Interview article

Gen Rick Hillier

Thinking Outside the Box: Communicating for Success
RICK HILLIER  |  Mar 15, 2006

Communicating with Canadians is important for us… three things are interconnected the operations we do, the transformation, and how Canadians view us. A major part of what I do, as your Chief of Defence Staff, is help develop that connection to Canadians and to ensure that our population really does take ownership of the Canadian Forces.

The Canadian PRT
Internationally, we participate in many UN missions either directly or indirectly in the Middle East, in Eastern Europe, throughout Africa, and of course in Afghanistan. The Afghan mission remains right now our great focus, a mission where both the opportunity to do good and the risk are equally high. We now have some 2,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and air women in Afghanistan, [with] about 100 in Kabul. There are soldiers in the Provincial Reconstruction Team that have been there since last August, helping Governor Asadullah develop the province of Kandahar as fast as possible.

The battle group has commenced full operations under LCol Ian Hope, and BGen Dave Fraser assumed command of military operations in the southern part of Afghanistan on 28 February. His command includes thousands of soldiers from the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania, Australia and others.

BGen Fraser and his Canadian regular and reserve forces, are in Afghanistan for many reasons. You have heard some of those reasons from our Minister, General Henault (the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee), the Ambassador from Afghanistan to Canada, and others. So let me tell you my ­personal perspective on why I believe we are in Afghanistan.

Why Afghanistan?
We are in Afghanistan first because we as a country, we as Canadians, refuse to accept terrorism and its indiscriminate violence as a way of making change. We are there to ensure that fertile [ground] of the failed state of Afghanistan, that Petri dish that permitted Al-Qaeda, like-minded terrorist groups, and the Taliban to recruit, resource, recover, prepare, plan and project their violence worldwide, does not re-emerge. We must impart the conditions for stability over there before that instability is exported here.

Equally important, however, is that we are in Afghanistan to help Afghans. We’re not there to build an empire. We’re not there to occupy a country. But we are there to help them rebuild their families – not an easy task after over two million of them were killed and over eight million were driven out of their country. We’re there to help those families rebuild their communities to a level where, perhaps, the medical standards improve enough so that two out of five children do not die before the age of five; and where security means that not dying from a suicide bomber’s actions while shopping for food is possible; where schools are open and where students – both boys and girls – are being taught by teachers who do not fear being killed and decapitated for what they do; and where women can play an equal part in their society.

And we are there to help those communities come together as a country guided by the Constitution that the Afghans developed, led by a president that the Afghans elected, represented by a parliament that the Afghans chose. We’re there to help a country improve its per capita income from about $300 per year to something significantly more. And when you talk to the United Nations representatives from their drug organization they say that the mark where a country stops exporting, being an exporter or a net exporter of drugs is around a thousand dollars per capita income. We are there to help Afghanistan become a stabilizing ­factor in a region that is usually inherently unstable, a region that is a source of most of the world’s heroin. Last year over 3,000 tonnes of opium produced in the country. And a region that includes three nuclear powers and potentially a fourth as we know. We are in Afghanistan to protect our interests, to project our values and to help ensure the long-term stability and security of the place that we know and that we love called Canada.

Throughout history Canada has not flinched when meeting responsibilities shouldered as a founding member of NATO, as a founding member of the United Nations under whose Security Council resolution the mission in Afghanistan is conducted or as a member of the G-8. And let me tell you, viewed by the rest of the world as rich and with a duty to help. Our men and women in uniform do not flinch now. Dave Fraser and his band of men and women will not flinch. But they need, as never before, our country’s visible support.

Canadians should be confident that our contingent has the equipment, the training, the organization and leadership that is second to none. The men and women who execute that mission in Kandahar and Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, are the best-equipped contingent in that country out of the 35 or so military forces being committed – bar none. They are equipped and prepared to do their job. From hot weather boots and uniforms, to knee and elbow pads, protective and tactical vests, to the personal radios which do the job superbly, night vision goggles, camelback hydration ­systems, ballistic eye protection, Kevlar helmets, modern weapons, GPS systems for navigation, LAV-III fighting vehicles (the best of its kind in the world, in my opinion), G-Wagens, the Nyala vehicles, satellite communications, and of course, since we’re Canadian, hockey rinks in every camp we go. Any equipment that we lack, such as heavy lift helicopters, is being contributed as part of a multinational effort until we can provide our own. 

09 March 2006 – General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, meets soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team at Camp Nathan Smith during an informal visit to the camp.

These great Canadians who wear our uniforms face those who would kill us with raw courage, perseverance and tenacity, without flash, glitz or bravado. They are simply Canada’s soldiers, in that most generic sense of the word, protecting Canada’s interests.

But these soldiers, sailors, airmen and air women are on a mission that illustrates the change in operation since the end of the Cold War. Chaos is a great threat and those who advocate it not part of any one state. In short, we face an enemy that lacks a postal code. The traditional inter-positioning of troops between two belligerents, who just need some help in implementing a peace accord, is no more.

Our transformation is designed to ensure that these men and women continue to have conditions set for success, and at the same time have the direct risk to them reduced to the lowest level possible, knowing that we cannot reduce it to zero.

Our aim is to achieve significant strategic effect for Canada by producing one integrated effect on every mission that the Canadian Forces undertakes, whether it is here in Canada, on the continent or overseas. It’s not about separate land, air or sea components on a mission where our significant contributions from a national perspective, because of a past silo approach, sometimes did not appear on the international radar scope. This compartmentalized or piecemeal approach reduced our impact and certainly did not enable us to get the strategic impact for Canada that we wanted. And what we want to do is maximize that impact, increasing Canada’s profile and increasing our effect in the world in a very real way, shaping the places we go in accordance with our interests and with our values. This is the guiding light of transformation for us, one effect.

We’ve used six principles to illustrate and guide our work.

CF Focus and Culture. Precedence of our service component or unit, build on the strengths of the land, sea and air forces, give them the strategic guidance and direction and context to work within, and direct their contributions to achieve that one effect.

Operations Primacy. Our raison d’être is to conduct operations, and at times, in the past, our structures have not reflected that.

Command Centric. A clear separation of the command responsibilities and the staff responsibilities so that we have individuals who are clearly identified as having the authority.

Authority. The responsibility to conduct operations with the authority and the accountability to do so.

Mission Command. Command by intent and initiative. As CDS, I need to get a return on that immense investment in selection and education and training and  promotion of the men and women in the Canadian Forces, set them up for success, let them know what they have to achieve, give them the context in which to achieve it and then hold them accountable.

Structure. An integrated CF structure must reflect regular, the reserve and the civilian components that we are.

Our entire transformation is based on a ‘Canada First’ attitude. To meet the intent of those principles, Canada Command was stood up on 1 February with commander Vice Admiral J.Y. Forcier, a small command and support team, and six regional commanders building on the structures we had in place across our country – not adding new ones – to have the responsibility and authority to conduct all operations in Canada and across the continent. Canada Command will undertake all routine and crises operations, including search and rescue, coastal and Arctic surveillance and assisting our provincial or Government of Canada response to a disaster or terrorist attack.

Success in dealing with any operations, whether routine or emergency, ­terrorist attack or natural disaster, will be determined in the first 24 hours. The psychological impact that comes from perceived success or perceived failure can be substantial. To meet our enormous responsibility at home here in Canada, and I’ve directed VAdm Forcier to develop the standards, the readiness levels and the domestically-focussed capabilities to enable us to win those first 24 hours.

This transformation will lead us from crisis response to contingency response by preparing for, planning for, and exercising probable scenarios that may occur in our large population centres. When crisis occurs and stress levels are high, we must be implementing contingency plans that have been developed and practised. And we are not becoming first responders in doing that, nor indeed second responders. But we want to become third responders of the first order.

Transformation includes more than a vision. It also needs capabilities to ensure that the organization has the right people with the right skill sets, matched to the right equipment for success – and those capabilities demand many things for us to be successful. Let me speak briefly to four.

Clear Priorities. We have a responsibility to our political masters in Canada to articulate clearly the priorities that we see from the military side. In the plans that we bring forth, airlift will be line 1.

Without the replacement of the C-130 Hercules in the very near future, we run a risk of that fleet being grounded – and our ability to conduct international or domestic operations significantly constrained or stopped. In the triage of military life this is urgent. We have just grounded our second out of 32 aircraft permanently and many others are moving rapidly towards that fate. Our aircraft have high hours of usage – many in the 40,000+hour bracket.

We need a fixed wing search and rescue aircraft to help replace some of the Hercs and the Buffalo aircraft for those life and death operations in Canada. We need a heavy lift helicopter for both domestic and international operations, because that is what the demand calls for, and we need guaranteed strategic airlift

Acquisitions. We need an acquisitions process that delivers. We have to clearly state the priorities in equipment necessary for military success. But we have to clearly state what each must achieve – not the specifications, but the performance requirements – and ideally in a half a dozen bullets. We must then take an appetite suppressant on modifications of in-service equipment or equipment coming into service to avoid being the owners and operators of a unique Canadian orphan vehicle, airplane, ship or any other piece of equipment. We must push military off-the-shelf purchases to the limit. We do not want to become the designers of unique aircraft, ships or fighting vehicles for the Canadian Forces.

That’s our job as military leadership, mine as CDS, and clearly there is much work to be done in the CF to make that a reality. We work with Ward Elcock and the civilian team every single day to achieve this, and there’s an enormous amount of work to be done across the Government of Canada structure to ensure all of it can succeed. Revolutionizing the present acquisition process will not, in and of itself, ensure the success in transformation and operations. But not revolutionizing it will ensure failure.

30 Mar 2006 – Afghanistan – A joint Canadian and Romanian convoy was attacked by a suicide car bomber while delivering supplies to a remote outpost in Gumbad, approximately 70 km north of Kandahar City, Afghanistan. Once the convoy was moved to a secure location, the injured Canadian was evacuated to a hospital at the coalition base at Kandahar Airfield. The soldier suffered minor injuries. (Photo: Sgt Carole Morissette)

Funding. We need money. Despite the increase of some $500 million in last year's budget, some of which was taken back by other government programs leaving us with about a $350 million increase for 2006, we have not yet managed to regain the spending levels of 1991. We remain short about three-quarters of a billion dollars just to sustain the present Canadian Forces, such as married quarters, spare parts, ammunition, running simulators, gas or oil, rations, and everything else necessary to march, fly or sail.

The bow wave of things that we have pushed to the side still remains. Such things as infrastructure and maintenance is becoming increasingly weighty and costly. Everything we do is more expensive. Old equipment is expensive to operate because it’s old and you can’t get parts for it, and new equipment with the high technology is also expensive.

We need money to sustain ourselves, and then to increase our numbers to flesh out the skeletal units that we have in some places across the CF. We need money to modernize those units and then we need to recruit and train and equip new ones.

Recruiting. We need a culture and approach that is radically different for how we recruit and train. With the excitement, challenges, training and education, job security, and salary benefits that the Canadian Forces offers young men and women, I remain puzzled as to why every single Canadian man and woman coming out of high school, college or university does not seek to join us. If you want to go sail the seven seas in the most high tech ships in the world, you come see us. If you want to fly high-performance aircraft, you come see us. And if you want a physical and mental challenge with the satisfaction of dealing directly with people when they desperately need help, you come see us. We offer all that.

The answer and explains my puzzlement is because most people don’t know about us. And we have to get back into advertising with realistic ads that show what we do. We’ve got to make recruiting every service man and woman’s business, and I mean this.

Equally important is the training once we have the men and women in uniform. We know we can be successful. We offer so much. It’s as simple as that. And our approach has got to be now a mobilization approach. You heard our minister, and we know what the Conservative government’s platform is for the Canadian Forces. And if we’re going to take in those large numbers of men and women, many of whom are destined towards the land forces, we’re going to take some operational units and General Marc Caron, the Chief of Land Staff, Commander of Land Forces right over here, has already thought through. We will take operational units in lower states of readiness and turn them into schools to train those men and women in about 80 to 85 percent of the skill sets that we need. What we want to do is drive then the recruit training centre down in Borden and St. Jean to do the training for those specific technical trades until we can start shifting that technical training out to Canadian colleges under a contractual basis. I mean we spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year for education across our country and I don’t feel obligated to repeat all the same thing inside the Canadian Forces when it can do it for us as easily with an agreement that we would have.

Connecting to Canadians
Having been disconnected from the population for many years – in my view, disowned by Canadians in this past decade – and seeing their confidence in us plummet, we have an obligation to ensure that Canada’s armed forces are seen by our population, those 32 million Canadians as exactly that: their armed forces. Our approach has got to be recruit a family and recruit a nation. And we bring three messages to them because we believe our credibility is the centre of gravity here.

One is that 'Canada First' drives everything that we do. That’s why I come to work in the morning. That’s why I wear this uniform and that’s why I’m so proud to wear that Canadian flag on my shoulder. Everything we do is about Canada and serving Canadians better.

Two, we are a force for good. Everything that we do, our job is based on Canadian values and protecting particularly the weak and vulnerable who cannot protect themselves. If that happens to be at home because of a domestic disaster, we do it here. But Canada also plays a role around the world as all of us know.

And, third, your Canadian Forces are your pride. And if Canada’s pride is not satisfactory to you, get engaged, get involved and help sort it out. Canadians need to see and hear about those incredible young men and women — soldiers, sailors, airmen and air women — who are the very credentials of our country representing in fact what I believe is a national treasure and around the less fortunate spots of the world they are the face of Canada that millions see and millions remember as a bright and a shining beacon in a world that seems very dark.

We, who wear the uniform, are the volunteers. But our families are brought into this high stress environment that we occupy, usually very unaware of the demands that they will face (such as long absences, missed family events, burdens carried alone). A family’s sacrifice and the commitment, and the dedication, and the perseverance are as essential to operational success for us, as is that of the soldiers, sailors and airmen and air women. That, unfortunately, is completely unseen by our country. The greatest gift and the greatest sacrifice that a family can give to their country is their personal hero – their family member. And I would like to ­recognize those families and thank them for their support to our country and helping other Canadians when they need that help or helping those around the world when their societies explode.
Editor’s note: The CDS presented these thoughts, on 24 February 2006, to attendees of the Conference of Defence Associations’ Annual General Meeting.
© Frontline Defence 2006