Col. Craig Dalton is almost apologetic in acknowledging his boyish appearance.
He looks younger than his 44 years. His youthful looking mug is far from a more grizzled face one might expect on someone holding the rank of colonel and on a soldier who has recently assumed the task of commanding an entire military base.
The fresh face of the Summerside native, though, does little to mask his quiet confidence in tackling the position of commander of 3 Area Support Group/Canadian Forces Base Gagetown that he assumed on Aug. 30.
“I certainly feel comfortable, prepared to do it,’’ he said. “It’s an interesting job.’’
The desire to be a soldier came early in life for Dalton and the aspiration was regularly reinforced.
Dalton grew up in a military family. His father George, who lives in Summerside, spent 29 years in the Canadian Forces medical services.
Dalton and his siblings were clearly influenced by the life of so-called base brats. His brother Michael is a corporal in the military with a rapid response unit, and his sister Elizabeth Morris is a former reservist now married to Keith Morris, a naval captain.
Dalton says there were some challenges with the frequent moves but he learned to be flexible and to fit in.
“We got to see the entire country from coast to coast: lived all the way from B.C. to Nova Scotia and parts in between,’’ he said.
“I’ve always been impressed with people in uniform,’’ he added. “I’d always been interested in the army.’’
George says military children like his son often tend to “blend into a lifestyle.’’
Dalton did, however, have a competing passion for some time. For a few determined years, he planned to pursue a golfing career, honing his skills on military base golf courses.
Eventually, he accepted that he simply “just wasn’t good enough.’’
The military turned out to be a decent fall back plan.
Dalton was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in August 1990 and began his service with the 2nd Regiment at CFB Petawawa.
He made the most of academic opportunities in his ascension up the ranks.
He is a graduate of the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the United States Army School of Advanced Military Studies. He holds a bachelors degree from the Royal Military College of Canada, a master of science in administration from Central Michigan University, a master of military arts and science from the United States Army School of Advanced Military Studies and a master of arts in strategy from Deakin University Australia.
He hopes, when time and opportunity allows, to work to earn his doctorate degree.
Yet he is far from a soldier looking only to sit in a classroom and steer clear from action. In fact, he considers his tours of duty to be the highlights of his career to date, each offering the opportunity to “do what you are trained to do.’’
First up was a six-month tour in Cyprus where Dalton served as a humanitarian officer facilitating communication between government departments in the north and south side of the island, helping also to reunite families.
“That was an interesting job,’’ he said.
He had a similar role during an eight-month tour in Bosnia-Herzegovina, overseeing a team of about 15 as a senior liaison officer. The work centred on reconstruction and development, notably rebuilding schools, clinics and homes. The tour proved very rewarding.
“We saw a lot of positive change,’’ he said.
Dalton was also commanding officer of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team. He was deployed to Afghanistan in January 2010 and commanded KPRT until its transition to a civilian-led organization, at which time he assumed the duties of chief of staff of Task Force Kandahar.
George has been told that his son is a strong leader who always has the troops best interest at heart. He has also been able to balance the family life of his wife Joanne and their three children with his military career.
“He knows the risks,’’ added George. “He knows the situation. He believes in his country: that’s important. Mom and dad are really proud of Craig but he’s a humble person.’’
Craig says much of his time away from work is spent chasing his children in their sports activities. He runs four or five times a week, putting in eight to 10 kilometres a go. He got into running early in life through his mother, Estelle, who was a very active runner.
“A great way to relieve stress and think,’’ he said.
As for golf, that now distant career pursuit, he describes his game today as being non-existent. After a 10-year hiatus from the sport, though, he plans to start swinging the clubs again in 2013.
Craig accepts that his two older children, James, 18, and Sarah, 17, most likely will not follow in the Dalton military tradition. He is still holding out hope for his 12-year-old son Samuel.
“He likes anything with a uniform so I think we’ve just about got him convinced to try and squeeze cadets into his schedule,’’ he said.
“As long as they are doing what they want to do,’’ he is quick to add, “I think as a parent you’d be pretty happy.’’
While Dalton has enjoyed great success in his more than 20 years in the military, he sets no targets for ongoing or ultimate ascension.
“In my experience people just strive to do the job they’re doing and then that job will end, the chips will fall where they may and you will be given another challenge to go off and take on,’’ he said.