A Defence Department report recently tabled in the House of Commons "showed a shortfall of nearly 900 regular force members and 4,500 part-time reservists at the end of March due to higher than forecasted attrition and other factors."
To put that into perspective the 5,400 less troops equates to 135 less platoons. Or 45 less companies or even 15 less battalions. Which means the Canadian forces is down 3.75 brigades, or almost two full divisions. It has gotten so bad that the Canadian forces has lowered their physical fitness standard and some soldiers are put through fitness camp before they go on basic training.
So what is the root cause of this? I think there are three major flaws that are contributing to this downward spiral. The reason that the Canadian Forces is having such a hard time retaining and recruiting troops is because of budget cuts, the state of the equipment, and the knowledge that if you are injured on the job you will not be properly taken care of by Veterans Affairs.
A soldier that serves in the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry (PPCLI), one of the most revered and respected infantry units of the past century, has told me that they are allocated only 49 rounds for the entire training year due to budget cuts. The PPCLI's service in World War I and II and Korea and thereafter is what legends are made of. Yet now they train with less than 50 bullets a year.
In the beginning of World War I the German Army was impressed by the amount of lead the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was able to put downrange. The reason for this is because of repetition, practicing with your rifle on the ranges for years. With only 49 rounds a year the soldier's ability to clear stoppages, change magazines, shoot accurately is diminished greatly. The repetition needed to confidently operate a C7 is reduced with the inability to practice with bullets. In essence the budget cuts done to the infantry units has handicapped one of our greatest units.
Another unit that has paved the way for Canadian freedom and democracy is that of the Royal Canadian Regiment or the RCR. 1 and 3 RCR are posted to Petawawa, Ontario. 1RCR was a mechanized infantry unit until recently when it began training as a light infantry unit again. This was not a tactical decision but a budgetary one. The maintenance and upkeep of the LAVIII vehicles is too much for the unit and has caused their fleet to be grounded. If you go to the base you can see the LAVS sitting there under piles of snow. Recent wars have shown that mechanized infantry has been proven to be essential to modern warfare.
To my knowledge there were no Canadian units that deployed to Kandahar in a light infantry role. This is just like the lack of ammunition to train with. The ability to be an effective force is conducive to being able to operate with the equipment required to do ones job. If the soldiers are not able to use the LAVs then their confidence in operating them is reduced and the overall effectiveness is greatly diminished.
As bad as it is for the regular force the budgetary cuts are even worse for the reservists. At one point reservists were making up to 30-40 per cent of the numbers deploying to Afghanistan. Since then the life of a reservist has been reduced to make-believe bullets and shoe-string budget exercises.
The Essex and Kent Regiment just had a change of command parade and could not form three ranks. The level of frustration has reached such a point that in years since the Afghan mission's conclusion that the E&K has had to endure the loss of key leadership soldiers that represent over 15 tours of experience. To be fair the economic woes of the Windsor area can be seen as a factor into this, but the inability to replace the numbers lost does not. "Those who would follow them into uniform are being stymied by a woefully inept recruiting system where it takes an average of 166 days to be processed."
The budgetary cuts have come swift and fast in June of 2014 another round of cuts were announced where, "Only the navy said it could absorb a four per cent cut, while both the air force and army warned even that reduction would have dramatic impacts on their respective capabilities not just today, but for the next two or more years."
Canada spends 1 per cent of its GDP on defence spending , just slightly ahead of financially-troubled Spain, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, Lithuania, and Latvia. The Harper government, which styles itself a hawk on military spending, found itself in the unusual position of resisting pressure from allies to boost defence spending.
The budgetary cuts easily plays into the next reason that the Canadian Forces can't maintain a fighting force of 68, 000. The dilapidated state of the equipment is no secret. The submarines that don't float or sink. The naval vessels that need to be towed home. Or the plane parts being taken out of museums.
The F-18s are 40 years old -- a full two generations removed from being relevant. The Sea King Helicopters that require 100 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight time. It seems that more Sea Kings are falling out of the sky lately than Geese in the month of October.
Thus the lack of training and the poor state of our equipment would leave anyone to surmise that the probability of taking casualties is greatly increased. Then you would suppose that Veterans Affairs would have to compensate for this. Every Canadian knows that this is not the case. The Department of Veterans Affairs Canada is mired in a quagmire of incompetence at epic proportions. From the 1.13 billion in lapsed funds, to the suicides that surpass the death toll of the Afghan mission . The Auditor General's report or the 1,000 less employees in the department since 2009. The bonuses to the management for laying off VAC employees, and the failure to fill the mental health positions. The insurance company mentality that the department has adopted presenting itself as a faceless organization when dealing with those maimed fighting for its country. The closed VAC offices, or the 200 million in spending that will not be spent in six years as the press conference stated but rather 50 years instead . The most recent tactics adopted by the department is accusing ex-soldiers of exaggerating their injuries.
This all under the watch of Minster Julian Fantino, who is late to meetings with veterans begging for their local VAC offices to stay open and then angrily walks out on them. Even the wives of soldiers suffering from PTSD are not safe from his scorn. Those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice are not even safe from the budget cuts, the state of the headstones of the fallen fail to meet the standard that Canadians hold true. The current state of Veterans Affairs has caused soldiers to rely on the charity and good will of organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion, True Patriot Love, and Wounded Warriors. Just as the Auditor General's report was released rather than being at a three-day conference about PTSD attended by all of the leading experts from across the country the minister is in Italy laying wreaths. His actions so close to an election year has seen the PMO's office replace Fantino with Erin O'Toole. As a former veteran himself O'Toole will have to walk a tight rope between towing the party line and the friendships forged in his time in the military. His 12 years in the Canadian Forces as part of a Brotherhood of Warriors, Forged in battle Baptized by fire Quenched in tears is on the line.
The blog "Canada Eighteen Sixty-Seven" by Benjamin Berman says that to top it all off the words of Sir Robert Borden established a verbal contract with Canada's veterans, vowing that a grateful nation will provide adequate care and support to those who served, while forever honouring those who gave the greatest sacrifice. This solemn promise still echoes today across the war graves of the fallen; from France to Korea, from Bosnia to Afghanistan. However, the Conservative government rejects this social contract with veterans.The current government does not believe there is a moral obligation to those who answered the call of duty and fought in Canada's name. Berman writes:
"In fact, it has tasked federal lawyers with openly challenging this idea in the courts. Six disabled Afghan war veterans have filed a lawsuit against Stephen Harper's Conservative government, in an attempt to reverse the decision to replace lifelong pensions for injured soldiers with a one-time payment.
In response, Harper sent in federal lawyers to get the case tossed out by arguing that there is no special obligation to those who've fought for Canada, and that it's 'unfair' to bind the Harper government to promises made nearly a century ago by another prime minister. The lawyers have stated in the courts that, as far as the Conservative government is concerned, the social covenant to care for injured veterans, as explained by former Prime Minister Borden, was simply 'political speech' and 'not meant to be taken seriously'. Essentially, Stephen Harper is exhausting all efforts on the taxpayer's dime to prevent these six injured veterans from having their day in court."
It is clear that anyone wanting to join the military must heed the current state of its affairs. While the prime minister calls out Russia and asks Canadians to pray for the soldiers fighting ISIS then cuts to the military suggest his foreign affairs strategy is all bark and no bite.
The lack of training that goes into our forces would give Gladwell fits. The soldiers are fed up and leaving in droves. How can any Canadian organization possibly think it can retain its work force without guaranteeing them that they will be taken care of if injured? Advice to any perspective enlistee that they explore all other options first. Only as a last ditch effort should you consider joining the Canadian Forces.
If you so choose to wear the same uniform that so many great men and women did generations before it would behoove you to not be a hero for the sake of you and your family's wellbeing. The decade of darkness has given way to the generation of disgrace.
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