Friday, October 21, 2005

A Canadian general speaks out.

By M.Gen. Lewis Mackenzie.

The Globe and Mail,
October 19, 2005.

In 1993, when I took my release from the Canadian Forces, I
promised myself that, in retirement, I would never don my uniform
when there was a chance I might criticize government policy while
wearing it. Loyalty to the principle of civilian control of the
military is an essential characteristic of democracy. I had not worn
my uniform for 12 years -- until this past week in
Canada has more than 1,500 soldiers serving in Afghanistan and
surrounding locations. The work they do is tough, dirty and, yes,
dangerous. They are in the process of redeploying from the
area to a more volatile region in and around
Kandahar, and their
numbers will grow to more than 2,000 in early 2006.
Appreciating that Canadians are less than well informed about
our military's largest overseas commitment, Defence Minister Bill
Graham and the Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, invited a
number of them to spend a week in
Afghanistan with the men and women
of the Canadian Forces.
Since Mr. Graham and Gen. Hillier would be meeting the Afghan
leadership during our Team Canada visit, details of the trip
including the schedule and participants) were tightly controlled. Of
course, enough was leaked to the media before our departure on Oct.
10 to draw the inevitable condemnation of our trip from some
quarters as a waste of time and money.
The critics cited costs, presumably without checking that the
military flights to and from
Afghanistan were moving cargo and
soldiers in and out of the theatre, with Team
Canada in the rear of
the aircraft. Eight hours to
Zagreb, five hours to an "undisclosed
location," three hours sleep followed by five hours to
Kandahar --
that's not the definition of a luxury boondoggle.
Team Canada included Mary Ann Burdett and Tom Irvine of the
Royal Canadian Legion; Rudyard Griffiths of the Dominion Institute;
Bob Sweet, the mayor of Petawawa, Ont.; Tim Page of the Canadian
Defence Industries Association; John Eaton of the Canadian Force's
Liaison Council; Raf Souccar, assistant commissioner of the RCMP; sports superstars Catriona Le May Doan,
Daniel Igali and Guy Lafleur; and entertainer Rick Mercer.
Our aim was to see as many soldiers as possible. We ate with
them, patrolled with them, played with them, slept beside them and,
most important, talked to them.
At first light and late at night, ball hockey games broke out,
and Guy Lafleur took to the "ice." Ms. Le May Doan and Mr. Igali
were inundated with requests for pictures and autographs, and Mr.
Mercer never failed to bring smiles to hundreds of dusty faces.
Toward the end of our visit, Gen. Hillier invited us to attend
a number of dusty parades, where he informally addressed his
soldiers. When he called on Mr. Igali, the Olympic wrestling gold
medalist, to say a few words, he spoke for all of
Canada when he
reminded the soldiers that, when they patrolled the dark alleys of
some of the most dangerous places on Earth, every Canadian walked
with them. I truly wish that were true.
Here's my message to some opposition MPs: Don't play politics
with our soldiers. One defence critic who should know better
questioned the wisdom of the Afghan visit even before our departure
Canada. The unit he commanded as a lieutenant-colonel in the
1970s is now serving in
Kandahar. A number of the unit's solders
indicated they would have him drawn and quartered if he showed his
face in
Afghanistan. Not exactly the type of
endorsement he would appreciate, but one he should have expected.
As someone who has served in and commanded numerous overseas
missions starting with the Gaza Strip in 1963, I can guarantee every
Canadian that I have never encountered a deployed soldier who didn't
appreciate the time, effort and risk volunteered by Team Canada
participants in the past. So, before the critics offer commentary on
such matters, perhaps they should contact the only people who really
matter in this debate -- the soldiers doing the dirty work for the rest of us -- and ask them what they think.

Canadian Major-general (Ret'd) Lewis MacKenzie

was the first commander of
United Nations peacekeeping forces in

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