Interview article

MGen Walt Natynczyk

CF Transformation Assessment 2006
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Mar 15, 2006

“The transformation we are going through has a focus of optimizing our structure, our capabilities, and our processes, to enable effective operations at home and abroad, no matter where we send Canadian servicemen or women, to ensure they have the wherewithal to achieve their mission and do so safely. We have evolved very quickly over the past while, we still have a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day we are serving those Canadian men and women who are in harms way today or preparing for the ambiguity of the future.”
– MGen Natynczyk

Transformation of the Canadian Forces has been a much-reported yet very slow-moving “theme” for many years. With the 4 February 2005 appointment of General Hillier as Chief of the Defence Staff, a flurry of hard decisions has pulled out all of the stops, ensuring that his new vision for the CF would not be sidelined.
A group of four separate study teams was quickly pulled together in the spring of 2005, each lead by a General Flag Officer, to examine all aspects of the CF and determine what was necessary to follow the government’s new Defence Policy Statement. Their goal was to transform the command and control structure of the Canadian Forces to a more operations­oriented structure.
MGen Walt Natynczyk, appointed to the new position of Chief of the Canadian Forces Transformation on 1 June 2005, met with FrontLine to discuss the transformation process to date.
“The study team looked at how we do Force generation, how we man, train, and equip our people, and how to improve it,” says MGen Natynczyk. “They looked at how we develop new capabilities, and finally how the entire department aligns with, and supports transformation.”
Natynczyk’s team came together in the summer of 2005. He inherited what he calls “the easy piece” – transformation of the structure and a certain portion of the force generation piece – where he is making sure that processes remain in place in the new structure to ensure that the CF gets the people, and that those personnel are trained and equipped to be operationally deployed by the Force Employers – the new operational commands. For the last nine months, his transformation team has consisted of about 30 people focussed on a short-term, two-year horizon of revising the structure of the Canadian Forces to optimize for operations. As MGen Natynczyk explains, their mission is “to ensure that wherever we do operations, be it at home or abroad, that we have the command and control, the right kind of culture, and the right kind of policies and processes, so that wherever we put Canadian men and women, they have what it takes to do their mission and to do it safely.”

31 January 2006 – Canadian Forces Transformation Ceremony at the Congress Centre in Ottawa. The ceremony saw the standing down of the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff Division and the standing up of four new operational commands. Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, General Marc Dumais spoke at the ceremony. Seated, from left to right: VAdm J.Y. Forcier, MGen Michel Gauthier, BGen Daniel Benjamin and Col David Barr.

Working diligently on the creation of the new operational headquarters, with commanders who are responsible for ­theatres of operations, MGen Natynczyk is confident that this ambitious program is progressing well towards achieving its goal. “These four new headquarters stood up, assumed their responsibility have sufficient personnel in their staffs to get on with the business.”

The New Operational Commands
In a ceremony on 31 January, command of all CF operations was transferred from the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (DCDS) to Canada Command, Canadian Expedi­tionary Force Command, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, and Canadian Operational Support Command. These new commands assumed management of, and responsibility for all operations, as of 1 February, while the DCDS Group dissolved on the same date.
“From conceptual development to implementation on the 1st of February, we have achieved an ambitious program at the same time that we were involved in a high tempo of operations internationally – I think we have done alright so far. We must now learn from these first steps and continue to refine and improve.”

Jan 2006 – Kandahar Airfield – LCol Ian Hope, Commanding Officer of Task Force Orion (1 PPCLI Battle Group), conducts a media scrum with Chris Wattie and other embedded Canadian journalists at Kandahar Airfield.

There are still some transitional details to be sorted out. Canada Command, the Expeditionary Forces Command, and the Special Forces Command report directly to the CDS, while the Operational Support Command reports to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff. “One of the things that we are working on now is the appropriate span of control for both the CDS and VCDS, and trying to rationalize them. We will look at that whole aspect for the next few months,” explains MGen Natynczyk.

Environmental Chiefs
One can’t help wondering how the Environmental Chiefs of Staff fit into this new Structure. “Their role has adapted slightly,” agrees Natynczyk. “In the old model they were force generators, and they had responsibility for routine operations, whereas contingency operations were handled by the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff. The new structure has moved all operational responsibilities, both routine and contingency, to these four new operational commanders. The service chiefs – the Environmental Chiefs of Staff – remain focused on force generation, that is, they man, train and equip all of their forces, which isn’t significantly different from before.”

The Transformation Amigos
The CF Transformational planning involves three key players working in ­tandem, and MGen Natynczyk claims his responsibility, structure, is “the easy piece.I have two colleagues in this endeavour, MGen Andrew Leslie and Mr Ken Ready – we call ourselves the three amigos because we have to be joined-at-the-hip in terms of moving the transformation along,” he continues. “I am on a 2-year horizon, working on the structures, the policies, and the processes that enable those structures. MGen Leslie is responsible for the longer term, the 5-year plan, the campaign plan and the capabilities of the Canadian Forces. Mr Ken Ready, on the other hand, is focussed on the enabling processes and policies within the department that the Assistant Deputy Minister has to evolve in order to enable departmental alignment for transformation.”

Underlining the complex environment faced by Canada’s PRT, Private Tyler Loewen (front) makes a new friend as he patrols a street in the Kandahar area of operations. (Photo: Sgt Jerry Kean)

Challenges to Restructuring
With such a major restructuring, there must be equally difficult challenges to confront. “The one stumbling block we have had, is that we tend to underestimate the complexity of the Department of National Defence,” concedes Natynczyk. “Over the past 30 years, we have created a structure that has been optimized towards efficiency, and we did that for very good reason. When we did that, we created a very complex network of responsibilities and processes in this department. When we removed various positions from our structure, we put those functions and responsibilities on top of existing ones so that people actually have two or three functions. And so, one of the challenges has been not to underestimate the complexity of this organization. When I restructure, I have to deconstruct first and then later reconstruct.”
MGen Natynczyk explains that, for example, PowerPoint presentations can often show oversimplified models, leading people to think they understand a problem when, in reality, it’s far more complex. “I have been in the Army 30 years and I barely understand the Army. I don’t understand the Navy or the Air Force – I have to trust my colleagues to provide me with the information in those areas and then work with them. So this whole idea of oversimplification has become a stumbling block.”
Recognizing the key importance of building relationships, the CF encourages face-to-face meetings to help understand the situation and also to foster trust. “As we move this process along, two of my key tenants have been collaboration and transparency. To collaborate with one another and then to be very transparent in terms of what where we are going, because if there is mutual understanding of what we are doing, and if we can reconcile whatever stumbling blocks we have, then we have overwhelming support for the initiatives, and therefore the models will be enduring.”

Getting the Message Out to Canadians
Maybe the Govern­ment of Canada needs to do more to explain to the sometimes idealistic public why Canada has chosen to help Afghanistan, however, other sources are doing their best. Journalists, such as Chris Wattie, senior reporter with the National Post (and occasional contributor to FrontLine), have been filing regular reports from Afghanistan, which helps increase public awareness of the dangerous missions facing our troops today.
The CF has also taken on some of the challenge of helping the public understand the situation, so I probe MGen Natynczyk for his opinion. “I would say that we are getting better at getting our message out to Canadians about the focus of the CF and DND in terms of securing Canada and securing Canadian interests abroad,” he responds. “We are getting better at explaining the significant profile of our international operations, specifically in Afghanistan, and providing a greater insight to Canadians as to the complexity of the global security situation now.

As Iraqis and Coalition Forces look on, MGen Walt Natynczyk swings a mallet on the golden spike, commemorating the completion of Main Supply Route Tampa, Expressway One, at its final strip of paved asphalt. The honor of hammering the spike was shared with a representative from the Iraqi government. (Photo: Spc Crista M Birmingham)

“We have come a long way since we did classical peacekeeping... but when you look at that situation now, and compare that to what we faced in Bosnia, and then a paradigm shift again to the current situation in Afghanistan and indeed other locations such as Iraq (where you are dealing with an insurgency), you see the evolution from classical peacekeeping in Cyprus to nation-building and peace enforcement in an insurgence situation such as in Afghanistan. It is really a two pronged approach here, we have to get our message out about what the Canadian Forces do, and at the same time, because of our operations, we are getting greater exposure, so Canadians are getting a better understanding of what the Canadian Forces is all about and the challenges we face. I think transparency is important. From my personal experience, I think that the presence of the media is very important to true transparency but also to let Canadians share the pride of what our men and women are doing in operations, making a massive contribution, literally touching thousands of lives, assisting the transition to normalcy and also ensure that we have an enduring stability so that we don’t have threats to Canada that could come from failed or failing states.”
Does the Government of Canada really understand the Canadian Forces? Observers agree that there seems to be a growing appreciation by government, by all Canadians, of the contribution that the Canadian Forces makes at home and abroad. Our political leaders take opportunities to visit Canadian Forces units, locally on Bases across Canada or to visit deployed Forces abroad, and “they are able to see, firsthand, the quality of our people, their great training, the fact that they have the equipment they need to do the job. And when you see them either at home doing their training or abroad doing their operations, and the fact that they are serving our interests, you can’t help but be proud of them and I think there is a growing trend in that regard.”

CF Competence and Capabilities
“When I was in Bosnia, over a decade ago, I worked with contingents from 44 different countries, and in my most recent deployment, in Iraq, I was with 33 different countries – we are equal to the best militaries around the globe. We tend to underestimate our ability and we should stop doing that, because we train our people to high standards under really arduous conditions. And if you understand what its like in Gagetown (NB), or Cold Lake (AB), or off the east or west coast, you will know that we have really difficult conditions under which we train our people to high standards, and we have great discipline that comes from our heritage and our military profession. At the same time, because of our multicultural nature, the mosaic of this country, we tend to adapt well to situations. We don’t see things in black or white but different shades of grey. I’m not sure what it is, but the combina­tion of all that, the training, the standards, and our culture, make us pretty good at what we do, and yet we, in our own community, tend to underestimate that. It’s funny because when you meet the soldiers, sailors, air men and air women coming home, they are all bubbling about the fact that, in their area of expertise, in that deployed theatre, they made a massive contribution, and that their expertise was truly recognized by their international partners. And yet, somehow, we tend to forget that in the longer term. We depreciate ourselves which is fine and modest, but we should never think that we are unworthy to step toe to toe with our international equals. We shouldn’t take a back seat to anybody in terms of our competencies as military professionals.”

FrontLine plans to report on this rapid transformation process again in the fall, and MGen Natynczyk agrees, confirming that “this is an iterative process” that will be of great interest to our readers as the transformation continues to progress through it’s various stages.

From left: Australian Col Philip Van der Moezel, Deputy Commander of Multi-National Corps – Iraq (MNC-I) C7; Col Ed Willis, Commander of the 115th Engineer Group; BGen Giacomo Calligaris, Deputy Italian Brigade Commander; Norm, the 115th Engineers’ interpreter; MGen Walter Natynczyk, Deputy Commanding General; BGen Robert Pollman, MNC-I C1 Commander and Commander of the 420th Engineer Brigade; and Major Ali, Chief of the Iraq Highway Patrol.

“Because we are involved in operations, we can only take small steps because we have to keep everything else going... it’s almost like trying to change tires on a moving vehicle. If you come up with a concept, you put it into play, you watch how it works, then you adapt, and then you take the next step. So, by fall, we will be somewhere else in this process. We’ve been able to achieve a lot in a short period of time – and that’s through the collaboration and the transparency and the relationships.”

“We received some feedback recently, when General Hillier spoke to a lot of our folks,” says the Chief of CF Transforma­tion, “and it’s not surprising to see the great level of support, especially if they have been in operations.
“Sometimes you have two cultures; the culture of those that have been at home for awhile, and they like that ­stability, where nothing changes, but that does not reflect reality for those who have recently been in operations. They see the fact that there are various threats that constantly evolve, and therefore you have to adapt to those changes.
“When we talk about transformation, we talk about developing a structure that is adaptive, that is flexible, that is agile, and that can handle the new situations as they unfold, such as global instability. Some folks, who would rather have a lot more stability, can be uncomfortable with that. But that’s not the nature of our business. Our business is one of being adaptive and of being ready for the next operation - wherever that might occur. Because that’s part of our service to Canada.”
© Frontline Defence 2006