Thursday, August 18, 2005

The roses are dying.

Alternate Service Delivery, or ASD, has been a part of the systematic reduction of uniformed capacity in the Canadian Forces for about twenty years. Like many other hatchet jobs that have been perpetrated on our military because of budgetary starvation, it is couched in terms of efficiency. RUBBISH!

The theory was that, anything we didn’t actually take to war could be provided by civilian contractors more cheaply and efficiently. Someone forgot to tell the hatchet men that we actually take logistics to war. And someone forgot to tell the governments who called in the hatchet men that Canada’s seemingly traditional peacekeeping missions could (and did) easily transition into theatres of combat.

The chickens are coming home to roost in this hair-brained bean counter driven scheme. Don’t get me wrong; some of my best friends are bean counters, and they were doing this at the point of the proverbial government budget gun. The problem is that they have been allowed to make de facto operational decisions that should be the mandate of operational leaders. The operational commanders should be given the authority and support to make operational decisions, and see them carried out and supported by an unbreakable logistics chain.

It was recently suggested that civilian contractors and their employees may balk at the prospect of providing in situ logistic support to elements of the Canadian Forces engaged in high threat operational theatres, such as Afghanistan. I’m sure that many would say, “Ready, Aye, Ready”, but who could really blame those who did not?

Prior to ASD, people in uniform supplied logistic support such as supply, cooks, mail, administration, transportation, airfield engineering support, and more. They were all soldiers, sailors or airmen first and could be counted on to tote a rifle, stand guard duty or engage in defensive operations, if necessary. Now, much of that support is supplied by civilian contractors, who are undoubtedly good at their jobs, but don’t fall under the same code of conduct or expectations as someone in uniform.

A less currently urgent example, but one no less harmful to our operational readiness is the lack of combat training support to our CF-18 force and to some elements of combat training for the Army and the Navy. Those assets provided air combat adversaries, electronic warfare training and gunnery tow targets. About four Chiefs of the Air Staff ago, the Air Force embarked on a plan to eliminate the combat support assets and squadrons from the inventory and replace them with a civilian contract. The current situation is that the people who use these training assets are still waiting for something more than band-aid solutions. If the final solution ever arrives, it will cost more than what we had already, provide a fraction of the training support, and offer none of the flexibility.

Alternate Service Delivery can work, but the theory has been applied to many areas where it does not belong. Like many things that have been allowed to erode our military capacity, this will take decades to reverse, even if leadership was ready to go down that road. I may be wrong, but I see no evidence of that determination.

This is not a criticism of all the dedicated "loggies" out there who provide yeoman service. It is a criticism of the government which has put operations (and people) in jeopardy for the sake of budget cuts.

It is said that operations is the rose and that logistics is the stem upon which it grows, or something like that. Someone has whipper snippered the rose bushes and Alternate Service Delivery may well be Alternate Service Disaster.

Monday, August 15, 2005

For Valour

Last week, Canada said goodbye to Ernest “Smoky” Smith, our last surviving Victoria Cross winner. It was a week of fitting tribute to a true Canadian hero and so appropriate in the Year of the Veteran. What made his heroism typical of those like him is that he eschewed that label himself and preferred to bestow it on those who never left the battlefield. His job, as he saw it was to make the enemy into heroes by dying for their country, instead of him dying for his own.

He was a hero, though, in every sense of the word and he represents the pinnacle of readiness to sacrifice his own life for others. That he didn’t have to make that ultimate sacrifice is probably due to a little luck and the fact that his visible courage was enough to strike fear into the hearts of any enemy.

Will we ever see the likes of Smoky Smith again? My answer is “yes, if we have to”, while hoping that we never do. Over the past few decades, Canada has gone from being a peace keeper to being a peace restorer. We have systematically frittered away our capacity to be a peace restorer, but that is indeed what we are being called upon to do, even in a limited way.

More of our history has been spent in the role of peace restorer than what the average Canadian mistakenly views as the primary role of our men and women uniform. It would be nice to able to get back to the peacekeeping task, but there is just not enough peace to keep, and a lot of peace that has to be made. No matter which role we see ourselves engaged in, if we are not continuously ready and equipped to restore peace, we will never be able to keep it.

General Hillier has engaged in some conditioning of the Canadian public and our political leaders to the fact that, as peace restorers, we will be facing an enemy that will not accept our mandate to do that without a fight. In a fight, people get hurt and, in the kind of fights that we will be undertaking, some people will die. That’s where the new generation of Smoky Smiths may be forced to come from.

Preservation of the lives of one’s own troops is the primary aim of any commander, while accomplishing the role of defeating the enemy. With a ruthless and determined enemy such as we and our allies now face, this won’t be easy and it may not be possible. From my own albeit limited direct exposure to the teeth of the Canadian Army, and the much deeper appreciation of many of my colleagues, there is no doubt in my mind that the heart and courage of Smoky Smith is alive and well. I would not want to be the al Queda or other scumbag, to quote General Hillier, who stands between the Patricias, the RCR, or the Vandoos and their objective, or who threatens the life of one of their brothers or sisters.

Canada’s necessity to expand our role as a peace restorer is becoming more evident and compelling. We simply can’t leave that task to our allies and look them in the eye or ourselves in the mirror. Our men and women in uniform, and especially those in the Army, know this better than anyone. We owe it to them and ourselves to not fail, and that means not letting our politicians fail, in manning, training and equipping our forces to the best possible level to do the jobs that we have given them.

Smoky Smith is gone but, thanks to some determined work by others in recent years, the Victoria Cross remains as Canada’s highest honour for valour in the face of the enemy. If another Victoria Cross is won by a Canadian on the field of battle, may he or she also live to be 91 years old and enjoy the finer things in life, like well-aged single malt whiskey and fine cigars, as Smoky did. Slainte.