The Disconnect between Society and Our Veterans

It has been a familiar lament of soldiers throughout time that once the war is finished then society would rather forget about them. In many cases, they come home ill or injured, broken in body or spirit and the adjustment to a ‘normal’ civvy life outside of their military family is challenging.

In Canada, as of late, there have been a few feeble attempts in regards to lessening the pain incurred by a releasing member. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has tried to mitigate the shock of the transition process with their Second Career Assistance Network (SCAN) program. During your duty hours, a service member can attend seminars and receive counselling on resume writing, interviewing, and where to search for jobs. The website du jour that gets pushed is LinkedIn, which in it’s time was probably more professional but has turned into just a more civil cousin of Facebook. The CAF’s efforts are better than nothing but is little more than kind of pointing you in the right direction. Remember, military personnel get moved so often that those personnel contacts that are so important when looking for work are typically absent. So in many cases, the member has to keep scanning electronic job boards ad nausea and fire off applications in the blind. All the legwork after release is upon the member who is dumped out with a few meagre tools in their job hunting toolbox.

Once a member has been released, they come under the auspices of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). At least VAC is listed as an agency to visit upon release so personnel can actually learn something about them and what they can offer for transition services. If you are undergoing a medical release with a pension attached, they’ll help administer getting the monies to you plus other services. If you’re somewhat able bodied, VAC is not much use to you. About all they can provide is up to a lifetime $1000 credit towards career service expenses such as professional resume writing or counselling. It will take some red tape and three to six months to be reimbursed but a few dollars to help with a polished resume is better than nothing. But unless you are really broken, you will not be talking to VAC again until you are looking at being put in a home.

The Government of Canada (GOC) tries to play a part in easing the process of military transition. They allow former military members to compete for internal advertised positions for up to two years after release. It is mostly a waste of time as there is already a handpicked nominee in mind when these advertisements go out. Either that or the process is so geared towards a specific person with a specific set of skills, that a service member doesn’t have a chance unless there is someone coaching them on what HR is looking for. The external GOC positions are also available and most say ‘Eligible veterans and CAF members may apply‘ but all that might get you is the fact that they will at least look at your resume. The entire process to be hired for a GOC job usually takes between 12 to 18 months. Again the positions are looking for specific civilian skill sets that most members would not have and many positions are just for an anticipatory hiring pool where no one may ever be hired. Plus, the HR process is out of touch between linking prospective job seekers with jobs they would be suited to. During the tests and interviews, there is no mention or askance of any skills that would actually be beneficial to the job in question. To illustrate this in an example, HMC Dockyard Halifax needs Sail loft/ Marine Survival Technician Apprentices to work at the Boat Shed. This job is tailor made for ex-RCN bosuns as that was their job onboard ship. But the written test administered was geared towards an officer worker as was the standardized interview. There was not even a question about, ‘Are you good working with your hands?’ The only useful thing about the GOC hiring process is it keeps a bunch of HR people on long term employment as it is next to useless for veterans.

Outside of GOC services there are a few organizations which try to help struggling veterans in transition. Canada Company, a non-profit started in 2006, has been linking up veterans and their spouses with industry through their Military Employment Transition program. Their site proclaims that they have had 2100 hires (in separate emails, they say 3000) since inception. Considering in the close to 12 years they have been around, about 60,000 Regular Force and 25,000 Reserve Force personnel have left the service, that was a re-hire rate of about 3.5%. Not a great track record but again better than nothing. The GOC must have gotten tired of their success rate or wanted to hire more civil servants because Canada Company is being shut down in favour of a contracted service, Agilec. This new GOC contract will just end up being a means to keep the HR company employed while being able to point to something to say, ‘Hey look! We’re taking care of those Vets!’ At least the old outfit was private and non-profit costing the taxpayer nothing. It also attempted to bridge the gap between military skill sets and the standardized civilian skills HR departments look for when they are screening applicants.

This is a huge challenge for ex-military members. There is no section on the computerized job application forms where you can translate all of the innumerable skills and courses that you have picked up over a military career. For example, how do you convey the concept of being in charge of the security of a ship and her company in foreign port where not only you are authorized to use deadly force but are able to order others to do so at your direction. Civilians are unable to comprehend the enormous amounts of responsibility placed upon even the most junior of members. Hence, the gravitas associated with military service will typically be glossed over or ignored.

A few Canadian companies proclaim to be ‘Veteran’ friendly and actually ask for self-identification during the initial application process. Typically, it is just a few ex-military folks who made it out in the civvy world and are trying to pay it back to their former comrades. The Old Boys and Girls club does try to look out for one another where and when they can. Networking will always be the best avenue to find the good jobs.

There are also a few contracted agencies or school programs here and there that will attempt to help a veteran with skills upgrades or to link them with prospective employers. Helmets to Hardhats will offer heavy equipment or construction courses at a discount and will help veterans hook up with employers. Prospect Human Services attempts to link up veterans with those elusive employers. But the problem with all these outfits that want to be helpful is the poor translation of former military abilities and skills to something a civilian employer can understand. In fact, the Prospect recruiters want you to dumb down your military career as it is too intimidating and your resume will be tossed. It seems redundant and demoralizing to go back to school for courses or to start at an entry level position to ‘fit’ civilian job specifications when the member already has years of similar experience.

This is why it is so difficult to find meaningful employment for a member who was in uniform for the mid to long term. The job hunting process is degrading enough especially to someone who had proudly served their country. Being in uniform means sacrifice, time away from family, multiple moves, and sometimes a cost to your body and mind. Finding a job after release is hard enough but to be told that all that military effort and training was for naught, well that is disappointing to say the least.

It is encouraging that there are plenty of good intentions on the part of the government and other Canadians. They just fall short when it comes to concrete results. Veterans are prone to higher incidences of mental and physical issues by default. They do not want handouts but they would like a hand up. Their unique sacrifices in the service of their country demand better results than the current status quo. This is why veterans are taking the GOC to Supreme Court over things like disability pensions and sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. It is why a group of veterans are camping on Parliament hill to raise awareness of the lack of progress in PTSD treatment programs. Veterans get a little irked when PM Trudeau comes out with gems like ‘You’re asking for more than the government can give.’ especially when he seems more concerned with re-integrating returning ISIS fighters. The Liberals have already argued in court that Canada has no ‘duty of care‘ to its veterans. If the PM doesn’t get it about veteran’s issues than how will the average Canadian understand what they are up against? A couple minutes of remembrance in November does not make up for the rest of the year that a veteran is suffering.

In the end, it only seems like it will be veterans looking after other veterans whether they meet at the Legion, the Clubhouse, or through other veteran run organizations. The military becomes your family and family is who you can really count on.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


A Requiem for Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Every Canadian school child (less so for those in Quebec) has heard or recited the immortal lines penned in 1915 by LCol John McCrae while on duty at a forward dressing station upon the death of a dear friend. Tragically, the doctor himself died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918. The memory of arguably one of the most recognizable Canadian military icons barely registered with Prime Minister Trudeau’s government or the department that oversees these types of ceremonies, Veterans Affairs.

This latest affront to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) might as well be the final symbolic nail in the coffin for the Services. There is the habitual talk and opinions of getting serious about our military, following the well advertised policies in the new MND’s Strong, Secure, Engaged paper, and really starting to listen to the challenges facing CAF personnel. But talk is cheap. The torch was thrown and no one has been there to catch it.

The CAF has been in shambles and ‘rusting out’ for decades under both Liberal and Conservative governments. Simple procurement of desperately needed equipment is perennially bogged down in political obfuscation and delay. In 1986, when I was sworn into the Air Force, I was meant to train as an Air Navigator for the new Shipborne Helicopter. The RCAF still does not have a replacement ready. In desperation in order to finally push the Cyclone through, the RCAF generals have decided to force everyone’s hand by finally retiring the 50 plus year old Sea Kings. In 1986, our CF-18s were brand new and able to keep up with our NATO allies. Now, we are purported to be in negotiations with Australia for their old F-18 fleet and the RCAF will be flying our antiquated birds until at least 2032. Ironically, the RAAF is making room for their delivery of new F-35s. In 1986, the CC-115 Buffalo had been repurposed for a SAR role and tasked out to various squadrons across the country. The plan was to have a replacement in the early 90’s. Although a contract has finally been awarded, no new aircraft will be showing up for years yet to replace the last few flying antiques in Comox, BC. The lamentations for the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy are just as deplorable and lengthy for this time period.

Actions on the battlefield during LCol McCrae’s war and actions in today’s wars are what count, not the flowery words of the politicians. A good case in point is the RCN’s urgent need for supply ships. Outgoing Senator Colin Kennedy is adamant about making a decision on the issue. He will not be listened to because of his early retirement which is serving to blunt the cloud of sexual allegations that just came up against him. VAdm Mark Norman clearly saw the need to do something and Trudeau had him removed from his post and holds him in indefinite legal limbo for whatever monstrous transgression that may have occurred. Meanwhile, the Navy finally received an ‘interim’ ship, MV Asterix which will finally give the Pacific fleet its own supply ship again. The Atlantic fleet will just have to keep begging, hat in hand, for help from their allies who have their own priorities.

Shortly after his election in 2015, PM Trudeau promised that ‘Canada was back‘ and ready to carry our share of UN Peacekeeping duties and missions. Years later, there isn’t a single boot on the ground or even any real plans to help our allies whose soldiers have been dying. Laughably, Canada hosted a Peacekeeping summit late last year where participation depended on actual boots on the ground. We only got to send delegates because we hosted the damn thing.

Let alone our present sorry state of affairs with our standing force, our veterans are still in poor shape and suffer from the same lack of definitive action. Veteran’s groups keep taking successive governments to court and run into less than sympathetic Ministers. Veteran’s transition programs to civilian careers are great for helping you with the latest civvy HR approved resumes, how to take HR non-descript interviews, and what to put in your LinkedIn profiles but are very short on actually getting soldiers meaningful employment. Veterans Affairs personnel appear busy and hold regular meetings about their hospital charges concerns and treatment. I confronted one of their reps over the rodent problem at Camp Hill Veterans Hospital in Halifax. Oh, he assured me, we met over that issue and it was dealt with. He didn’t have an answer when I told him mice and rats have been running around in that structure for the eight years my nursing friend had worked there and as recently as the night before were canoodling above her head. It’s all lipstick on a pig and no one wants to get serious about real change.

What we’ve needed for decades now, has been a serious discussion amongst Canadians about exactly where we want to be regarding our military and subsequent world role. We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t keep living the WWI and WWII glory days when we gave our all as a country for King and Glory. Those aren’t the present Canadian values. So, we have to sort out our values. Some commentators are actually floating the idea of disbanding the military. Do we want or need a Blue Water Navy? Do we want to play with the Big Boys like the Americans or do we just want to take care of our own playground? Are we willing to spend blood and gold on the shitholes of the World or are we just going to cluck and finger wag at other countries who do the heavy lifting? We need a firm plan, with firm funding, and a firm direction irrespective of changes of government. Otherwise the CAF will just keep lurching along, crisis to crisis, swinging this way and that with every consecutive government whim like the zombie organization it has become.

The guns have never really gone silent but Canada’s weapons have. We do not remember them, we have not taken up the quarrel, and the torch gives off nothing more than a swirl of smoke. Canada has broken the faith with LCol John McCrae and every one of the over 100,000 men and women who directly gave their lives in service to Canada.

(They) shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

In memory of:



Drug Addiction in North America

Drug addiction, especially the opioid epidemic has been in focus for the last couple of years in the States and Canada. When you have about 150 Americans and about 10 Canadians dying per day because of opioid overdoses, it is difficult for the alarm bells not to ring. Healthcare professionals and governments are scrambling to get a grip on the crisis. Meanwhile, there have been a patchwork of solutions from just letting the Emergency Room (ER) staff handle the extra work to illegal harm reduction sites popping up on city property. I came across an opinion piece from Virgina Pelly in BRIGHT Magazine on how ER staff could be more sympathetic to the frequent flyer OD addicts and what could be done to mitigate the problem. The following is an excerpt from the article and my thoughts on the problem.

Kelly D. says that when she was 21 years old and using heroin, she woke up in emergency rooms more times than she can count. Regaining consciousness in the hospital after an overdose was unpleasant enough, but the lack of compassion made the experience even worse.
“All I got in the hospital was an IV and judgment,” says Kelly, who asked that her last name not be used. She is now 30, drug-free, and a musician and receptionist in Santa Cruz, California. She recalls that nurses would sometimes ask her, “Know how you got here?” alongside snide remarks about her drug use.
“It was always an alienating experience because the ER staff was so cold,” she says.
Worse than the judgment, she says she was never offered any help or information about treatment options. Thousands of people are spit back into society — sometimes over and over — after the trauma of a drug overdose and an emergency room visit, without getting information about where to get help. Like Kelly, thousands of them are young people.


Let’s repeat her statement, “More times than she can count.”

Medicine and treatment for what ails a human is complicated. It is a mixture of the ‘feel good’ so called bed side manner which Kelly D. lamented the lack of during her innumerable ‘treat and streets’ and precise, proven treatments such as the dosage of Narcan the ER staff was able to administer to save an OD patient’s life.

So, let’s inject some real world numbers into exactly why those nurses were a little grumpy with a frequent flyer. I will use California statistics as this is where Kelly D. is from. As for opioids in America, they have been the hardest hit of all countries and have the highest rate of use per person. Canada is not that far behind.

As for the statistics I used for the following analysis, click this link for California Emergency Department Visit Rates For Medical Conditions, 2005–11. Scroll down to the Supplementary Data section and click on the data table link.

Let’s crunch some hard numbers to see what California ERs were coping with even before this latest opioid drug epidemic. In seven years, ER visits climbed close to 18%. With a 2011 population of 37.68 million, that was close to 12 million ER visits representing a one in three visit rate per resident. Of all the hospital admissions, the entirely preventable conditions of Alcohol & Drug Abuse (nobody accidentally puts a needle full of heroin into their body) came to 12.1% of the total.

Of the 350 California hospitals, 2 out of 3 have ERs, or about 231 giving roughly 52,000 visits each per year or 142 per day. Of course those are all averages and an ER in Los Angeles, such as Huntington and County-USC will have 500 visits per day but will have more resources compared to a smaller center. Huntington and County-USC is probably typical with the amount of beds available for a larger ER unit with 130, of which I’m guessing more than the 12% of admissions had to do with Alcohol & Drug abuse. Hospital wait times are now legendary in scope and well documented. The time that could easily be seen as ‘wasted’ on a repeat client like Kelly D. would be have been incredible. This one hospital was reporting 14 hour waits to admit someone to a bed back in 2014.

It’s easy to slag ER staff for being less than sympathetic to patients with self-inflicted maladies. Each and every one of those detractors has never been a nurse on the front lines of an inner city ER department having to deal with the sheer volume of broken humanity rolling through their doors. Dewey eyed compassion for some junkie is an early casualty especially after the umpteenth return visit.

As described in the Virginia Pelly piece, advocacy programs like the one in Boston make sense. But those types of programs cost money and necessitate hiring more staff. If you look at the California State Debt Counter, you’ll see that the state is rapidly closing in on half a trillion dollars USD in debt. How exactly is that going to get paid off, let alone squeeze more dollars out for ‘feel good’ programs to get people off of opioids, which again are voluntary actions that they self-inflict upon themselves? When comes the point of society accepting drug related summary state execution as advocated by the late Mao Zedong or the present Philippine government? Somebody eventually has to pay the piper. Sentimental liberalism will eventually meet the hard rock of reality and fiscal obligations.

Dealing with the Western drug issue has gone sideways in the States and Canada for about a century now ever since drugs (and for a brief time alcohol) was made illegal. I wrote an extensive article, The Ridiculous War on Drugs, from my enforcement perspective experience of 20+ years. I fully agree, that as with most health related issues, putting education and some early programs at the start of the cycle will pay huge dividends compared to treating people at the back end. Society also needs to decriminalize drugs so that the users are not afraid to seek help for fear of the police.

People like Kelly D. obviously took some self-responsibility to sort out her life. But when I was moonlighting with the Vancouver Coroner picking up the OD deaths on the Lower Eastside, we got pretty good at guessing who of the bystanders would be bagged next and wheeled out on our gurney. It is extremely difficult to pull yourself back when you have fallen that far but people with bad addictions need to step up and take some personal responsibility. Society will fast become tired of being their brother’s keeper.

Here is a last question. If you were an ER nurse, (or the government official doling out the yearly health care budget) who would you be more sympathetic towards, a junkie who ODs every welfare payment day or a little kid with a chronic disease?

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.



VAdm Mark Norman addressing a ship’s company during Divisions

The Prime Minister’s Method to Muzzle the Navy

The members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), indeed the men and women of most Western militaries, are held to strict standards. One of the strictest policies is that of refraining from talking smack about your political leadership. The CAF from the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Vance right down to the greenest Private are to remain apolitical and silent when it comes to the military’s views vis-à-vis government decisions and procurement contracts. It was widely reported that former CDS, Gen Rick Hillier, was irking PM Steven Harper because of his popularity and outspokenness. The PM chose not to take on the Leprechaun from The Rock head on and replaced him in due time with Gen Tom Lawson. Unfortunately, for the former Vice CDS, Vice Admiral (VAdm) Mark Norman, PM Justin Trudeau took a more sinister approach to a supposed faux pas on the part of a very senior military officer.

The story surrounding the virtual hanging of the VAdm from the yardarm without his opportunity to be brought before the mast is superbly detailed in two recent National Post pieces by Andrew Coyne and David Pugliese. The gist of the situation is that the VAdm has been removed from his position and has been placed in legal limbo for just over a year now. Adding insult to injury, the RCMP has requested at least another three months to examine the mountain of seized material (which includes the VAdm’s wife’s medical records). Trudeau opined shortly after the VAdm’s removal that the matter would end up in court thus signaling where he wanted the process to lead.

These actions by PM Trudeau, the Liberal government, and the RCMP are reminiscent of Gestapo and NKVD tactics. The VAdm may not have been carted off to Lubyanka or Gen Augusto Pinochet’s Isla Dawson political prisoner camps but for all intents and purposes that is exactly what has happened. Due to military protocol, the VAdm is unable to speak publicly or to agitate for his disposition or he will have no chance to return to his post. If he does speak up for himself, his career will be ruined beyond recovery. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the government will just wait and obfuscate until he cracks or becomes irreverent. The VAdm is indeed between a rock and a hard place.

A Replenishment At Sea (RAS) with MV Asterix – Jacek Szymanski RCN Broadcast Unit

As a cruel piece of irony, the RCN Public Affairs team is cranking out the news that Motor Vessel (MV) Asterix was delivered and has been sent out on maneuvers. The ship is training in order to fill a desperate hole in the RCN Pacific fleet. The RCN has been making due since losing Protecteur and Preserver by contracting Chilean and Spanish supply ships. In addition, while on multi-national exercises RCN ships have relied on USNS fuelers or have found suitable ports to gas up in. Tactically and strategically, these were stop-gap solutions recognized by the VAdm down to the freshest bosun. But government ignored the pleas and advice of the operators as is the sad norm for CAF procurement.

But VAdm Norman will see no public support from his fellow officers. Unlike the RCN Admirals’ Revolt to protest the 1968 Liberal’s CAF Unification, there will be no resignations in protest. The CDS has firm control of his senior leadership and they have all been cowed into silence and obedience. Everyone knows what happens to the first gopher who pokes their head out of the hole.

From a personal context, VAdm Norman was my senior commander in the RCN (affectionately known as the Kraken as his acronym was CRCN) for several years. I saw him in person once and I never heard any poor accounts of a man who served and still serves his country faithfully and proudly for 38 years. His only hint at a ‘crime’ was to embarrass a new government who wanted to scuttle a critically needed production of a RCN Supply ship just because it was the previous Conservative government’s idea. The man is a bona fide Canadian Patriot and he is being treated like gash to be tossed overboard.

PM Justin Trudeau was fond of quoting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms especially when it came to handing over $10.5 million to convicted terrorist Omar Khadr or in regards to returning ‘Canadian’ ISIS fighters. Perhaps Trudeau should take a closer look at the Charter’s Legal Rights Section Paragraph 12. ‘Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.’ I have a feeling a future PM will be apologizing and handing over a large cheque to the VAdm.

Meanwhile, the true colours of Trudeau, who idolizes the Castros and China’s system of dictatorship are on full display. Regrettably for the VAdm, my feeling is that he will just fade from relevance and quietly disappear just like the recently paid-off last of the ‘Sisters of the Space Age‘ destroyer Athabaskan in the background of the picture above.

It is a shame that Athabaskan’s motto, ‘We Fight As One‘, are just hollow words when it comes to the VAdm’s predicament.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


The message that showed up on every cell phone in Hawaii including my Mom’s IPhone

Mosquitos and Tigers

I know everyone is all concerned about a possible flare-up with the North Koreans and possible ballistic missile shots tipped with a nuclear weapon. Just some real world military perspective here:

  • The text of the Alert read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Nowhere in that statement do I see a reference to North Korea or that this was a nuclear tipped missile. Thankfully, a retraction alert went out 38 minutes later. People get a lot of exercise by jumping to conclusions.
  • The DPRK’s technology isn’t to the point of fitting a nuclear warhead onboard a missile.
  • The DPRK’s ability to fire a missile that would actually come anywhere close to actually striking an intended target with any sort of accuracy, especially at the range of Hawaii, hasn’t been achieved. Why do you think they are doing test shots? This basically makes your chances of being hurt about the same as being hit by some toilet blue ice falling from a passing airliner. I would be more worried about the Chinese miscalculating the ultimate landing area of the Tiangong-1 when it burns up on re-entry in the next few months. Kim Jong-un is just playing silly buggers in order to 1) further his own position with his own people so they don’t string him up and, 2) further his own position on the world stage bluffing that he can play with the big boys, again in order to save his own hide.
  • If and when North Korea gets around to a functioning nuke plus a reliable delivery system, they aren’t going to waste a shot on the States. It will be held in reserve for the all-out response or attack involving South Korea. A long shot towards the States will just invite the chances of it missing or being intercepted. Wiping out Seoul or a similar large population/military concentration will be the preferred shot. This is the entire strategy of North Korea. Their conventional weaponry is massive thus deterring a first strike from their enemies. An eventual nuke is just another tool in the deterrent war-box in order to keep the Americans from coming after Chubby №1 Leader. He learned his lesson from watching what happened to Gaddafi and Hussein.
  • There are however about 4000 operational nukes on reliable delivery platforms, mostly between Russia and the US, with about 1800 ready to go short notice (mostly on boomer submarines) and they are all pointed at one another ready to release nuclear Armageddon. No point being that worried about a mosquito when there is a tiger in the room.
  • What may happen, is just like 9/11, scared Americans who were never really in any significant danger are apt to overreact causing untold devastation to the Korean peninsula. About 3000 deaths from a terrorist strike on the US has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery and the utter devastation of at least Afghanistan, Iraq, and large swathes of the Middle East with no end in sight. Plus of course the treasure and blood spent on these so-called ‘revenge’ crusades has been staggering. There are already plenty of calls for a first strike against North Korea to take out their nuclear arsenal, such as it is. No matter that Seoul with its 10 million inhabitants are only about 25 km from the DMZ and would suffer incredible casualties. No matter that the North Koreans themselves would suffer incredible casualties. But don’t worry about the yellow man as long as there isn’t a hair harmed on some fair headed American.

If I was a South Korean, I would be somewhat worried about the northern neighbors. If I was that same South Korean, I would be absolutely terrified of the Americans going off half-cocked especially because they are so wound up over such a tiny threat. America has no skin in the game other than waning influence in the South Asia/Pacific region because of the ascension of the Chinese. The South and North Korean people are just seen as expendable cannon fodder by the larger players.

Slowly, more information is coming out over how this mistake was able to occur. Until the FCC produces their final report, I suggest you read this analysis from an industry expert, Jared M. Spool.

Meanwhile, if I was vacationing on Hawaii with my parents right now, I would be worried about what to wear at the next luau and making sure I had enough rum for my pineapple. Next time there’s an ‘ Ballistic Missile Alert’, it’s either a hoax, mistake, or the real thing. In all those cases, there’s absolutely nothing you can do so there isn’t much point in getting worked up.

My advice is to have another one of those rum and pineapples.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


HMCS St. John’s on manoeuvres during Operation REASSURANCE

Originally published with RUSI(NS)


The popular RUSI(NS) Distinguished Speaker series continued on 4 October 2017 with a presentation by Commander Sheldon Gillis. The charismatic Cdr Gillis gave an illuminating talk to an appreciative audience on the activities of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) St. John’s whilst he captained the Halifax-class frigate last spring on deployment as the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) contribution to Operation REASSURANCE.

From 9 January to 14 July 14, 2017, Cdr Gillis and his ship’s company of 239 sailors and RCAF personnel conducted Roto 6 (sixth rotation) in support of Op REASSURANCE, taking on the mission from HMCS Charlottetown.  HMCS St. John’s conducted operations in the central portion of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, off of Syria, and near Iceland, before returning to their home port of Halifax. According to the commander, the post-Halifax-class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension (HCM/FELIX) ship and embarked Sea King helicopter performed admirably.  In his opinion, the expenditure of billions of dollars on upgrading the frigates has proven itself in theatre.  He is looking forward to the next technological and operational leaps forward when the RCAF’s new Cyclone maritime helicopter becomes available for operations.

The commander is a long serving naval officer whose first major deployment was in HMCS Protecteur when she sailed in 1990 on Operation FRICTION to the Persian Gulf.  Cdr Gillis has observed first-hand the sea changes of world naval power.  To him, what was old is now new again.  In the late 2000s, Russia was flush with revenue from oil sales.  Portions of this windfall have gone to modernizing and beefing up an ailing Russian Fleet.  While his frigate was deployed, a Russian carrier conducted air operations off of Syria, Russian surface ships and a brand new Kilo-class submarine were preparing to fire cruise missiles into Syria, and numerous Russian ‘research’ vessels were in the Mediterranean. For 21 days, he and his company kept constant surveillance on the Kilo-class submarine whilst she operated off the coast of Syria.  As he described it, he was conducting old school Cold War symmetric anti-submarine operations.  These skill sets used to be the raison d’être of the RCN and one of its main foci.  Thankfully, the ship was able to pivot back to this vital role.  Apparently the modernized frigates and younger sailors can ably handle the ‘novel’ task of Russian sub-hunting that was second nature to sailors of a past generation.

Other novel dealings for the Canadian frigate were the numerous ship-to-ship interactions with the Russians.  There was quite a bit of interest in St John’s  whilst they spent 21 days in the Black Sea conducting port visits and patrols.  Whilst they were shadowing the Kilo-class submarine off of Syria, there were at least 10 to 12 Russian surface ships in the same small area of water space. Although both navies act professionally, they each realize that everyone is keeping a wary eye on each other.  There was a significant shift in naval operating dynamics where the normal exercise safety factors did not exist.  Most navy personnel are used to the somewhat artificial exercise parameters and haven’t been exposed to real world symmetrical threats.  As Cdr Gillis stressed, the Russians are not our enemy but they are worth keeping more of an eye on in the future.

Touching on the future course of the RCN, Cdr Gillis opined that although his frigate, helicopter and company acquit themselves well with respect to the tasks assigned to them, it is vital that the RCN pushes forward with the Canadian Surface Combatant project.  Other world navies such as Russia and China are boosting their naval inventories and sea presence.  In order to keep up, Canada needs to keep re-investing in our own sea going capabilities to deal with the resurging symmetric abilities and/or threats.  In addition, the RCN’s ‘to do’ list is not shrinking but expanding year upon year.  A nation’s naval power is as important in today’s world as it has ever been.

RUSI(NS) members and invited guests enjoyed Cdr Gillis’s frank and open presentation and follow on discussion of HMCS St. John’s latest European deployment.  It was quite evident that he was proud to have commanded a RCN warship.  For the audience present, it was a rare opportunity to hear from a senior naval officer who had been out ‘doing the business’.

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Selling UN Peacekeeping to Canadians

***Originally published with FrontLine Defence***

Most Canadians would agree that the atrocities happening in places like Mali, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (and any numerous other corners of hell in the world) should be stopped. But hard lessons in Afghanistan have taught us that spending precious blood and gold may not make the kind of difference needed to set some of these regions firmly on a path away from lawless anarchy. Prime Minister Trudeau’s trepidation towards committing a large military contingent to a quagmire such as Mali is absolutely understandable. There seems to be no upside in it for Canada other than the altruistic humanitarian angle. Why send Canadians to a place that (a) doesn’t want peace and (b) doesn’t want foreigners meddling in their affairs? The return on millions or billions spent, will likely only be the return of Canadian dead, maimed, and mentally injured. UN peacekeeping is a tough sell to Canadians who have witnessed repatriation parades and an epidemic of soldier suicides. Would it not be easier to throw up our hands in despair and say “let them work out their own issues and stay out of someone else’s fight”?

Historically, Canadians have, and will do what’s right. As witnessed by the Royal Canadian Navy sailors recently returned from West Africa’s mission, NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01, the Canadian flag, the people and our ideals are respected and powerful. We are seen as honest brokers with no ulterior motives unlike other larger countries. We are wanted and needed. Canada can and must make a difference outside of our borders.

So how do you sell the bitter medicine that is UN peacekeeping to Canadians? To begin with, they need to be given the straight goods. Recently, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Jonathan Vance stated something similar with reference to the new Canada Defence Policy. The Policy lays out firm timelines and monies for the next 20 years, giving hard direction for the military to follow irrespective of change of government. The same firm, clear direction needs to be in place before Canada’s next UN peacekeeping operation. The government and military needs to be brutally honest, open and realistic about the whole proposed operation. Number one is to identify the goal. Why are we going, where are we going, what will we accomplish, and how long will we be there? How many of our soldiers might be taking the Highway of Heroes home? What will be the ultimate cost, including expected care associated with returning soldiers maimed in mind and body? How will we decide when enough is enough? Will there be a natural ‘Victory’ or just a point where we’ll just cut our losses and leave? When there is no discernable upside to a bad mission, Canadians would be more willing to sacrifice to the greater good if they are given the straight up honest cost ahead of time, with regular, candid updates.

People don’t want sugar-coated BS, and are tired of politicians trying to feed it to them.

Once Canadians have the straight goods, they’re going to demand that our soldiers have the best tools and training to accomplish the mission. Again, a remark from the CDS is apropos. The military still recruits based largely on a model of a WWI soldier. Similar to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting strategy overhaul envisioned by General Vance, Canada also needs a complete rethink of how to approach peacekeeping missions in order to be effective during and long after we’ve been there.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Dalhousie University in Halifax uses this type of forward thinking with their Veteran Trainers for the Eradication of Child Soldiers (VTECS) program and research. The program just graduated a second cohort of veterans who will work overseas to help end the scourge of child soldiery and exploitation, utilizing the proactive, and progressive, research, education and training pioneered by the Dallaire Initiative. So far, the combination of expertise and research has been paying increasingly large dividends, with countries such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda and even Somalia embracing this new approach.

These new types of peacekeeping methodologies need to be embraced and leveraged by the CAF in order to ensure successful future peacekeeping missions. As part of a speaking series co-hosted by Wounded Warriors Canada and VTECS, Major-General Patrick Cammaert (retired from the Royal Netherland Marine Corps) spoke of UN-sponsored peacekeeping challenges. Peacekeeping efforts fail when any of the following occur:

  • Participating countries and their forces have neither the will nor appetite for the missions – if your heart isn’t in it, it’s obvious to the populace and they lose trust in UN backed programs.
  • Peacekeepers have a lack of understanding of the issues surrounding the conflict they’ve been dropped into.
  • Commanders are derelict in serious reporting regarding the actual issues in theatre.
  • UN forces operate under a risk-adverse attitude and are not proactive.
  • Peacekeepers have a general lack of knowledge of the mandate, the Rules of Engagement, and who they will be dealing with.
  • There are no consequences for mission failure (the attitude is: keep your head down, don’t risk your own people, ride it out until you get to go home).

MGen Cammaert, who is no stranger to peacekeeping and what it takes to run a successful operation, had strong ideas of what is required if future UN missions are to be successful.

  • Political will and a firm direction needs to be in place before there can be any peacekeeping. A political solution needs to be hammered out, communicated and implemented ahead of the mission.
  • Peacekeeping nations need to ask the local populations: “what do you need of us and how can we help you accomplish your goals”, instead of the usual: “we’re here and this is what we’re going to do.”
  • There needs to be a holistic approach that involves the diplomats, NGOs, police and military.
  • Commanders in the field are key to success. They need to be competent and fearless. They need the tools and authority to make decisions that cannot wait for authorities back in the UN.
  • Pre-deployment training is crucial, with a heavy emphasis on scenario-based problems (it’s already too late to learn when boots hit the ground).
  • The local population needs to see activity, movement and engagement by the peacekeeping forces. Similar to a cop walking the beat, the local population and adversaries need to see a continuous presence and constant interaction.
  • Mobility and decisive action can be critical. Sometimes a quick, pivotal action to a threat will thwart years of subsequent strife.
  • The concept of ‘No Consenting Adults’ needs to be 100% enforced in conflict zones.
  • Finally, there needs to be substantially more women deployed in the field. A woman is invaluable when dealing with other women or children in these conflict zones. It isn’t sexist, it’s plain fact that a woman can diffuse tense situations involving women and children better than a man.

Quality is better than quantity, asserts MGen Cammaert. As Peacekeepers, you need to gain the trust of the people, you are there to help. You need to do it right, you need to be seen doing it right, and you have to be there long enough to make sure it will continue to be done right. Otherwise, don’t bother with half-hearted attempts which will do more harm than good.

The CAF lacks the type of peacekeeping soldier and doctrine that MGen Cammaert described during his presentation. During the event, the Foundation screened a short film from DHX Media entitled ‘Checkpoint’. The powerful short film illustrated how the ‘old’ way of running the business of peacekeeping is not adequate for the 21st Century. Drawing on my own experience, military members are trained to take decisive and, if necessary, lethal action. For example, back in 2007 during Basic Training, our platoon was introduced to a bayonet drill. A pair of Royal Canadian Regiment sergeants got our bloodlust to the point where we were quite willing and able to impale and kill the enemy. This is the job of the infantry, who are often “up close” to the action. You kill or are killed. This was how a child soldier ends up dead when the film first ran a checkpoint scenario manned by two young armed boys.

Peacekeepers of the future require more complex skills. They need to be part diplomat, social worker, police, soldier, and definitely more gender- and racially-diverse. They also need better pre-deployment scenario-based training that will give them the tools to deal with the likely situations for the particular conflict zone they’re headed for. The CAF prepares as well as it can, and has excelled at pre-planning for battle since Vimy Ridge – but I cannot stress enough that today’s peacekeeping missions need a different approach. When the ‘Checkpoint’ mission scenario ran a second time, the child soldier did not die, and the UN peacekeeper was not traumatized by the experience of killing a child.

The CAF does what it can to keep up with their better-equipped NATO allies. But realistically, Canada is not going to be a major player during a World War III. However, we can be effective at dousing the hotspots that lead down that path. Our military has a long history of doing amazing things with somewhat less-than-adequate tools, manpower and equipment. They really shine when it comes to niche military areas of expertise such as our Sniper program, our Clearance Diver units, our Search and Rescue program, our Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), our expertise with Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare (NBCW), and our JTF-2 team. We know how to specialize and become world experts. The next thing we need to become expert in, is Peacekeeping.

There is a need for the CAF to stand up a dedicated peacekeeping unit similar to the Special Operations Forces or Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG) models. They need to recruit from across the spectrum of the CAF for dedicated men and women who will become experts in the field of peacekeeping. Give them the diplomat, social worker, and soldier training.

There may be a necessity to recruit directly from civilian sectors to bolster personnel shortfalls, particularly females. When the Search and Rescue technician trade had personnel issues, they went directly to paramedic associations for qualified people. Perhaps the CAF could target women in police forces or social workers associations to help fill personnel gaps. Bring in leading edge organizations such as VTECS to keep training and techniques fresh and innovative. Give this core group the best tools and training before they end up on mission. Then once we’re experts, similar to the men and women graduating from the VTECS program, the knowledge can be passed to allies and the local populations. Partnership with world-renowned and universally recognized external organizations, like the Dallaire Initiative, may add an important perspective. New threats and complex scenarios call for new and innovative approaches by the CAF, moving beyond the insistence that only they can train themselves, and leveraging the capabilities provided by civilian organizations that can blend advanced education, military experience and real-world approaches to address these complex realities.

The second scenario presented in the ‘Checkpoint’ short film resulted in three children dropping their weapons and no one being shot. A simple psychological technique diffused a deadly situation. Modest solutions and techniques pay significant dividends; no dead child, no angry opposition force, no angry parents, no anti-peacekeeper propaganda fodder, and no soldier living with a kid’s death on his conscience.

Hope and honesty is how you sell Canadians on UN peacekeeping. Be straight with the costs and the reasons. Give our CAF members the correct tools and equipment to do the job. Incorporate innovative techniques, training and leading edge research to give our people the best edge to be successful.

What’s happening in places like Mali is horrendous, and Canada could make a difference. We just need to be forward thinking enough to make a quality impact.


Preserver alongside Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard Halifax, 28 July 2017, ready to be towed to the ship breaker. Photo credit, Blair Gilmore, RUSI(NS)

The Sun Dips on PRESERVER, Last of the Protecteur-Class AOR

Originally published with RUSI(NS), Bourque Newswatch, and Ottawa Citizen

August 2, 2017, marked the end of an era for the Canadian built Protecteur-class AOR (Auxiliary Oiler, Replenishment) when Preserver transfers from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) to her new owners, Marine Recyling Corporation. Navy tugs will tow the vessel one last time a short distance off of her berth at Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard Halifax, from where she will then be transferred to a civilian tug and towed to a special facility in Sydney, Cape Breton for breaking and recycling.

As I toured the flats taking part in the last official tour of the vessel, I reflected on the bygone era represented by the ship and her predecessor, Protecteur. Standing on top of the bridge next to the Officer of the Watch’s station by the Engine Room speaking tube, I could envision the numerous ‘sundowners’ that area had witnessed. How many times had the Captain and his ship’s officers spent a few quiet contemplative minutes up in this spot? How peaceful it would have been on some far off ocean, sipping a beer and perhaps indulging with a cigar, quietly contemplating life at sea as the fiery orb sank once again into the abyss. As we traveled through the stripped out 555 foot long ship, I wondered how many Duty Roundsmen had followed these paths? How many thousands of times had the decks been scrubbed or the brass fittings polished? How many dignified cocktail gatherings, ‘channel fever’ parties, baptisms, summary trials, mess dinners, RPC (Request the Pleasure of your Company), and countless other functions were held in the Officers’ Wardroom, Chief & POs’ Mess, Hangar and the Main Cave? What were the number of sea ditties floating about the fleet generated from decades of good natured Preserver sailor’s high jinx? The old ship’s motto was ‘Heart of the Fleet’ but it was the continuous presence of thousands of RCN sailors serving, living and toiling aboard her over all those decades that brought life to inanimate steel. Their salty souls permeate the bulkheads and deck plates.

But the old lady’s time has come, and she is scheduled meet her fate at the breaking yard. Back on July 30, 1970, when she was put into commission at the New Brunswick Saint John Shipbuilding yard, it was still common for ships to be powered by steam, and she ended up as the last boiler powered vessel in the RCN. In addition, many materials used in her construction are long gone from today’s modern ships. Miles of PCB coated copper wiring run through her hull. Much of her interior surface is covered with the old ubiquitous Navy red lead paint. Marine Recycling will have a challenge to safely removing all those toxic substances. Helping to ensure their proper disposal, our RCN tour guide explained that the Department of National Defence will continue to play a watchdog role until the last fifteen feet of the ship is left. The building and ultimate breaking of Preserver represents a true ‘cradle to grave’ Canadian shipbuilding process.

Preserver faithfully functioned as a vital force multiplier for the RCN. But as the world moved forward, parts for the old ship became scarce and tightening environmental regulations would have kept the single hulled fueling vessel out of most ports. But Preserver’s usefulness has not entirely waned as she will perform one last useful task for the Navy. The military always ends up in possession of material and equipment that has become obsolete or too expensive to dispose of. Much of this material ends up warehoused to collect dust. There is a unique item still onboard the ship that epitomizes this dilemma of how to dispose of items that have outlived their usefulness, namely the Wardroom piano. Years ago, an upright piano was presented to the ship’s officers as a gift. It is said to have taken four days of work pulling up hatches and making openings to bring it to its home onboard. The time and effort to remove this unique musical instrument is now not worth the bother. So as is common in the military recycling business, the new owners will receive a ship full of extra bits and pieces of military surplus including a piano. Wouldn’t that be a rare find a few months from now on EBay?

There is always a touch of sadness and nostalgia when you say good-bye to a ship, especially when it is the last of her type. The countless eyes who have witnessed innumerable sunrises and sunsets from her decks and stared across the thousands of miles of endless oceans are long gone. All that is left is for the graceful old lady to take her final voyage into the setting sun.

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Members of the Royal Canadian Navy, US Navy and Sierra Leone Navy watch as HMCS Moncton comes alongside HMCS Summerside in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Obangame Express on March 19, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

RCN innovation furthers Canadian diplomacy in West Africa

Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in a ‘round table’ group discussion regarding the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) spring 2017 deployment to West Africa, NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01. The Commanding Officers of the participating vessels, Lieutenant-Commanders (LCdr) Nicole Robichaud of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Moncton¸ and Paul Smith of HMCS Summerside, plus the head RCN planner, Commander (Cdr) David Finch, spoke at length about the tremendous success of the endeavor.

Participants of the exercise included the two Kingston-class patrol ships, often known as Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDV); a RCN Maritime Tactical Operations Group detachment (specialists in boarding); and ships and personnel from Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, France and the US. The RCN has produced numerous descriptive articles about the deployment, some of which can be accessed at:

The continent of Africa has significant strategic importance for Canada in relation to future security, humanitarian and trade missions. The RCN has participated in similar deployments in North and East African waters but this was a first for these West African countries. Keeping with the tradition of Canadian ingenuity, the RCN planners came up with an innovative solution to building a positive presence in the region.

Lieutenant-Commander Paul Smith, Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside talks to students at the all-girl Saint Joseph’s Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Neptune Trident 17-01 on March 23, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

To begin with, why was a vessel designed to operate locally be sent all the way across the Atlantic? These 55 metre coastal vessels have been pressed into service on voyages well past their original design. They have been given ice ratings and regularly sail in Canada’s Arctic Ocean. They frequently sail the East and West Caribbean on Operation CARIBBE drug enforcement patrols. They have been across ‘the Pond’ (familiar navy name for the Atlantic) participating in NATO European exercises. Put into perspective, these ships are not much smaller than the 62.5 meter Flower-class RCN corvettes that were on Second World War convoy duty, so it is not that much of a stretch to have them sail so far afield. Thankfully, with today’s technology, alternate southern routing and forecasting tools, a Kingston captain can do a proper risk assessment before attempting the crossing. According to the Commanding Officers, the ships handled the voyage well. The only significant maintenance issues centered on excessive African heat as RCN ships are primarily designed for cooler northern climates.

Once the ships voyaged across the Atlantic, there were several justifications that led to their being the perfect platforms for the mission. There are challenges inherent to operating in less-than-optimal African ports. Kingstons, with their smaller size and crew complement, alleviate many of the practical issues that would have prevented the efficient use of a larger ship such as a Halifax-class frigate. Many of the African ports would not have been able to accommodate a larger vessel with berthing, fuel or supplies. Kingstons generally do not need tug assistance. While alongside, a higher percentage of personnel can participate in community relation events. Lastly, expenditures on Kingstons come in at approximately $5000 a day for operating costs vice $35000 a day for a frigate. As LCdr Robichaud stated, Kingstons are excellent for this type of deployment.

Lieutenant-Commander Nicole Robichaud, Commanding Officer of HMCS Moncton speaks to guests onboard the ship in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Obangame Express on March 20, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

As the RCN officers assembled at the round table explained, there were strong psychological components to their mission that helped contribute to their resounding success. For centuries, the world’s navies acted as their country’s diplomats. A ‘ship of the line’ would appear at a port, drop anchor and send a delegation ashore to make contact with the local dignitaries. Fancy receptions would be held at the local government houses with reciprocating parties held onboard the vessels. The practice continues to this day. For example, as part of Canada Day 150 celebrations, several US Navy ships including the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower were present in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the hottest tickets in town was to be invited to Eisenhower’s reception party. The Kingstons were used in a similar fashion during their port visits as there were plenty of opportunities for parties, hands-on training and day sails for guests. Canadian embassy staff remarked that more ‘diplomacy’ happened over these get-togethers than what they could accomplish in months.

Another point favouring the use of the Kingstons was the fact that they are not overwhelming ‘weapons of war.’ Many of the African navies are in the nascent stages of development. During joint training, they were still mastering basic seamanship and security skills. Boarding exercises are easier to accomplish with a smaller vessel. The guest navy personnel were happy with hands-on firing of the Kingstons’ .50 caliber machine guns with no need to learn about missiles or large naval guns. The African navies have limited resources, and if you don’t take an air of superiority, then they can relate and be greatly cooperative.

Another aspect to the deployment that is a result of the Canadian Armed Force’s (CAF) push for diversity was the coincidence of LCdr Smith being black with matriarchal ties going to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and LCdr Robichaud being a woman going to Liberia whose president is the first elected female head of a state of Africa. Cdr Finch joked that he couldn’t have planned the circumstances better. It is a testament to the dedicated efforts of the RCN for inclusivity that these types of situations will become normal, and the focus is on the person and the mission, not their race or gender.

This led into an important point that LCdr Smith wanted to stress. The Canadian flag and reputation were very powerful in that part of the world. Unlike the Americans and French who also participated in the exercise, the RCN was perceived to have no ‘history’ or ulterior motives. Canadians are seen as helpers wanting to do the right thing regardless of who you are. This built-in good will helped the RCN accomplish its outreach goal to such a point that next year’s mission has already been approved.

Members of the Christian Young Adult Fellowship of Sierra Leone go for a ride aboard a rigid hulled inflatable boat during a visit of HMCS Summerside to Freetown, Sierra Leone during Neptune Trident 17-01 on March 22, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

I asked Cdr Finch if there was any downside to this RCN success story. He replied that the only negative was they could not get to all the nations that asked for the Canadians. African nations want to be part of the wider world and are hungry for training and expertise to be able to secure their maritime interests. While Summerside and Moncton were present in the area, illegal fishing fleets kept their distance. With training, local navies will be able to build their own ‘Recognized Maritime Picture’ (plot of the situation at sea) to first document these criminals and then move towards interdiction and prosecution. Furthering that, the RCN is considering demonstrating during next year’s deployment of Kingston-class ships a number of ‘maritime domain awareness’ capabilities that would progress maritime security capacity building within the Gulf of Guinea. The concept of ‘like’ methods and training used to train ‘like’ capabilities coupled with affordable technology appears to be paying dividends.

The CAF is renowned for doing more with less. If there is a job needing doing, the men and women of the Forces will find a way of doing it with what they have. The Kingston-class ships not only accomplished this latest mission admirably but it was done cost effectively. Even though the recently released government’s Defence Policy contained no mention of replacing these 1990s era vessels, I predict that these workhorses of the RCN will be called upon for years to come. They are proving their worth, and a serious conversation is needed to either extend their lifespan or to start a replacement program.

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Men to Aspire To

I was fortunate this week to meet three men whom I would confer celebrity status to. What is depressing is in all likelihood very few Canadians would be unable to identify them and what they are known for. How about you, could you name the Leader of the Official Opposition, the CDS and the former senator best known for his work to rid the world of child soldiers?

I drove an hour to meet Andrew Scheer at a Conservative BBQ out in Brookfield, NS last Monday. He was in my top three for my balloting choices for the new leader and I wanted to see what kind of man he was in person. Well, he’s a tall fellow. For some reason that doesn’t come across when you see him on TV during House of Commons question periods. He’s definitely a family man who has a passel of kids, five, all about 12 and younger. I had a chance to say hello to his wife and had a few words with the older son, who I found to be quite intelligent and able to hold a conversation. Mr. Scheer did the obligatory speech for the crowd but kept it short and light. When I shook his hand, I had to rib him about his Roughriders losing to my Bombers during the inaugural game at the new Regina stadium. All in all, he seems like a decent prairie boy and I am happy he is the new Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Through my Royal United Services Institute of NS connections, I was able to attend the Chief of Defence Staff’s unplugged talk about the new Canada Defence Policy. General Jonathan Vance has an impressive pedigree starting from joining back in the 80’s, to commanding troops in Afghanistan, to making it as the top soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is not a tall man but neither were his army predecessors Gen Rick Hillier or Gen Walt Natynczyk. I have met a few CDS’s over the years, the first one at CFB Summerside, PEI. I got to carry Gen John de Chastelain’s briefcase for a short period of time while he was visiting the air base. Gen Hillier was attending an Officer’s Mess function at 19 Wing Comox in support of a Boomer’s Legacy event. He definitely held rock star status. As for Gen Natynczkk, I was the OPI for a large mess function in his honour. He had been up for a flight with the Snowbirds and was a little green around the gills from the experience. It is always good to hear from these movers and shakers of the military as their vision by definition shapes the future of the military. Gen Vance is a consummate public speaker and was firm in his belief that contrary to the skeptics, the Defence Policy will hold the CAF in good stead for the next twenty years. I also liked the fact that he had little patience for a retired Major who was spouting nonsense over the recent ‘Proud Boys’ incident. I liked what I heard from the CDS and I feel the CAF is in good hands.

The last man that I was honoured to meet in person for the third time in my life, was LGen (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire. It was close to a decade ago when I first met him giving a talk about Rwanda and child soldiers at the Syd Williams Theatre in Courtenay, BC. He took the time to greet as many people as he could to sign copies of his ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ or to listen to your comments. It was obvious to me that he had the ghosts of a million Rwandans on his conscience. I met him again when he and a group of fellow senators came through Venture, the RCN training school in Esquimalt, BC for MARS officers, for a tour. Now, a few years later, I jumped at the chance to meet him again as he was giving a talk about his Dalhousie University program, Veteran Trainers for the Eradication of Child Soldiers (VTECS). Again, it must be a thing with army officers, he is not a large or tall man. Simultaneously, he comes across as frail and tough as nails. You can tell that he memorized his talking points long ago and they come off his tongue as old, familiar friends. He is also a man who doesn’t brook any guff and adroitly told a questioning twerp to ‘F’ himself after accusing him of war crimes. It has become popular for the supporters of the Rwandan perpetrators of the genocide to twist the massacre to shift blame to the retired general. This conspiracy theory has been thoroughly debunked along with the blame that the general was responsible for the deaths of ten Belgian peacekeepers at the start of the genocide. It is disheartening that along with the ravages of his PTSD, the man must put up with these unfounded accusations. As for his PTSD, according to his last book, ‘Waiting for First Light’, it seems as if death may be his only final release. I was quite impressed with the book and felt it was the best of his three works to date. I made a point to handwrite a thank you note and was able to deliver it to him at the end of the presentation. There was recognition in his face when we shook hands, even though our past meetings were very brief. I would have to say that he is a hero of mine and it has been a pleasure to make his acquaintance.

I have been a student of leaders of men for many decades. Hence, I have no interest in the show boaters or narcissistic selfie takers. It is a good week when you can meet powerful men in person to see what they are made of.

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