Canadian Forces? We've Been Busy!
Mar 15, 2007

As I said a year ago, we in the Canadian Forces, exist for Canada first. That is our perspective, it is not a political model. We see this as our clear and overwhelming priority. We are engaged in intense operations in Afghanistan, including combat operations. Our busy-ness, if I could put it that way, has been in seven major areas throughout this past year, and it has been a busy year.

We have been growing the Canadian Forces and, as our allies often say, “You know, Canadians are great, there’s just not enough of you.”

Our recruiting advertisements, which I hope that most of you have seen, have finally shown truth in advertising. You may remember the advertisements of the late ’70s and early ’80s of a young officer in dress uniform with a briefcase and the commercial saying “there’s no life like it.” I was a young officer during that time frame, and I do not remember any correlation between that commercial and lying in a hole after 24 to 48 hours of romping through the mud, climbing in and out of vehicles and doing the normal business that we, as young leaders, had to do. We now have truth in advertising.

Our advertisements really have helped us enormously in attracting young men and women of action, and that’s who we want. We want those achievers with no “reverse” on them – and they are showing up at our recruiting centres. In the past, procedures were slow, but with the changes in processes that have been implemented, we are recruiting them quickly, we’re getting them into uniform, and we’re getting them to our training system with an aim of getting them into the combat units as quickly as possible, so they can do all the important jobs we ask them to do.
February 2007 - General Rick Hillier speaks at the annual ­general meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA). (Photo: LCol (ret'd) G. Metcalfe, CDAI)

But now we need to refocus, slightly, to meet the demands for technicians that we also need in uniform. In short, we now need to attract a few “geeks of action.”  

Our recruiting process is working. It’s not perfect, but kudos go to Rear Admiral Ty Pile (Chief of Military Personnel), Commodore Roger MacIsaac (Com­mander of the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group), and support from the army, navy and the air force, because the combination of that team effort has allowed us to meet the goals we have set. We are recruiting the right kind of young men and women from our entire mosaic across the country – not enough from the ethnic communities, the smaller communities – but better than we had been doing before.

In this past year, making sure that we can use those people and all that new equipment to a maximum effect for Canada, has led to changing absolutely everything we do and, at the same time, changing how we do it. In addition to that, we have been dealing with the normal challenges of a transition in government and, most importantly, we have begun to fully realize the immense, negative impact of the defence expenditure reductions of 1994. Restricting, reducing and constraining almost everything (education, training, people, postings, equipment, fleets, maintenance, sea days, YFR, ammunition use) while simultaneously increasing the ­number of operations we were conducting around the world, has led to a Canadian Forces institution that is fragile, with some on a life support system.

Decisions taken at that time, forced by dollar deprivation, guided by the best information possible – and God knows I would not have wanted to be in the shoes of some of my predecessors because of the enormous challenges that they faced – however, those actions have now led to deep wounds in the department and to the Canadian Forces. We can find example after example.

During that time frame, because dollars disappeared, we sliced and diced our posting budgets. We took more than 50% out of the posting budgets. We said that’s a good thing because instead of two to four years in any one spot, three to five years would be better for family stability, wives or partners or spouses who work, and all those good things. But immediately following that decision, the cost of each posting spiralled, and instead of three to five years in a posting location, for the vast majority of men and women it’s 10 to 15 years or more. You add our present operational tempo to that mix, and we’ve got 40% of the Canadian Forces in the operational units who have medals that go out to their left elbow. We’ve got 60% who serve here in Canada in those important roles in the training establishment, in the domestic operations, in the headquarters functions that have one medal and we can’t balance that experience and carrying the load of the burden of deployed operations without the money to move men and women around the country as we need to do. The impact of that, and the stress and the load that each individual carries are now just becoming clearly apparent to us.

We’ve changed
The main pillars of activity have numerous implications across every part of our Canadian Forces. The implications from even one of them – that of combat in Afghanistan, for example – are staggering.

Combat in Afghanistan has led directly to significant changes in how we train, how we integrate, and how we accredit forces for a mission. Let me tell you that training for the Cold War scenarios was easy compared to this. If we came to a high density populated area, our doctrine said picket and bypass. Guess what? We now live in those high density populated areas, and we conduct operations, including combat, while we are there. The training is much more difficult.

We face significant changes to the kind of training infrastructure that we need for the three-block war. We’ve got to replicate demanding environments, like Kandahar, for the training.

We learned, and we even changed how we learned. With immediate direct collection and analysis of lessons from every operation, firefight or attack that we were engaged in, we changed to apply those lessons within hours in theatre and within days back here in training.
December 2006 – Warrant Officer Mike Jackson and soldiers of 3 Platoon, A Company, 2 PPCLI, secure an area south of Highway 1 in Zhari before ­moving by foot for a meeting with the Afghan National Police. The A-Company 2 PPCLI Combat Team, an element of the 1 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group (1 RCR BG) patrolled the areas of Panjwai, Pashmul, and Zhari during Operation Baaz Tsuka. The Combat Team included Leopard C2 tanks from Lord Strathcona's Horse, an armoured Regiment based in Edmonton. This ­operation is the first time that Canadian tanks have been engaged in combat operations since the Korean War. (Photo: Sgt Dennis Power)

Over this past year, we bought, we modified, we improved, we constrained or we disposed of major equipment from major fleets – acquiring Nyalas, the M-777, upgrading the LAV-IIIs, buying ammunition, resetting the contingent’s operational equipment with tanks, with armoured recovery vehicles, armoured engineer vehicles, and so on.

There have been challenges with some of the things that unification of the CF brought with us, and we are working to fix them. Specifically, within our common trades (officers, soldiers, NCOs) training to a common standard – air, land and sea – invariably became the lowest common denominator and often could satisfy none of the three environments. We are fixing that as we speak. We validated yet again the high physical and mental demands, and are revitalizing our physical fitness standards and expectations so that no matter what the job, you understand this is part of our profession.

We have improved our physical fitness testing and standards dramatically, and I challenge the media to go down to our recruit school in St. Jean, Quebec, go for a morning workout with them. I did that last April. About 950 soldiers and sailors and airmen/air women wannabes were out there. Myself and Mr. Claude Bachand, the MP for that riding, worked out with them. I can tell you, we are producing the fittest young men and women in the ­history of the Canadian Forces. They are greyhounds by the time they come out of those courses and they are ready to do any job – air, land or sea – no matter the physical challenge.

Changing in the Field
We experienced difficulties under stress and under fire, at night, in contact with the enemy, integrating lethal and non-lethal assets, with UAVs, close air support, indirect fire, ISTAR, technical and human intelligence, information operations, CIMIC – so important in all of those operations and host nation assets – and we worked at all of that to get one effect for a people who so desperately need our help.

And it became obvious to all of us that many of the dictums of the Revolution in Military Affairs focussed only on kinetic operations with a demand for smaller units made big by technology. We found that needed revisiting. And what we have found is that, yes, every unit needs technical enablers, but God remains on the side of large battalions.
February 2007 – Toronto – Soldiers prepare to clear a building of insurgents at the Indoor Urban Operations Training Centre. Soldiers of 32 Canadian Brigade Group (32 CBG) can now conduct training in a simulated town modelled after urban terrain in Afghanistan. The new facility is the first of its kind in Canada. While other training facilities for urban operations exist, none of them simulates the current operations overseas as well as this one. (Photo: Cpl Phil Cheung)

We managed, and we learned from the unsurprising frustrations of working with multiple allies, sometimes nontraditional allies in a multinational environment. I think Field Marshal Slim’s comment that “the only thing worse than fighting a war with allies, is fighting one without them” remains true.

Think of the complexity of languages, – not just English and French, but Dutch, British (I’ve never understood a word ­spoken by a British soldier in all my days on tour), American, Romanian, air, land and sea languages, fast air languages, aviation, tactical air, armoured, Patricia, Royal, Vandoo, gunners, regular and reservists, loggy, intel, maintainer, CIMIC, ISTAR, special forces, government, CIDA, Foreign Affairs, Dari and Pushtun. All that, in the middle of the night, under fire, in a place where you really don’t recognize the culture, you’re asked to come out with a clear effect – and we get it all the time, which speaks to the quality of our people.

I’ve mentioned just a few of the immense challenges that we have been engaged in over this past year.

Every one of those implications was felt right across the Canadian Forces. We’re not perfect at meeting any of the challenges or implementing any of the lessons learned – and we’re not even very good at most of it – but we are a heck of a lot better than we were a year ago, and we improve each hour and each day.
March 2007 – Camp Nathan Smith, Kandahar Members of the Royal 22nd Régiment are presently deployed as the Force Protection Company for the Kandahar Provincial Recon­struc­tion Team. The FP Company provides defence and security to the Civil Military Co-operation (CIMIC) team as they assess the canal irrigation project’s progress in the village of Walakan. (Photo: Sgt Roxanne Clowe)

Last year, however, in all those activities, we validated a lot. A command and control system that effectively separates force employment from force generation while providing the strategic and the operational context in which tactical forces can be best employed for the benefit of Canada. Having one commander supported by an appropriate staff who has responsibility for and a focus on the operational level either in international operations and a separate commander for domestic operations here in Canada, this in order to meet our overarching priority of defending and helping protect Canadians here in Canada. We would have already failed in Kandahar if we had not had this command and control system up and operating before the intensity of operations surged.

We benefited from having one commander, with a very small staff, hold authority and responsibility for national level support. I had a group look at our command structure over this past several months and they were effusive in their compliments to Major-General Daniel Benjamin and his merry band for the work that they do in orchestrating national level support to operations domestic, continental or international.

We validated the requirement for, the incredible value of, and the need for more special forces. And we are confident that we are producing the best in the world.

The way we send off our troops when they leave for a mission shows them that this mission is important, that they are important and they are supported.

In Gagetown, New Brunswick, I recently participated in a Rally in Red and a farewell to the troops. We had 5,000 people out there in the worst weather that Gagetown can offer up in late January. And the folks were out, the emotion was high, Premiers were out, Lieutenant-governors were out, the media was out. It was one of the events which is cemented into the minds of those soldiers: you are important, we need you to do this mission and while you’re doing that mission we are going to ensure that you are supported.

We’ve rethought the entire methodology of how we have supported families, to ensure that we can do it right. Welcoming our people home is very important. They’ve done the job that we needed done, and we must show that we appreciate it. An idea that came from the folks in the fast air community, was to utilize training flights to escort the Airbuses bringing our soldiers home from Afghanistan. Whether it’s Edmonton or Trenton, two F-18s show up on their wingtips for the last 150 miles.

We walked through how we recognize our heroes with honours and awards – we’ve taken that process from months, sometimes years, down to days and weeks, so we can do it right. We’ve made also sure that, with dignity, respect, compassion and professionalism we have repatriated our wounded, said farewell to our dead, and supported our families during the most terrible days of their lives.

And I must thank journalists like Christie Blatchford, Lisa LaFlamme, Seamus O’Regan, Peter Mansbridge and others who have managed to put a face on Canada’s sons and daughters serving so well, so far away from home.

We have been reequipping the Forces with an energy and a scale and a scope that has not been seen in decades, and with a speed that would have been unbelievable even two years ago. And let me give great credit to our Minister – for his work, his effect, and his stubbornness (in the finest sense of the word) in driving a bureaucracy to start acquiring the strategic airlift, the tactical airlift, the big honkin’ helicopter that we so desperately need, the joint support ships, the trucks – and all the other operationally urgent equipment that we require to do the job.

We do it to win
It was not surprise to confirm that, exactly in accordance with our vision, close, planned and prepared integration of air, land and sea forces give us the best bang for the buck – no silos when we deploy to operations. One profile, one visibility, and one effect for Canada. Last minute, ad hoc preparations are not the way to do business, and define amateurs rather than professionals. When you show up on a mission, you’ve got to look after yourself. First of all, you’ve got to do it to survive. Then you have to do it to deter attacks upon yourself and, last, most importantly, you’ve got to do it to win.
If you’re relying upon others to provide certain capabilities, you may find yourself playing second fiddle for the use of those capabilities, and the difference may mean the lives of our soldiers, of our sons and daughters.

Our equipment has won affection from those who so skillfully use it, and I cannot tell you how many soldiers have told me that the LAV-III, that world class vehicle, has saved their lives. We’re actually working to improve that LAV-III and make it an even better vehicle. And we confirm, yet again, the desperate need for a “big, honkin’ helicopter.” I believe that’s LGen Leslie’s term actually, but I steal it because it does describe what we need.

We have seen marvellous work from the army, the navy and the air force doing all of the above and set force employers up for success, validating yet again the combination of selection process, training, education, operational experience, international opportunities, and command staff continue to produce people that stand tall when they are most needed.

For example, the commander of the U.S.S. Eisenhower battle group, Rear Admiral Joel Fornhauer made the hour drive to our camp over Christmas to tell me that Commander Darren Hawco was the best skipper that he had in the battle group, that the crew of the HMCS Ottawa was the most experienced and capable in his battle group, and that the combination made for an unbeatable credential for Canada. As a result of that, Cdr Darren Hawco ended up commanding a multinational task group during the deployment of in the Persian Gulf. An incredible performance by another Canadian who stood tall for Canada when we needed it.

We have confirmed, yet again this past year, through the many people who have led from the front and many others, that the very best weapon in the CF remains the motivated, the well-equipped well-trained and the well-led men and women who wear our nation’s flag so proudly on their shoulder.

And when you see those young men and women talking they are incredible. Whether it’s in front of a TV microphone or whether it’s patiently explaining what they do to a class of kids, or whether it’s demonstrating incredible moral courage or displaying bravery so commonly that it becomes the norm, these young soldiers, sailors, airmen and air women prove yet again that even describing them as national treasures is perhaps understating their worth to Canada and to all Canadians.

And whether they were the part of the 10,000 on duty in Canada every day, defending Canadians where they live and work, or whether they were in our training system or on air, land or sea deployments, their actions make them the incredible credentials for Canada that bring pride to us all. Their actions – and it’s interesting to do that this year, the 90th anniversary of Vimy – make them worthy recipients of the torch passed on from the ghost of Dieppe, Battle of Britain, Battle of the Atlantic, D-Day, places like Hill 187 in Korea. Easter Monday this year will allow them to stand proudly among the ghosts of those valiants who took Vimy 90 years ago. These men and women are why I took the job and why I keep the job of Chief of Defence Staff.

Support for Families
My wife has a little magnet on our fridge. It’s got a tea bag hanging down from it and a note that says “Military wives are like tea bags. You only know how strong they are when they’re in hot water.” And that’s true. Our families are fundamental to success in our missions – air, land or sea. Clearly, it’s high time that we acknowledge and act upon that truism.

Families are abandoned with minimal notice. They’re sometimes held hostage to a media focus on the violence in our missions as opposed to all of the mission. And the families in Edmonton and Petawawa and Gagetown will tell you that they feel alone no matter how many others are around them. And they experience sweaty palms and a stuttering heart when late at night there’s a knock on the door or that phone rings. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and they inspire and carry us. And if 2006 was dubbed the year of the soldier in Canada, then 2007 should be the year of the military family to recognize their essential service to our country.

I have been with and seen our families during the worst hours of their lives. All of us, together in that chain of command, with our Minister and the Prime Minister, try to support, sustain and inspire them, and keep them going – but knowing, no matter what we do, we’re not going to make things better. And each time, though, I was the one who left inspired – inspired by their dignity, their courage, their resilience and their ability to comfort us even as we were trying to comfort them. Moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who had lost their loved ones but yet could still inspire us.

April 2007 – Kandahar, Afghanistan – Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk arrived in Kandahar to visit with the troops and donate gifts, including a much appreciated supply of ball hockey equipment.

Ms. Judith Budd, who lost her son in Afghanistan, said nothing, nothing was worth losing your boy. But when that boy became a man and that man became a soldier, and that soldier wanted to go on the mission in Afghanistan because he believed in what it meant to others and he accepted the risk, she supported that boy who became a proud soldier.

There are 85,000 other military families across this country just as special as that. They are incredible.

Working Beyond Capacity
I’ve not forgotten the immense challenges that we have. We appreciate, for example, the recent investments in the Canadian Forces and we’re trying to use them as effectively and as efficiently as we possibly can to get the biggest bang for those dollars. But funding remains a challenge. Our readiness, as indicated by the manning of our units, their equipping, their training and preparation readiness is at an alarmingly low level. We have infrastructure, unrelated to our operational mission, that is in an unsettling state of repair. We ignore none of those things, and in fact we spend almost all of our waking hours trying to solve those problems, and more, with your help.

What is of most concern to me right now, as the Chief of Defence Staff, is our level of intensity, combining all the activities and the implications from those main pillars: fighting, growing, equipping, changing the what, changing the how, and mitigating the negative legacy – changing or combining those activities (each with its endless implications requiring action plus the impact of other areas). It all means that we are at sprint speed and have been for a while. The Canadian Forces is working at about 125% capacity and our ability to implement more is extremely limited.

We need to take a step back and consolidate those incredibly powerful accomplishments, to reinforce the successes we have had, and to complete what we are doing. We have to make it routine, first to allow us to focus completely on setting conditions for success in our mission in Afghanistan. That’s an overwhelming first priority. And at the same time, to reduce the risks to the men and women who execute that mission – and we don’t want to put either of those priorities at risk.

Second, so we can preciously guard and maybe even improve slightly our ­ability to do a similar mission post-Afghanistan.

Third, so we can focus on growing preparations for any support that we will provide to domestic events, particularly as we look at the Vancouver Olympics 2010, just around the corner.

We must focus on making routine many of these changes so we can complete the development of initiatives, like the expansion of the special forces, better integration of the air, land and sea forces, and the bringing into service of the major equipment that we have coming and know we will need, turning lessons learned into doctrine and training methodology, and rebuilding our medical system, and so on.

In short, we need a chance to shore up our house and provide that solid base for successful implementation of future initiatives and for the overall well-being of our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen and air women. Our Vice-Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant-General Walter Natynczyk says it’s the GICP – the Good Idea Cutoff Point. We need now to get to a plateau and do what we’re doing and confirm it and make it part of our very good routine for a successful Canadian Forces.

Connecting to Canadians
We have seen that Canadians love and want to support their men and women in uniform, in the CF.

Our “Connecting to Canadians” strategy has a ­simple goal. It’s not to get more recruits. It’s not to get more money. It’s not to get government decisions to give us the equipment that we need. It’s to get all of those things, and each of them is just a tactical pillar. Our efforts to be visible to Canadians in major events across Canada have worked whether it’s the Calgary Stampede, Canada Day in Ottawa, Canadian National Exhibition, the Montreal Grand Prix, the Nova Scotia Tattoo, the Pacific National Exhibition or the Grey Cup Parade and events and week in Winnipeg, the visibility, the ­support has been incredible.

I went out to the Grey Cup to talk to folks about the Canadian Forces and what they do. The Grey Cup is carried in this big steel case that is guarded all the time by big two strong guys (I know, I met them, I had my picture taken with them). They never lose sight of that Grey Cup. It was transported from Winnipeg Airport to the stadium by 430 Squadron in one of the Gryphon helicopters. That Grey Cup never left the sight of those two big guys – it never came out of the box. Yet, when the Grey Cup was presented and they hoisted it up, the picture showed a 430 Squadron sticker on the bottom of the base. How the heck that got there, I don’t know. And I had a chat to the two big guys that guard that Cup – they don’t know how it got there. But this is indicative of the support for our men and women in uniform – they knew it was there, and they made a decision to leave it, to show their support for what men and women in uniform do. This is quite incredible.

That need to personally support men and women in uniform is enormous whether it’s the Rallies in Red across the country, or whether it’s the thousands of Christmas cards and scrolls that are sent. When I went to Kandahar and the Gulf, I brought 20,000 Christmas cards, and the flags of each Canadian Football League team. I also brought sweaters from the Leafs and the Senators, so in the ball hockey rink in front of Tim Horton’s, the Senators and the Leafs could continue their rivalry 10,000 kilometres away from home. And Minister Peter MacKay brought along a miniature Stanley Cup crafted by a craftsman down in Nova Scotia – so when I go back in March, I know that perhaps my only chance this year to see the Leafs hoisting the Stanley Cup will be if I get a young soldier in a Leafs jersey to hoist it in Kandahar.

April 2007 – During a patrol south of Kandahar, the Force Protection Company set up a cordon to allow KPRT Engineers and CIMIC members safe access to a damaged section of the highway for a potential repair project. The FP Company for the KPRT, is comprised of elements of the Royal 22nd Regiment based in Valcartier, Quebec. Canadian operations of the Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-AFG) will focus on working with Afghan authorities to improve security, governance and economic development. (Photo by: Sgt Craig Fiander, JTF-AFG-R3)

All kinds of things are occurring. An individual sent me a cheque for $10,000, saying, “General, for the troops or for the people in Afghanistan.” We’ve got a school being rebuilt as a result of that. Union of National Defence Employees President John MacLennan presented me a cheque for $20,000 from his membership. We’re going to use that to look after the troops and to look after that mission in Afghanistan.

Thousands of gift certificates for Tim Horton’s coming from right across the country to enable our soldiers to enjoy free the Tim Horton’s services that are in Kandahar. And I’ve got to tell you there’s nothing more Canadian than sipping a double-double in Kandahar Airfield while you’re watching a hockey game with those Senators and Leafs shirts on. Nothing more Canadian than that.

The CFL showcased CF men and women during the Grey Cup in Winnipeg. It was absolutely incredible. And on and on and on. Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks and the Allouettes are all holding, have held or will hold appreciation games. We did one a little while ago with the Senators.

Let me just say that lot of what’s occurred in those areas on the sporting arena has been set, has been triggered, has been initiated by a class organization – the Ottawa Senators. Let me just give them their kudos. I’m a long-suffering Leafs fan. That’s probably redundant to say that, right? But I pay incredible compliments to the Senators for putting words to action.  They’ve held Canadian Forces appreciation nights three times now, and they’ve done it better each time. They’re setting the standard higher for next year and they’re causing other professional sports franchises across our country to do exactly the same.

I had a chat recently with the Leafs‘ ownership and management and they will hold a Canadian Forces appreciation weekend in Toronto with a Raptors game, a Marleys game and a Leafs game, and have lots of men and women in uniform and their families all there. An incredible thing which has snowballed across our country.

There are many other things that occur across our country. Another example: a group of ladies in Marmorough, Ontario, just this side of Peterborough, have quilted quilts for the mothers and the widows of every soldier that we have lost this year. And those quilts reflect their lives. A quilted picture: where they went to church, where their hometown is, a map of things that were important to that young man, that young lady.

The Lacrosse Association of Ontario sent sticks and sweaters and caps and balls to the troops. We’re establishing a relationship, a partnership really, with the Canadian Paralympic Association and their initiative, the Soldier On program, will develop a better support system for our wounded when they come back to Canada and their families.

This recognition, the simple words of thanks from individuals across the country and those visible deeds carry those in danger. They carry those who are wounded and who face daunting challenges in rebuilding their bodies and their lives, and they help carry those who have lost loved ones. Canadians cannot fly, sail or walk the dirty, dusty and dangerous trails that we ask of them, unless we all stand strong and support them.

Where we’ve been & where we are
I’ll focus on the incredible people that we have. The most positive state of their morale, the overwhelming support of a nation for them, the honour and the privilege of serving that nation in uniform, the inspiration that we get from our families  – and the fact that today across our country and around the world, Canada’s men and women in uniform, our sailors, our soldiers, our airmen and air women, and their families stand tall. Their heads are high. They are proud. They are professional and they feel valued. It’s been a long time coming and I thank you for your part in making that happen. We will continue to need your support. God bless.
Editor’s note: The CDS presented these thoughts to attendees of the conference of Defence Associations’ Annual General Meeting, on 16 February 2007.
© FrontLine Defence 2007