Master Bombardier Ashley Diggs’ unexpected journey from nightclub bouncer to Army Gunner
Article / February 20, 2019 / Project number: 19-0016
By Captain Nicholas Kaempffer, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School
February is Black History Month, a time to honour Black Canadians past and present who have served in uniform and as civilian employees in the defence and service of Canada since before Confederation.
Oromocto, New Brunswick — Growing up in Halifax and Toronto, Master Bombardier (MBdr) Ashley Diggs wasn’t planning on a career in the Canadian Army, but a walk through downtown Toronto changed his career path.
Upon his graduation from Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario, MBdr Diggs worked as a bouncer in the downtown nightclub scene, where he leveraged years of martial arts and football training to keep patrons safe.
On a blustery October day in 2004, he happened to walk past a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting centre, where a new career path was set in motion as he enrolled as a Gunner in January of the following year.
While his grandfather had served during the Second World War in the Infantry with the West Nova Scotia Regiment, military service wasn’t at the forefront of MBdr Diggs’ mind prior to his enlistment – but the allure of adventure, challenges, and physical training seemed like the perfect match for his interests and abilities.
Training was fast and furious, as he completed Basic Military Training, Soldier Qualification and finally trade training as a Gunner, resulting in a posting to 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (2 RCHA), based in Petawawa, Ontario that August.
Joined the Canadian Special Operations Regiment
After nine months with the Guns, he became aware that a then new unit, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), also based in Petawawa, was looking to run its first Special Forces Operator selection course.
This elite organization, part of the Canadian Forces Special Operations Command, was designed to have the capability and responsiveness to operate in harsh environments throughout the range of conflict. Training was arduous, involving long hours, intense experiences and challenging exercises, designed to find select motivated and cognitively dominant warriors.
Following his graduation, MBdr Diggs went on to serve in CSOR for two years before returning to 2 RCHA, where he deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2008 as part of the Task Force 3-08 Battle Group.
Deployed to Afghanistan in 2008
Serving within his Battery Commander’s Tactical Headquarters, he took part in the combat operations targeting Taliban insurgents. During his tour, a Light Armoured Vehicle in which he was travelling was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED), but he and the rest of the crew were lucky to escape without major injuries.
Upon a joyful return to Canada, MBdr Diggs was employed within a variety of positions, including serving as the driver for the Commander of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, and he deployed in support of the G7 summit in Huntsville, Ontario in 2010.
Posted back to his roots in Nova Scotia
In 2012, MBdr Diggs requested a posting to eastern Canada. Both he and his wife Sasha have long-established family roots in Nova Scotia. MBdr Diggs can trace relatives’ history in Canada back to the 1700s. His mother’s side of the family is from Sierra Leone, and his father’s family came to Canada from the Caribbean (likely Barbados) in the 1700s.
The posting to the Combat Training Centre at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick provided the couple with additional family support, as his wife’s parents live in nearby Fredericton.
Working hard as a junior leader, he was appointed to his current rank in 2014. Employed as a Gun Detachment Second-in-Command at The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School, MBdr Diggs is proud of his accomplishments as a member of the Canadian Army.
Many a missed Valentine’s Day
“I’ve been able to visit the world, deploy on Expeditionary Operations, and push myself beyond the limits I thought possible,” although he added that service does come with challenges.
“My wife used to jokingly count how many Valentine’s Days we missed.”
‘There isn’t anything similar to serving in the military’
When asked to describe the most challenging day he’s had in the Canadian Army, MBdr Diggs immediately responded with his final CSOR exercise, which was part of the graduation process.
Reflecting on his years of service, he stated “I’d describe my experience in the CAF as very positive overall – while all jobs come with ups and downs, there isn’t anything similar to serving in the military. While I never would have guessed, way back in 2004, that I’d end up as a Gunner, it’s amazing how your life can change by going for a walk in downtown Toronto!”
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