… Only for the bravest of the brave (2)

I am returning to a topic with which I dealt a couple of months ago: “fixing” the Army Reserve.

Part of the problem, I opined, was that it, the Army Reserve, “has a C² superstructure that Canadian-Army-Officer-Rank-Insignia-2014-1024x405NCMis adapted from that of a unit of 500 or more soldiers: a lieutenant colonel, in command, a regimental sergeant major, several majors and captains and warrant officers and so on and so forth, but maybe just three or four lieutenants and only 50 to 100 soldiers fit and ready to fill the ranks.” In other words the reserve units, themselves, are bloated – too many officers with too much rank, ditto for the warrant officers and sergeants so that there are not enough young lieutenants, master corporals and privates to fill up the trained and ready platoon (35 or so soldiers) that each reserve units is meant to be able to muster.

fergusonscowlmay15-300Now, according to a report in the Toronto Star, the Auditor General has said that the Army Reserve is “in dire straits,” because:

  • National Defence has not only failed to recruit for the part-time force, but also how reservists are quitting at a rate faster than they can be replaced — and are doing so before they are fully trained;
  • Many reservists don’t receive certain basic weapons training, such as the use of a pistol or grenade launcher; and
  • They have been woefully unprepared for some duties in combat zones, such as convoy escort and force protection, and ill-equipped for missions at home like responding to forest fires and floods.

Predictably, according to the Toronto Star:

  • harjit-sajjan-1Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Liberals have already started investing in the reserves, but didn’t explain how. He said he recognizes recruiting and retention as long-standing problems, and that the department is looking at ways to make training more engaging;
  • Lt.-Gen. Marquis Haines, the commander of the army, says they’re putting in place measures to ensure that reservists are more prepared to deploy, both at home and abroad; and
  • Formal - LGen Marquis HainseAny gaps in training will be assessed and resolved before deployment and the completion of army reserve training objectives will be confirmed annually,” he said in a statement.

This problem does not belong to Minister Sajjan, it doesn’t even belong to Ministers like Jason Kenney for Peter MacKay, it goes back even beyond John McCallum’s tenure as Minister of National Defence, back in the Chrétien regime at the turn of this century. But the solution rests with Minister Sajjan and I suspect that this is one area where he, being a former Army Reserve unit commanding officer, understands the problem better than even the new CDS does.

I have, also, alluded to the solution, when I said, “DND should have fewer Flag and General Officers (GOFOs), admirals and generals.” Part of the Army Reserve’s problem is that a bloated morbidly obese Canadian Army command and control (C²) superstructure is pushing and pulling and counter-directing small teams of part time reserve force soldiers with boat loads of institutional army administrivia, much of it unproductive, and, in fact, frequently little more than “make work” projects to keep unnecessary and underemployed regular army officers employed; it’s a form of welfare.

Minister Sajjan should fire (the relatively blameless) LGen Hainse, the Canadian Army Commander, just “pour encourager les autres;” and, in fact he should “fire” the commanders of the RCN and RCAF, too, albeit not for “cause.” He should replace all three of the redundant three star officers with officers one rank lower ~ a rear admiral Chief of the Naval Staff, and major generals as Chiefs of the General and Air Staffs. These officers should not “command” anyone, they should be the professional heads of their services, responsible to advise the Chief of the Defence Staff on single service issues and to develop doctrine, training requirements, equipment requirements and oversee individual, special to service training.

Command of the Armed Forces should flow from the Governor General, who is, by the Letters Patent of issued by King George VI in 1947, the Commander in Chief, through the Chief of the Defence Staff who should also, for clarity, be styled “Commander Canadian Armed Forces” (COMCAF) and to four regional joint commanders: Commanders of Pacific, Western, Eastern and Atlantic Commands. Each of those commanders should have subordinate and appropriately ranked Naval, Army and Air “component commanders.” (Appropriately means according to the size and scope of the forces in their commands. The Naval Component Commander in Western Command, which has only a handful of Naval Reserve Divisions, might be a Navy Captain while the Army Component Commander is each of Pacific and Atlantic Commands might be an Army colonel or, at best, a brigadier general.)

Staffs should be lower ranked and as firm, absolutely inviolable rule no staff officer in any headquarters may outrank the principle commanders who are directly subordinate to the commander that staff officer serves. In some, rare, cases principle staff officers might be equal in rank to subordinate commanders so that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and the officer who heads the national Joint Staff might both be three star officers (vice admirals/lieutenant generals) as would be the commanders of the four Joint Commands. But in an army brigade group, which, given its size and combat power, ought to be commanded by a brigadier general (not by a colonel), where the principle subordinate commanders are lieutenant colonels, the principle operations and support staff officers ought to be majors.

In short almost every staff officer currently serving in almost every HQ, large and small, high and low, in the Canadian Armed Forces is, right now, one (in a few cases two) rank higher than (s)he needs to be. This (over-ranking) is a serious problem because it contributes to HQ bloat and it clouds what should be a very, very clear “chain of command.” It should change, soon. Change would be unpopular and moderately difficult but not, at all, impossible.

Fewer, smaller, leaner and meaner, and lower ranked HQs will, I am 99.99% certain, be more efficient and effective and they might be forced to actually understand the unique pressures that face reserve force members ~ most of whom have full time, civilian jobs (or are full time students) and who do their reserve force work after the “bankers’ hours” that almost all Canadian Armed Forces HQs work. (If I had a penny for every horror story I have heard about army staff officers who know far, far too little about the reserve force units in their areas and who give, sometimes just silly but often quite stupidly impossible orders guidance or tasks, that cannot possibly be met on time, if at all, I would be a wealthy man. Now, it may not be clear that lower ranks will solve that, but I believe that lower ranked officers are more likely to work harder (as all staff officers should) and, in an effort to impress their commanders (and his subordinate commanders, too), work smarter, too, which will alleviate many of the problems that are the result of useless HQ “busy work.”

This is not just a Canadian problem. Almost all armies (navies and air forces, too) have HQs that are too large and too cumbersome and, as a consequence of being too large, too busy with inconsequential work that gets in the way of fighting and winning battles and wars …

… but the Canadian Army, indeed the Canadian Armed Forces, could, with just a few words of direction from Defence Minister Sajjan, be the ones who lead the way out of the current mess.

harjit-singh-sajjan-11images (1)Less money spent on useless, over-ranked staff officers in redundant HQs would mean that equipment and support personnel could be found for the Army Reserve. Minister Harjit Sajjan knows the problem … all he needs to do is to push General Jon Vance in the right (unpopular but right) direction. They are both new enough on the job and each brings to it well known sense of “operational” soldiering that they could make unpopular decisions, give unpopular orders and shake up the comfortable, somnolent, entrenched uniformed bureaucracy, especially in the Canadian Army, and, thereby, reinvigorate the Canadian Army Reserve, using the Auditor General’s damning report as a catalyst for change.

3 thoughts on “… Only for the bravest of the brave (2)”

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