As we sit in November 2021, March 2020 and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic feels so far away. Lockdowns loomed, toilet paper was scarce and no one was really sure where this crisis would take us.

In this time of extraordinary uncertainty, Stephen Coe, vice-principal at Laurentian Public School, responded to the call of duty. The administrator and Canadian Army reservist, with roughly three decades spent at each organization, was called into service.

It was his first day as vice-principal, Coe recalled, when he had to get on the phone with Ron DeBoer, his school’s superintendent, to ask to step away from his role at the school to serve his country.

“I was seeking this after one day on the job as VP,” said Coe. “Ron was so supportive.”

Ron Deboer stands in front of Laurentian Public School with the certificate from the Canadian Forces Liaison Council

Operation LASER, for which Coe volunteered to be placed on full-time service, is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) response to a worldwide pandemic. Coe, a lieutenant-colonel and commanding officer of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, was also now the commanding officer of the Grand River Garrison Local Response Unit. In this role, he was responsible for a large portion of southwestern Ontario and had nearly 100 full-time reserve soldiers under his command. Ready to respond wherever they were needed, some of his team specifically supported long-term care facilities in Toronto when required.

“The reserves are always there to be called upon as needed,” said Coe. “I found it quite rewarding…” to be able to support the community in this way.

Coe wanted to show his appreciation to the WRDSB for supporting his efforts, and when he heard the Canadian Forces Liaison Council was looking to acknowledge employers for supporting their staff in their roles as reservists, he saw the perfect opportunity. When he heard that the WRDSB had been selected as a winner, he said he felt proud that they had been chosen to be recognized.

“It was humbling,” said Coe. “I really wanted to acknowledge the WRDSB for that, to say thank you.”

DeBoer remembers the phone call he received from Coe, and hearing that he’d been called into service. Thinking back to this incredibly uncertain time, at the precipice of a global pandemic, DeBoer recalls it felt like an easy decision to make.

“It wasn’t even a question,” said DeBoer. “The work he was doing there was extremely important for the larger, provincial community.”

Coe’s roots in the military run deep. Both his grandfathers served in the Second World War, and as a student at Southwood Secondary School, Coe was drawn to serve.

Steve Coe pictured with the certificate from the Canadian Forces Liaison Council.

“I was always fascinated by military things as a result,” said Coe. “I wanted to carry on with that legacy.”

After three years in the role of the commanding officer, Coe has recently taken on a new, but perhaps familiar role, teaching at the Canadian Army Command and Staff College part-time. Now shaping the future generation of Canadian military leaders, Coe is struck by how his two careers have come together.

“I do the same thing I do at school, but I just put on a uniform,” said Coe with a laugh. “Everything I have done throughout my career here, I am doing there.”

Reflecting on the past nearly three decades, Coe is grateful for what he describes as his two amazing careers, and for all of the complementary skills learned and experiences he has had with the Canadian Army and the WRDSB so far.

“It’s been pretty epic, I’m not going to lie.”