A perpetual problem

I see, in a report in the National Post, that a perpetual problem has been raised again: “Job dissatisfaction and repeated moves to new locations across the country are the top reasons behind Canadian Forces personnel leaving the military,“says David Pugleise in the Ottawa Citizen. The report goes on to say that “”A desire for “geographic stability” was the main reason, followed by “job dissatisfaction,” according to the briefing obtained by the Citizen under the Access to Information law. Other reasons included the need for more pay and benefits as well as military personnel having issues with senior or unit level leadership.”

Having to deploy on military missions overseas was only mentioned by a small number of those surveyed as a reason for leaving, ” Mr Puleise says, but, “Military personnel privately say that the upheaval caused by moving families regularly, as well as the isolated nature of some bases and the lack of job opportunities for spouses, make staying in uniform difficult … [but] … “Department of National Defence spokeswoman Suzanne Parker said the military is in the process of developing a revitalized strategy for retaining staff … “It will ensure that retaining qualified and competent members in uniform is a fundamental aspect of how we manage our people,” Parker stated Monday in an email. “”We will review and adjust or develop policies, programs and activities as required that reflect the evolving needs of our members and their families while ensuring that we maintain our operational focus.”

I’m afraid this all sounds too familiar. I heard it in the 1960s, in the 1970s, the ’80s and in the 1990s, when I retired, and I still heard in in the 2000s and 2010s from friends who are still serving. I also heard DND officials say that “the military is in the process of developing a revitalized strategy for retaining staff.

The problems of isolated bases, “posting churn” (caused by a need for people to do a fair share of tours of duty in relatively isolated bases and stations like Cold Lake and Wainwright in Alberta and even Petawawa in Ontario and Gagetown in NB), low pay and moves which disrupt spouses’ careers and children’s schooling are neither new nor are they especially tractable. We need places like Cold Lake and Bagotville, not all our bases can be in Victoria, Edmonton, near Toronto or in Halifax. There is, always, and likely should be, some dissatisfaction with “leadership;” the military is, above all, a very human organization and humans are (and are always seen to be) imperfect.

louisstlaurentI have mention before that the military that Prime Minister Louis St Laurent ordered into existence in the 1950s was new to Canada: a long service, career, professional and combat ready force. It was new to most Canadians, too, who were (and I daresay still are) wedded to the notion that the regular force was (is) a haven for the stupid and lazy who will be “rescued” when the situation demands, by volunteers who will swell the ranks of militia regiments and fill new ships and air force squadrons, as legend says they did in 1914 and 1939.

imagesIt is worth remembering that, back in the 1960s, those same problems, especially the pay issue, were amongst the problem that Paul Hellyer was trying to solve. His “solution” to the pay problem was to promote most trained, skilled private soldiers to corporal! It worked, in a way, but the military is still trying (and often failing) to adapt to it.

Part, but only part of the solution lies in the hands of the Chief tab-na-xmas-harassment03-vancejpg.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxof the Defence Staff. General Jonathan Vance could ease some of the problems by reducing the “fat” in the command and control (C²) superstructure by getting rid of (quite literally) hundreds of admirals, generals, commodores, navy captains and army and air force colonels serving in various and sundry HQs ~ perhaps by moving some of those HQs from, say, Ottawa and Kingston, ON, to Wainwright, AB and Bagotville, QC ~ and replacing them with privates and corporals who are needed to do the work in less than attractive and sometimes isolated bases and stations.

Other problem are in the hands of the Minister, Harjit Sajjan. Some of the problems are sajjan_hsystemic to running a military and the solution, alluded to in the article is the same as it was in the 1960s: better pay. The only way that will happen is if the Minister convinces his cabinet colleagues that a strong, combat ready professional military needs to be paid according to the skill sets required of its members and the conditions of service imposed upon them.

The problems are not new; “a revitalized strategy” for recruiting and retention didn’t help in the 1960s nor in the 1980s and it will not do any good now. Pay raises are the best tool; some combat missions would also work wonders, but for that the navy, army and air force will need more people and new kit … and that costs money, too.

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