North Bay, Ontario — Although not usually given credit for being clever, the dodo bird did have a powerful lesson to share with a young soldier-to-be as he immigrated at the age of 15 with his family from Mauritius to Canada in 2003.
Corporal Jean-Marc Hannelas, who is a Finance Service Administrator at 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay, enjoys sharing information about Mauritius, an island nation located off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Cpl Hannelas said a little-known fact about Mauritius is that it was the home of the dodo bird, that well-known ‘icon of extinction.’
“The dodo bird is one of the biggest symbols of Mauritius; it’s on currency, on the coat of arms. Mauritians are still very proud of the dodo bird because it is unique to us,” he said.
Cpl Hannelas said that in school, they were taught the cautionary tale of the dodo. “They said, don’t be like a dodo bird, don’t be lazy or unable to change. You must develop stronger wings and learn to adapt.”
And adapt he certainly did, as did his two brothers who now live and work in Toronto. Like Canada, Mauritius is a multilingual country, with most people speaking English and French, but there was still a learning curve getting used to Canada’s dialects. Creole and French are the main languages in his native land and several oriental languages are also spoken.
After completing his Bachelor of Commerce with a specialty in Accounting, Cpl Hannelas joined the Canadian Army in 2013. “I joined the Army because I wanted to challenge myself as much as possible, and you cannot find a better challenge than being in the Army. I have great pride in wearing the green uniform,” said Cpl Hannelas.
When asked why he was initially motivated to join, he replied, “It was because I really loved news and reading what a military does. It struck me and I went to the website and I joined. The media was my biggest influence,” he said. Also, “My grandfather fought in the Second World War. Back then, Mauritius was under British command, and Mauritians were called out to help fight the war.”
Cpl Hannelas said his best day in the Army so far was when he was advance promoted to the rank of Corporal in three years instead of four. “It is an achievement very few privates get,” he said proudly. He is setting plans in motion to become a Logistics Officer, and looks forward to deployment opportunities.
His worst day? “Digging a rocky trench all night during my Army soldier qualification. It was quite the experience,” he recalled.
Although he currently works with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Cpl Hannelas could also be posted with either of the other two elements, the Canadian Army or the Royal Canadian Navy. “I am part of the Army element, but the difference is that I am what they call a ‘purple trade’, meaning at any time, I can be posted to any of the elements. But even though I am an Army person on an Air Force base, I still have to do all of my Army training,” he explained.
Cpl Hannelas sometimes misses the ocean breeze from his island home, especially now that he is posted in land-locked North Bay. “I miss that fresh ocean air,” he said.
One thing he had to overcome was a natural shyness. The military life soon took care of that, he noted.
“Being military, you are put in certain situations where you have to make decisions and so you have to put that shyness away and go for it,” said Cpl Hannelas. He believes his Army leadership training helped him develop a strong mind and positive attitude. “For me, it is always ‘move forward’ never ‘move backwards.’”
Cpl Hannelas said his family descended from African slaves brought to the island starting in 1638. “My family and I fall under what is categorized as Mauritian Creole. We have a very mixed background including African, Indian, Asian and European heritage,” he said.
As the Military Co-chair for the Defence Visible Minorities Advisory Group (DVMAG) for the past two years, Cpl Hannelas helps to raise awareness about diversity and stands ready to help anyone facing discrimination. “In North Bay, we have not had a situation like that.”
“I have not had any issue of discrimination in the Army myself, but you can feel outnumbered,” he said, noting that the Canadian Armed Forces is 80 to 90 per cent Caucasian. “But even as a minority, if you have a strong personality, you can move forward in the face of discrimination. I just go on with my day and it doesn’t bother me. I talk about my background and share that with people. Mentally you have to be strong and not take it personally,” he concluded, again noting his Army leadership training contributes to his being strong of mind.
Another area where Cpl Hannelas volunteers is as a coach and/or manager of the 22 Wing/CFB North Bay men’s soccer team. “I have played soccer since I was ten years old, so coaching soccer comes very naturally to me. The role of manager uses more of my administrative skills,” he said.
“I played soccer as a child in Mauritius. When you think about soccer, you think of a ball, a soccer ball. But there, you would use whatever object you could find that you could kick, like socks, a water bottle, whatever you could find.”