After almost four years in the Canadian Armed Forces, the Rockland native had to give up her rank as a captain. Because as of June 12, she is now Major Diana Kortelainen, following a “homebound” official inspection and promotion ceremony presided over by Brigadier General Rick Goodyear, a senior-ranking officer in the Department of National Defence (DND).
“I was quite taken aback when I heard that the general was going to come here,” said Kortalainen, during a phone interview the evening before her official promotion ceremony.
Under normal circumstances, an official promotion ceremony takes place at a Canadian Armed Forces base or other locations, and comes complete with a gathering of members of the person’s unit, more than one higher-ranking officer, and other special guests. But with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping almost everyone under lockdown, a standard military promotion ceremony is just not possible.
So the DND decided to set aside protocol and authorized a special “at home” promotion ceremony for Captain-now-Mayor Kortelainen, both to confirm her new rank and also ensure that she received the recognition she deserved for her achievements during her 37 years in the Forces. “This is a celebration of a major accomplishment,” said Brigadier General Goodyear.
Kortelainen’s promotion was witnessed by her husband, Esa Kortelainen, a former member of the Finnish Defence Force, who transferred over to the Canadian Armed Forces after the two of them were married. Also present for the event were their children, along with other family members, and several of Major Kortelainen’s fellow officers and non-commissioned personnel from the DND financial services branch in Ottawa, where she works.
Happy to serve
« It just seemed the way to go, » said Major Kortelainen, regarding her decision, at 17, to join the Canadian Armed Forces.
She’d just graduated high school then, but her chances of continuing on with post-secondary education at an English college seemed slim at the time. She and her family lived in Montréal, as part of the cosmopolitan city’s Portuguese community, and Bill 101, the new language law of the then-Parti Québécois provincial government, had shut down most of the English-language schools in Québec.
Moving away from home to study in another province wasn’t a viable option for her then, which led her to consider the forces. The physical training and discipline appealed to her as a high school athlete in running and swimming.
“I figured I could do this,” she said. “And I was always adventurous. Always had to be different.”
She turned 18 while undergoing her basic training at C.F.B. Cornwallis in Digby, Nova Scotia, and learned her first lesson about how things may be different in other parts of Canada. In Québec, the legal drinking age then was 18. In Nova Scotia, the legal age was 19, which meant she couldn’t celebrate her 18th birthday with her first legal beer.
After basic, Kortelainen went into trades training as an air defence technician, learning to watch through a spotter scope and relay to the pilot where an enemy plane was located and otherwise monitor airspace. “It was one of those type of Cold War type of jobs.”
She spent three years at CFB Cold Lake in Alberta with the 42nd Radar Squadron, assigned to the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line of radar monitoring posts that oversaw the Arctic air space between Canada and Russia. Then she switched trades to learn finance and administration, eventually ending up assigned to DND office in Ottawa. In between, she also did her turn at overseas postings, which is how she met her future husband when his Finnish Defence Force unit and her CAF unit were both doing United Nations peacekeeping duty on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria.
Now, after 37 years, she is Major Kortelainen. When she joined, her language skills included Portuguese, English, and French. She added German to the list thanks to some of her overseas postings, and now she is learning Finnish, with help from her husband, Esa.
What does a newly commissioned major do in her spare time? “I volunteer,” she said, smiling. “And I loved doing stuff with my kids when they were growing up. It’s important for parents to be involved.”