Matt Lennox became the new commanding officer of the Queen’s York Rangers in a changing-of-the-guard ceremony held at Fort York on Saturday.
The ceremony was presided over by Ontario Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Canadian Governor General Mary Simon.
Lennox, who is now a lieutenant-colonel, joined the regiment in 2002 and served in Afghanistan for parts of 2008 and 2009.
Like many teens, he wasn’t sure where life was going to take him while he was attending high school at Twin Lakes Secondary School in Orillia.
Lennox ended up becoming a novelist after earning his master’s degree at the University of Guelph.
“I don’t know if I had any distinct goals at that time,” said Lennox, 41. “It was kind of a hobby and I was fortunate to have a couple of things published.”
Despite finding some success as an author, Lennox discovered the prospect of being a full-time novelist in Canada to be unrealistic in terms of income. To make some cash, he bounced around from being a bartender, working in construction and having various odd jobs.
In 2002 he discovered that joining the military as a part-time job would provide a partial tuition reimbursement for his post-secondary studies.
“I thought that would be a good way to offset the price of my schooling,” he said. “I also found that I quite liked the job.”
When he signed up, he didn’t believe he would ever serve overseas. However, in 2007, there were many opportunities for reserve service members to deploy to Afghanistan, and Lennox decided to throw his name in the mix.
“It was certainly a very eye-opening experience,” he said. “Those were the thick of the years for Canadian combat operations and casualties.”
Many service personnel were injured or killed in combat during his time overseas. He attended dispiriting ramp ceremonies where deceased soldiers were loaded onto aircraft to be sent back home.
“I had a couple of friends who were badly wounded in some engagements,” he said. “I knew a couple of people who were killed in engagements.”
Lennox had a fairly safe job in Afghanistan as a staff officer at headquarters. After returning home from the 10-month deployment unscathed, he joined the military in a full-time capacity.
While working with the Queen’s York Rangers for 20 years, he has risen through the officer ranks and has landed in the commanding officer role.
“It’s an honour, certainly,” he said, “but it’s also a lot of responsibility because we are at a stage where the Canadian Armed Forces (is), in some ways, reinventing itself.”
At the same time, it's an uncertain world right now. Army reserve personnel are being deployed on international operations all the time, he said.
“There is a very real responsibility for ensuring that we are well trained and well cared for before, during and after any kind of deployment,” Lennox said.
Domestic operations such as responding to natural disasters and situations like the COVID-19 pandemic could also call for the deployment of military reserves, he explained.
“We have to have our people who are mainly part-timers, and foster a culture where they are well trained, well equipped, and ready to go in a relatively short order,” Lennox explained. “There are a lot of unknown situations that could arise.”
His goal is to make sure he is passing on a unit that is in the best shape possible when his successor takes over in about three years.
“For any member of my regiment that is deployed on an operation over the next couple of years, I want them to come home and say that no matter what hardships they faced while deployed, they knew they were well cared for by their home unit,” he said.
Lennox hopes to continue as a novelist one day. However, between his military career, being the deputy director of the Romeo Dallaire Centre for Peace Studies, and being the father of three young daughters and husband to wife Natalie, who is a human rights lawyer, the Etobicoke resident says there isn’t much spare time at the end of every day.
He and his family like to spend the spare time they have visiting loved ones, enjoying the family cottage in Parry Sound, and hope to do some travelling.
“My family is very supportive of me, which is critical to the work that I do,” Lennox said. “It’s not something you could do without an extended family network behind you.”