The scramble is on in the military for the next Chief of Defence Staff -- the highest rank in our military and the one who commands, controls, administers the Canadian Forces, and implements the defense policies of the government.
Gen. Walt Natynczyk has held the post since mid-2008, succeeding Gen. Rick Hillier who, arguably, was our most colourful, outspoken and dynamic CDS. In the public's mind, Hillier personified our military's achievements in Afghanistan.
A former deputy commander of the U.S. army's III Corps in Iraq, under Natyncyzk as CDS, Canada's role in Afghanistan was ratcheted down, the DND budget was trimmed, DND staff due to be culled, future missions restricted.
This wasn't Natynczyk's doing -- it's government policy for him to administer. Three years is about the average term for a CDS -- a role instigated in 1964 to speak for and coordinate the commanders of the navy, army and air force. And speculation is rife among the three services as to who is most likely to be the next CDS.
A couple of admirals, several army generals and an air force general are mentioned as possible candidates, but in these harsh economic times of cutbacks and the need for updated equipment, it seems one most qualified to be CDS may be Lt.Gen. Andrew Leslie, former chief of land staff, who subsequently was chief of Transformation of Canadian Forces.
Leslie retired last fall but, like Gen. John de Chastelain before him, could be seconded out of retirement to be CDS. Leslie's report recommending changes and economies in the Forces without affecting performance, worried the military but was popular with the PM who is economizing every way he can to cut expenses.
Although there would be miffed feelings -- even resentment -- among contenders for the CDS job, it's pretty hard to argue against Leslie's credentials. He was by-passed for CDS when Hiller and Natynczyk got the job, but he's served as a commander in Afghanistan, as well as in the Balkans, and on paper seems a natural.
Critics point out that the CDS job traditionally is rotated through army navy and air force, but that's not quite true. Both Hiller and Natynczyk were army -- both Armoured Corps. Leslie is a gunner -- former CO of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.
Canada's penchant for rotating command for political purposes resulted in disaster when instead of appointing the most qualified officer to command the Airborne Regiment when it went on a UN Chapter Seven (fighting) mission to Somalia, political considerations demanded that an inexperienced colonel from the Van Doos get the job.
A Princess Pats commander was the logical choice, but it was the Van Doos' turn. The outcome was the torture and death of a Somali civilian and an inquiry that resulted in the Airborne Regiment being disbanded.
In 1983-89, an air force general succeeded another air force general as CDS, and then, of course Natyncyzk follow Hiller, 2005-12. The last admiral to hold the post was Larry Murray (1996-97), an the last air force CDS was Ray Henault (2001-05).
Whoever becomes the new CDS is going to have a thankless job of ensuring that the military remains effective despite an insufficient budget, limited updated equipment, and with reduced numbers in the Armed Forces. It's a daunting task, but one that Gen. Leslie seems to have anticipated in his report, so perhaps he is a logical choice for the job.