07/06/2012 01:23 EDT | Updated 09/05/2012 05:12 EDT

Col. Tammy Harris Becomes First Female Commander At Canada's Largest Training Base


Col. Tammy Harris never felt that being a woman held her back when it came to moving up the ranks in the military.

Now, that attitude appears to have paid off as Harris was sworn in as the first female base commander at CFB Borden on Friday, assuming responsibility for Canada's largest training base.

"I can honestly say, throughout my career, that I've never experienced any barriers because I've been a woman," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"I've always been able to do what I've wanted to do based on my own skills and abilities, and the challenges that I've put on myself."

Her career has taken her to Germany, Afghanistan and a number of Canadian provinces, and throughout Harris said she always felt free to pursue any goals she set for herself.

The base she now holds command over — located about 100 kilometres north of Toronto — trains an average of 15,000 military personnel each year. It also employs about 3,250 members of the military and around 1,500 civilians.

As she takes command, the 45-year-old emphasizes that accomplishments aren't about being male or female. Drive and passion are what get people where they want to go, in her view.

"Whatever your goals are, the opportunity is there to achieve them if you so desire," she said. "Gender does not really play into the equation."

This isn't the first major appointment for Harris. She was also the first woman in the country to hold the position of wing commander in Gander, N.L., one of the country's busiest search and rescue areas.

Her goals in her new post include continuing on with the Forces' efforts to promote bilingualism, so that all courses in the military can be offered in both French and English.

Harris also wants to focus on the infrastructure at CFB Borden during her two year tenure at the base, to be sure it's adequate for future members of the military.

The stepmother of three daughters also said she wants to modernize the training practices in place now, so that new recruits can spend as much time with their families as possible while still learning what it means to be in the military.

The native of Annapolis Valley, N.S., started with the military in 1987.

It wasn't for another two years that women were given the right to take part in combat. Harris was in Europe at the time, but she said anything that grants women choice is a good thing.

However, despite the fact that the military is still a male-dominated field made up of only about 15 per cent women, Harris said it's not necessarily one of her priorities to specifically recruit young women.

Instead, she wants to focus on making the military appeal to all.

"It's a goal of mine to make sure that everybody understands the opportunity, whether they be male or female, so they know the types of things you can do in the Canadian Forces," she said.

"Do I go out and specifically recruit young women? No. I make sure the message is the same to the youth of Canada."

Asked if she's a feminist, Harris said she wouldn't use the word to describe herself. But she added that she's "an advocate for women having the choice" and thinks more young women's stories need to be told.

"I would describe myself as someone who always looks for the positive in any situation, someone who thinks that your limitations are put on by yourself," she said.

"Your imagination limits you. If you can see yourself doing it, you can."