There is an article in the Globe and Mail that points to a serious failure in leadership in the Government of Canada and in Canadian Armed Forces.
I fully understand and support the principle of “universality of service” for any full time, professional, combat ready military force … which is what we (should) expect the Canadian Forces to be. Almost everyone must be ready, on short notice, to go almost anywhere and do almost anything under the most arduous physical and mental conditions. There is no room for fat, fragile, fiddly people in a combat force.
The word “almost” matters a lot. At any moment there will be good people who are temporarily unfit for service ~ maybe just for six months as a result of a broken leg that was sustained on duty, while playing rugby, or even for longer as a result of an emotional trauma sustained while serving overseas. But the word “temporary” is just as important as “almost.” Some people will sustain injuries ~ physical and mental ~ that cannot be described as anything but so very long term as to be “permanent” in nature. These good, brave people cannot have careers in the Canadian Forces, not if we are serious about it being a full time, professional, combat ready force. There are, always, a few jobs that do not place any great demands on either physical stamina or even on mental stability ~ there are, I guess, just enough of those jobs to find “places” for those who are temporarily disabled, and that is how it should be.
The first failure in leadership occurred in the 1990s, and extended into the 2000s, when soldiers, especially, began to come home with serious wounds to their bodies and minds. The Government of Canada needed to find imaginative ways to care for our wounded in every aspect: including to help them maintain their deep, strong, emotional ties to the military. Instead we got stricter “universality of service” rules and the New Veterans Charter and additional bureaucrats who demand that soldiers prove, annually, that their legs, which were blown off in combat, have not, magically, grown back! I don’t know what all the “imaginative ways” might have been: the government promised to find suitable civil service job for wounded vets, but the public service commission and the powerful public service unions have fought, hard, against implementing that promise. But where, for example, is our, Canadian, version of the Chelsea Pensioners? Why isn’t there a requirement that some guards and guides in public (government) building must be wounded veterans, notwithstanding their language abilities. If we can legislate bilingualism as an absolute requirement then it is a massive failure in leadership to not legislate jobs for wounded veterans.
The other aspect of “universality of service” which reflects upon the leadership of the Canadian Forces involves the (too large) number of obese people, especially officers and warrant officers found, mainly, in various headquarters. I do not believe that the BMI (Body Mass Index) standard is especially useful for military forces. Many, many seasoned, combat officers and NCOs will tell you that the lean ‘sprinter’ type that the BMI standard encourages does not always perform as well in combat as does his or her ‘beefier’ confrère who can carry a heavy load for miles and miles and miles, even when there is no hot food for fresh water. One problem that bedevils the military is that there need to be several standards for fitness: one that applies, absolutely, to everyone (but remember the “almost” and “temporary” discussion, just above) from the slight female finance clerk to the beefy combat engineer; then there need to be additional, stricter, performance based standards for e.g. pilots and infantrymen and divers, and, and, and …
The real problem is not that there are some overweight, even obese people; the problem is that too many senior officers, leaders, cover for them. I have heard, directly, a general say, to me, “Oh, damn, I know he’s a tub of lard, but I cannot afford to send Colonel X to the “fat farm” for a few weeks, he’s doing Project Y and it’s a high priority .. I cannot even afford to send him to the gym for an hour a day, which I know he needs, because the top level keeps demanding reports that only he can generate.” We have, as I have said, before, too many people in too many headquarters working very, very hard at tasks which, arguably, don’t need to be done by anyone but which take on an importance based on the rank of the person ordering them. Admiral X wants General Y to report on Situation A so Colonel Z becomes, suddenly, both overworked (too busy to go to the gym) and indispensable. It is a form of nepotism, too. Regiments in the army are like big families, (so are ships) so Colonel Z was a bright young captain when General Y commanded the regiment and that’s one of the reasons General Y likes and trusts him and relies upon him … it’s not, really, a big flaw in the system, it is the same thing as you find in the Goldman Sachs, Ernst and Young, TD Bank and so on. But it is part of the reason that Colonel Z “gets away” with being overweight while Corporal Z, in a ship or a field unit, is given a formal warning for being unfit.
We have double standards and they lead to a double failure in leadership:
- The Government of Canada failed wounded veterans, in part by using the “universality of service” principle against them; and
- The military is failing itself by tolerating unfit soldiers and, thereby, wounding the “universality of service” principle.