Supporting our Canadian Forces
RICK HILLIER
© 2008 FrontLine Defence (Vol 5, No 2)

We’re Going to Suck it up
It is a good time to be in the Canadian Forces – air, land or sea, regular or reserve. Make no mistake about it: we’re working hard. Rare is the appoint­ment or the job, in any unit or any location across Canada or the world, where the demands are not intense and the hours required to get even the most basic things done are not horrendous.

But we’re going to suck it up and we’re going to do it. And our job is so much more positive now than in the ’90s, and in a much more positive context.

The Family Approach
This has truly been the year of the family. A year ago, I said that the “whole family” approach would be our focus for the next 12 months, but even I did not anticipate the incredible surge of appreciation for those who support those who serve. For instance: the establishment of the Military Family Fund; the first CDS Gala Ball in support of families; and the enormous support by individual Canadians and businesses and corporations. So many initiatives have been triggered by others and this has changed the dynamic of who those military families are and what they need and what they see themselves doing.

 
August 2006 – Leading Seaman James Larrieux says farewell to wife Annie and children Myriam and Olivier before a 4-month NATO tour with HMCS Iroquois.
 
It is a fundamental truth that if the family breaks, that sailor, that soldier, that airman or air woman will break – just as surely as if shot by the enemy. We want to ensure that the support is there to prevent that from occurring and then to enable healthy and happy family relationships over the long term of a career.

We had to change – that part was obvious – away from old attitudes such as “if we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one.” We had to understand the importance of families both to us as individuals, and also to us as the institution of the Canadian Forces.

As the Chief of Air Staff, Lieutenant-General Angus Watt says, “we recruit ­airmen and air women, but we retain families.” What a great change taking place.

Recruitment
We are growing. We have attracted, recruited, enroled, trained and educated (some 21,000 young Canadians over the past three years in the regular force alone) to grow the Canadian Forces. We are crossing the threshold of 66,000 full-time men and women in uniform serving Canada – and on our way up still.

We are attracting people from coast to coast to coast – from every province and territory and from every demographic  – although not nearly enough from the minority communities yet.

The great challenge we have now is to train those new recruits, to reduce the waiting list, and to continue to work hard to retain the larger-than-normal percentage of people in the CF who are pensionable and who therefore have more options to consider.

We’re getting to young Canadians – 80% percent of the Canadians that we’re enrolling are in the age group that we really do want, in that 18 to 29-year-old group. Some surveys have said that 17% of Canadians in that age group across our country want to join us. We also get slightly more mature individuals and, as long as they can do the job, we’re happy to have them.

Transformation
As we grow in numbers, we truly are transforming every part of our business. I know that’s a word that’s misused at times, but we really are making revolutionary change.
 
We’re changing the training and the education and how we deliver them. Also changing is our use of civilian infrastructure, of educational institutes. Every part of our program is changing. In my view, LGen Andrew in the army, LGen Angus Watt in the air force, and VAdm Drew Robertson in the navy, are doing absolutely revolutionary things.

And while reequipping we are also dramatically, in fact revolutionarily, changing the acquisition process. Faster is always better.

Equipment
We are reequipping – fighting vehicles for the army, including the Leopard II tank; UAVs (we need more and better ones, we’re working hard at that one); personal equipment for our soldiers and sailors and airmen and air women; communications; strategic lift; tactical lift; artillery; both maritime and heavy lift helicopters; joint support ships and the Arctic and offshore patrol shipsand trucks. It doesn’t sound very sexy but Canadian Forces cannot do their job without that logistics lift capability and trucks that can go into high risk areas to deliver the needed commodities where the risk is extreme, where people are trying to ­prevent them moving.

We are also upgrading our major systems to keep them world class. We don’t want to be recognized around the world as experts in the maintenance of ancient equipment. We are upgrading our frigates and subs, the CF18s, LAV-IIIs – and more.

I was in Trenton recently and had the opportunity to jump in C-17 number two, for a short trip with a crew that were in train-up. I’m overwhelmed by the capability that this aircraft gives us. It is working flat out and we’re bringing crews into operational readiness – we’ll soon take delivery of aircraft three and number four. This changes, in a fundamental way, how we can do business.
 
 
Capt Kevin Big Canoe (left) and Capt Jeff Jackson have just landed the C-177 at the Kandahar Air Field (KAF) after ­transporting personnel from South West Asia to KAF.

I want to publicly thank General Buzz Mosley, the Chief of Air Staff in the United States for assistance in bringing the C-17 into operations. We could not have put those aircraft in service as quickly without their help. To the United States Air Force: thank you.
 
There’s always criticism about our reequipping – some say we have enough. I don’t know where they’ve been when they compare the jobs we are doing. Those who spurn the purchase of helicopters or deride tanks have not been sitting in them when the explosion takes place, or when the ambush is triggered, or when the live fire starts coming in – you depend on that vehicle with its armour protection and its fire power and its mobility, to save your life, the lives of your buddies, and to accomplish the ­mission when extremists are trying to kill you.

One thing that looms large from all of those lessons brought home every time we use urgent acquisitions to rectify faults or deficiencies or to fill a void, is that ­stable funding to provide intelligent and coherent program development over the longer term is essential. The problems – of parts and repairs and maintenance and training and use – are all greater when we buy direct from the factory to the battlefield rather than well-run, funded and coherently put together ­programs that can deliver a package of operational capability.

Domestic Response
Our great focus remains on operations – conducting them in a manner that gives Canadians comfort. They know that when they need us, we deliver – at home where we live and work, around the continent, and across the world. Comfort that we’ll do the job in a way to make them proud, and in such fine fashion that Canada and Canadians will reap the strategic benefits that, just as at Vimy almost 91 years ago, people will remember.
 
 
Oct 2007 – General Rick Hillier (right), Chief of the Defence Staff, briefs combat engineers beside one of the new minesweeping vehicles at the Ma’SumGar forward operating base.

‘Job One’ at home involves some 10,000 people, at any point in time, with immediate reaction units – land, air and sea. Across the North, we provide aerospace control as part of NORAD. Some of those patrols, with F-18s based in Alaska, effectively use the capabilities of both nations. And, on a daily basis, our search and rescue units demonstrate the most incredible courage – in the face of enormous danger – to rescue their fellow Canadians from ­life-threatening events

We also work with police forces and civilian authorities in many areas, including planning for events like Olympic 2010. We are well advanced in that planning, in conjunction with the many other agencies that are engaged. We certainly are not the lead role, but we will be in ­support and do what we must do. To that end, we have established a Joint Task Force Games and are finalizing specific tasks for air, land, sea and special forces. Canada Command, its commander and staff, are focussed on readying us to conduct operations here in Canada. Without it, I would not have the confidence that we would be ready for the many ­missions that are either ­predicted or may surprise us.

International
We continue to conduct operations outside of Canada with NATO. For example, HMCS Toronto was deployed with the Standing Maritime Group this past year. They participated in operations while circumnavigating Africa, including high risk boardings and searches in the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

I don’t think that there’s a single Canadian who is unaware of the issues that Afghans, with the support of the international community, must resolve.
 
 
Panjwayi, Afghanistan – Capt Yvonne Brierley, a medical clinician explains a prescription during a joint medical clinic. Close to 700 Afghans were treated.

During the Afghanistan mission, ­particularly in Kandahar itself, we have learned (and relearned) many lessons. Much of our force restructuring, for example, and our cuts throughout this past decade or so, were based on the notion that we would bring what we could to any mission, and our allies would provide the rest, the missing tactical pieces. We discovered that this is a dangerous error. That has led to a significant reassessment of our forces, such as type of units and what is needed to be effective – and how we can provide that and support our men and women on these operations.

Supporting young Canadians in Uniform
We have validated the commitment and the capability of our men and women who wear the nation’s uniform. This is the face of Canada that Afghans will remember – be it keeping the Taliban on its back foot; providing the framework and training for both the Afghan Army and Afghan Police; enabling local construction on roads, causeways, bridges, schools; or supporting the development of basic governance procedures such as we do with the strategic advisory team in Kabul – Canadian men and women do it all, do it professionally, with compassion and pride, and with great effect.

I read a commander’s SITREP about the two CF medical outreach clinics in Zari and Panjwaii districts. The first outreach team saw 676 local Afghan patients in 24 hours; 325 of them were females. The second team saw, in little less than a day, 466 patients (with about the same percentage of women) and it was the first time many had an opportunity to receive direct medical care. They hold Canadian doctors and nurses and medical practitioners and physicians’ assistants in high esteem.

Our men and women who’ve been in Kandahar, understand that without security you cannot have development. You certainly can’t have the kind of outreach clinics that I’ve just mentioned. Conversely – without development you will not have sustainable security. The two go hand in hand. And, although they certainly do not relish it, they know that knocking the Taliban off-balance is the only way that we can provide any kind of security for that development to occur.

Our commanders and our service men and women on the ground know what has to be done and they know how to do it – and the key to our success to date has been empowering them in that mission.

One of those committed and courageous people is Sergeant Guindo from Quebec City. A reserve infantry soldier with the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, he served twice in Bosnia and helped the Ottawa region throughout the 1998 ice storm, and he recently returned from a 7-month mission in Afghanistan. Abdul served as a combat logistics patrol commander with the force protection ­platoon of the national support element, leading his troops through numerous ambushes and improvised explosive device strikes. He demonstrated excellent situational awareness and his inspiring leadership had a most positive impact on his troops and on the mission. For his superior leadership, his willingness to face the risk, and his devotion to duty, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. He has saved Canadian and Afghan lives and he has been one of the greatest representatives we could ever ask for, a great Canadian. We say thanks for what he has done for our country and the burdens that he carries.

Your sailors, your airmen and air women and your soldiers don’t ask much as they execute the missions for Canada, and particularly the one in Afghanistan within a NATO construct. And as the debate in Canada goes on, they watch with interest and ask nothing from it.

But they do ask that the effect at the end of it be very clear – and they’re vocal about that. They ask pretty simple things from us as a country – and since I am their voice, I will articulate.

Let me first say, these young men and women support completely the sole prerogative in this country: that Parliament decides which course will be taken. In fact, they work in uniform to ensure that that can occur. But they do ask – from the point of view of those who will accept the risks and the sacrifices of that mission – that they be given clarity of purpose in what they are asked to do. And they deserve that clarity of purpose as soon as we can possibly give it to them as a country because, in the eyes of the Taliban, we are in a window of extreme vulnerability – the longer we go without that clarity, with the issue in doubt, the more the Taliban will target us a per­ceived weak link.

I won’t tell you that the suicide bombings [in February] have been related to the debate back here in Canada, but I cannot say they are not. Certainly, there is a ­perception that the Taliban will try to take advantage of the debate back here, will try to prevent a cohesive mission, and will indeed attempt to attack our Canadian Forces in Kandahar.

They ask, these men and women, that they be given a mission that is militarily viable. Canada can select any mission it wants, tell us to do anything it wants, but anyone who has served in uniform will remember the caveated nation that we were – for which we now lambaste all the other NATO countries.

Many of us who served in the former Yugoslavia will remember that UN battalions were always abbreviated, so the names were RUSBAT or USBAT or ­BRITBAT or FRENCHBAT or CANBAT. And when those battalions arrived, they were quickly assessed by those around them as to their national willingness to do what was needed – and Canadian battalions were consequently often labeled, not CANBAT, but CANTBAT because of the controls and caveats imposed back here in Canada, constraining their ability to do anything except watch the ethnic cleansing that took place.

Over the past six months, our soldiers have removed from the battlefields six Taliban commanders who have been responsible for planning, leading, and implementing attacks that caused the deaths of 21 of our soldiers. Without the proactive operations to track, locate and attack them, they with their forces, would still be trying to kill us.

And Lastly, whether you agree with the mission or not – once the troops are committed by our Parliament, representing all Canadians in a democratic system – is it too much to ask, on behalf of those soldiers, that Parliament also shows their support for the men and women who will execute that mission, by voting overwhelmingly to support them in the danger and the risk that they will encounter? I think that’s the least our soldiers could expect as they could go out and lay their lives on the line for our country.

As always, we in uniform who execute any mission our country gives to us – to the best of our abilities, regardless of the risk to any of us – will judge the mission when we look into the eyes of the families who have lost their loved ones and hear them say that the loss, their sacrifice on a family has not been in vain.

Wrap Up
I will wrap up with a few words about the incredible phenomenon sweeping our country, every part of our society, growing on a weekly basis of support for soldiers and sailors and airmen and air women and their families. We have seen support in ways and in areas not evident since World War II – and in some cases, we’ve never seen this before in our country.

Care of our wounded is part of that overall support, including a commitment to give them the opportunity to continue to serve, and to emphasize that we can continue to do business as normal for their careers.

As a prime example, in recognition of his service, we are promoting to corporal, a young man from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec who lost his foot and part of his leg in Afghanistan this past fall. We have a place in the Canadian Forces for that young man to continue to serve. What an incredible, great Canadian.
 
 
Canadian Forces Day – Celebrations kicked off on 1 June 2007, as Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier led over 5,000 CF ­members and DND employees on a 5 km run/walk from National Defence Headquarters to Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

The support that we’ve seen across the country has been very, very real. Sports teams treating service men and women like VIPs. I refer to the Senators’ appreciation game on 17 January, the Oilers’ appreciation game on the 23rd of November. I was there with Laurie Hawn and our minister – we had 5,000 men and women and family members at the game, and the evening was built around them. A great Leafs game took place (and they won – that’s a rarity so I refer to it). The Allouettes, Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks, the Toronto Marleys, the Toronto Raptors and, yes, the Washington Capitals also had a Canadian Forces appreciation game on 17 January to show appreciation to our men and women in uniform, and their families, for what they do for Canada and for the world.

There are community rallies to both farewell and welcome home men and women in uniform, donations to a variety of funds including the Military Family Fund to support children, service men and women and their families and a rallying around by communities of our families during the stress of deployments. The list of great people doing great things to ­support us is endless.

I receive requests all the time as to what people and organizations, or even governments at all levels, can do to help out. I can tell you that one of the greatest stresses of all is one that’s difficult to resolve – and that is a lack of family physicians for our families, particularly when one of the family members deploys.

Some 25-30% (or more) of our military families that have been ordered, by us, to move to new locations to support operations simply cannot find a family doctor because they are new arrivals.

And if you think it’s tough as a young sailor doing your mission in the Persian Gulf, boarding one ship after another, not knowing what you’re going to find when you do it, under horrible conditions, in temperatures of 50° plus – doing it while your wife is bouncing around urgent care clinics or emergency rooms with a sick child because she cannot find a family doctor becomes almost a show stopper for all concerned.

I challenge all of us across this country to take steps to change that scenario for those people who have no choice but to move to the locations that we ask them to go, in order to serve our country.

Corporations and businesses can also support us, because the families that must move to new locations, give up their jobs and jeopardize their careers. If you want to establish a preferential hiring list for the spouses of military men and women, that will be an incredible thing indeed, to show that your actions actually mirror the words of support.

I thank Canadians for your support. I thank you for your enthusiasm and the energy and motivation that you give us to carry on when we ourselves are fatigued. Please continue, in your actions, your thoughts and prayers, to remember the thousands of our sons and daughters who are serving their country in harm’s way right now, and remember particularly the young families who also serve, albeit slightly differently.

Parting (Slap)SHOT
I will close by saying that speculation as to my endurance as the Chief of Defence Staff has gone on for a little while. Far too many questions are asked on that topic. But I expect that this year is probably my last Conference of Defence Associations meeting because I’m waiting for an offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs to put the “General” in General Manager. I expect to get that offer soon – and if I do, I’m gone.
 
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This article is based on General Hillier’s presentation to attendees of the annual Conference of Defence Associa­tions’ AGM on 22 February 2008.
© Frontline Defence 2008

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