren Kraus, and to all of the PAO trainees who helped build a more robust communications capability at the Wing.”

Struggles with post-partum depression, major depressive disorder and PTSD led to her secondment to 17 Wing Chaplain Services from the fall of 2018 to the spring of 2019.

“Initially, I felt I was being pushed away from my team at 17 Wing Public Affairs, but eventually I found another source of support and fulfillment,” Capt McCulloch-Drake admits.

“Bettina helped to raise awareness in our programs and services throughout the Wing,” says Major Hope Winfield, the senior Chaplain at 17 Wing Chaplain Services.

“She also provided support to our Sentinel Program; but it was through her experience and expertise that she quickly became a key member of our team.”

“I’ve known her for about seven years,” added Gloria Kelly in a telephone interview. “She’s very much a team person. If something needed to be done, she’d step forward. There are few people better at doing research than Bettina because she’s so detailed oriented.”

Attached to 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters (1 CAD HQ) in June 2019, she took up the work of an information management officer (IMO).

Then, in June 2021, she received the results of an administrative review on her medical file.

“The news was not favourable,” begins Capt McCulloch-Drake.

Given strict medical employment limitations by Director Medical Policy, she was no longer permitted to do ninety per cent of the tasks expected of a public affairs officer.

“It was a big shock,” she admitted. “I felt I still had more to contribute.”

After her release on August 25, Capt McCulloch-Drake will be returning to school after more than twenty years.

“I just received my offer for admission to the Master of Arts in Professional Communication at Royal Roads University,” she says.

“Is it possible to be nervous and thrilled at the same time?”

“I wish her all the best on her future endeavours,” said Ms. Kelly, who worked with Capt McCulloch-Drake from 2014-2018.

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