Jenna Larter doesn’t tell a lot of people she’s in the Canadian Army. That’s because of the raised eyebrows she gets when she shares that on some weekends and evenings, she’s a corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve. But, 10 years into her military career, and one of 450 women in combat trade in Canada, she’s used to surprising people.

“It shocks a lot of people,” she says. “I’m a five-foot-two, 125-pound woman – nobody ever expects it.”

And yet, she can cross a river with a C6 machine gun above her head (which weighs about 38 pounds before ammunition), dismount from a G-Wagon with a rifle in hand, and one day hopes to be on the front-line gathering intel as part of her new experience in the influence activities division.

“We’re the eyes and ears of the combat team commander in the battlespace,” she says about her line of work in the military, one that she never actually intended to pursue. Born and bred in Prince Edward Island, and the granddaughter of a Royal Canadian Navy veteran, Jenna wanted to pursue a career in the naval services so that she could be on the water. But when close friends tricked her into going to the Army’s recruiting office in Charlottetown, she signed the papers and hasn’t looked back.

“Once I got the training, it became really exciting. The thrill is what intrigues me most. Also, the pride. If anything were to happen to me while serving my country, that’s an honourable way to go.”

Corporal Jenna Larter gets ready for shooting practice at the gun range.

She fully committed to her new calling, and moved west in 2012 where she continued her training with the Army in the hopes of getting deployed to Afghanistan. When she wasn’t tapped for that tour, she decided to carry on in the military part-time, while pursuing a career in oil and gas. Her heart was set on Suncor and she gave herself a five-year goal to get on with the company.

“At home, a lot of East Coasters had nothing but good things to say about Suncor, that it was a place where you can grow and learn. It’s always been the place to be,” she says. She landed a permanent role in 2017 and now works in Supply Chain Management as a procurement coordinator. Like other active service people who work at Suncor, she’s found the company to be fully supportive of her military pursuits. Prior to the pandemic, she’d been approved for a leave to attend training at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

While her plans were disrupted because of COVID-19, she’s still able to attend the weekly parade worknight with the King’s Own Calgary Regiment (KOCR) where she does everything from weapons drills to physical training to online learning. The regiment is also busy preparing for this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony. Normally, Jenna attends the Calgary Signal Hill service, but will be moving online with her unit this year to keep people safe while paying their respects. 

She’ll miss seeing the elderly veterans in person and thanking them for their service. One of her career highlights so far was a two-week battlefield tour in Italy alongside Tommy Baker, a Second World War veteran who served with the Calgary Tanks Regiment (now the KOCR). Jenna learned about where her unit came ashore and followed their path through the Second World War. She was also selected to read off the names of fallen Canadian soldiers at the cenotaph they visited, an emotional moment for her.

“There are a lot of mixed emotions. You realize what these young guys went through,” she says. “You’re obviously upset and sad over the amount of deaths but also feel a lot of pride and honour being there to represent them.”