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Canadian Army Officer Training in War

daftandbarmy

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I first saw this pinned to the notice board in building D3 at Gagetown during Phase 3:

Canadian Army Officer Training in War
By:  Brigadier General C.L. Kirkby (Ret’d) ca. 1980

1. After an upbringing in The Permanent Force, service in World War II and during the Korean War (minus combat experience, which is an acknowledged factor), and a normal career in the regular army, I am left with the paraphrased impression that the average Canadian officer carries a sergeant-major’s pacestick in his knapsack; as I consider it an officer’s duty to look up and ahead, rather than down and backwards, this strikes me as a Bad Thing.

2. I have no doubt that the colonial mind lingers, hopefully not inextinguishably, in Canada and particularly in the defence establishment and this plays it part, but in war and peace Canadian officer training somehow fails all along the line to teach that the thin end of the telescope goes to the eye and that officers of every rank are paid to Think Big (or at least comprehensively), not small.

3. Let just one continuing lacuna in operational thinking and training suffice as an example:  never or hardly ever has a clear, precise, governing context provided the kind of authoritative envelope within which that essential but rare characteristic – disciplined initiative – can develop and operate.

4. To base a training system two ranks up, as is a necessity in any army with a clear, dispassionate view of war requirements, a primary factor is confidence:  the confidence of superiors in their own competence; the confidence of superiors in the capacity of their students.  Maybe the first is too much to expect in war, but it shouldn’t be in peace; and the second can to a large extent be imposed by the system, which can also, to a very large degree, ensure its foundations.  On reflection it was probably the lack of this kind of confidence which made the Canadian officer training system so defective in wartime, at least in my experience of it.

5. After a few weeks in the Horse Palace on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and two months of quite conscientious basic training in Orillia, I was sent on a brilliantly conducted and administered assistant instructor’s course in Brockville, a tour de force as far as I could see, on the warrant officer, promoted to Major, who ran it.  He was a mercenary soldier in his element, passing on the knowledge and skill of a lifetime with dedication, precision and complete success.

6. But what was I, on graduation two or three months later, in the middle of a long was, doing training officers?  Where were the experienced regimental NCOs who should have been there, whether or not they had combat experience at that point?  What I was doing was exemplifying the deliberate degradation of candidates which formed the official attitude of the place.  “I’ll break your ‘earts before you break mine” was the reiterated ultimate of the commander’s communication with the assembled cadets.  “Treat cadets like dirt”, I was ordered regularly:  I didn’t, nor did many of the other assistant instructors, but we were in defiance of the party line. 

7. The contract between the assistant instructor’s course and the officer training course probably sprang from the fact that the promoted warrant officers who commanded both were confident in teaching NCOs and not teaching officers.  Officers and NCOs function at different levels:  to deliberately place the training and initial orientation of wartime officers in the hands of mercenary NCOs, whatever rank was thrust upon them, was a fundamental mistake, a psychological blunder which still echoes in the Army and in the most sympathetic public perception of it.

8. Quite suddenly and most fortunately I found myself in the British officer training system.  Whatever I must then have been, however callow, however unpromising, however foreign, I was, to every element of that system, automatically a gentleman, a potential officer to be given every skill time allowed but above all to be made confidant and, subtly, an immediate colleague in the officer corps.  Misdemeanors, while bringing swift punishment, were made to seem a source of disappointment than of vindictive contempt; incomprehension and minor errors were made to seem a failure to use one’s capacity rather than inherent stupidity.  NCOs did NCOs’ work and were obviously amongst the best available:  they knew their place, did their work thoroughly and well while remaining in it and, by doing so, taught cadets the rudiments of their relative positions.  Officers were experienced, comradely and sympathetic, fellows in an honourable estate, encouraging cadets to enter it rather than eyeing them as suspicious and unworthy interlopers.  After nine months in such an environment, I was ready and eager to command soldiers in action:  a thoroughly well considered and carefully conducted system made me so.

9. What would have been my attitude as a graduate of the Canadian system?  I can’t say and I would offer many good officers insult if I said “awful”, but I can only think it was despite the system that they were good.  On my first morning back as a “Sandhurst Officer”, (a Canadian term at the time), I was sat down in the commandant’s office, given coffee, congratulated, welcomed and assured of the earliest posting to a unit in action.  When I and three companions were shown out by the Adjutant, a large platoon of “Canadian officers”, (another term in use), was brought to attention, acknowledged by the commandant and marched back to the mess.  Our relationship can be imagined.  They loathed the army, were bored stiff by it, couldn’t wait for the war to end so they could escape it and showed no sign of any desire to command.  The system had insulted them:  having seen it in action at Brockville, I wasn’t surprised.

10. What has periodically bothered me since is that I still hear echoes of that military failure.  While having no connection with RMC and many reservations concerning it, it does seem to provide to the cadets an officer’s environment.  But what they seem to find in the schools in the summer – when they get to soldiering, not academics, is something like my memories of Brockville. 

11. Now when I hear someone actually considering the training of officers in a new, long war, my experience suddenly bothers me again.  If this hasty and partial paper does nothing else but alert responsible people to the fact that not everything in the Canadian war performance was good and to be perpetuated, it will be useful.  If it can indicate that in the rapid expansion of an officer corps, it is the proper ethos which must be inculcated before all else, I will be delighted, and, of course, if it implies clearly that officer ethos is an essential element of success in war, to be understood, cultivated and sustained, what more could I expect?
 

Edward Campbell

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Ah! Kip Kirby!  What a soldier and, especially, what a teacher.

He retired, in the '80s, after commanding the Army Staff College (Fort Frontenac) in Kingston.

He was, amongst many talents, a gifted raconteur.  He could - and regularly did - teach at dinner or over drinks in the bar.  His sidekick, and deputy commandant, Colonel 'Nick' (RCAC) was almost his equal, but with a bit more of an edge.  His "Where have all the tigers gone?" article (Army Journal in the '70s, if my sieve like memory serves, rubber many, many less than stellar ‘leaders’ – of which the CF had an inordinately large supply – the wrong way.  But it, and ‘Kip’ Kirby’s incessant hammering about training for war and leading by example inspired several majors and colonels to try to break out of the soft, fuzzy, comfortable, pacific ‘green machine’ mentality.

Those majors and colonels are guys who nurtured the likes of Rick Hillier and Andy Leslie.
 

Edward Campbell

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Oh, that advert!  The fellow* – a lieutenant – stepping out of a Challenger executive jet.  The ad spawned a whole host of jokes and even songs, “The Ballad of the Green Briefcase” (a spoof of the Ballad of the Green Berets) comes to mind.  We had a skit – something about Captain Canada who stepped off his executive jet and solved horrendous problems – like getting someone posted out of NDHQ!

He, that lieutenant’s image, actually, drove Colonel Nick up the wall – and many of us followed.  Colonel Nick was right.  That careerist, soft, fuzzy,heavily armed civil servant† attitude nearly destroyed the army.

It was nice to see comments from Dick Cowling (QORofC) and Jim Allen (PPCLI), both tigers after Colonel Nick’s heart, weighing in, too.  They were part of a generation which struggled mightily to save the army and make it possible for Rick Hillier to attempt transformation.

----------
* I know him, not too well, but ... he served for several years but left the CF many years ago.  He is now a middle manager of some sort in TeleSat – at least he was a couple of years ago when I last bumped into him.  Not his fault: he just happened to be an unemployed (maybe awaiting training?) but photogenic young fellow sitting around some air base when the PR folks wanted a “model.”

† Evelyn Waugh’s phrase somewhere in The Sword of Honour trilogy, right?

 

Old Sweat

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Having had the honour and the pleasure of serving with BGen Kirby and Cols Cowling and Nicholson, this was a real pleasure to read. A flood of memories came back, but perhaps the most telling happened in officer training in Petawawa when Kip Kirby was commanding 2 Brigade. He had just finished expounding upon the lack of mobility in the field in the winter and paused for comments. A terribly sincere young platoon commander opined that we could not move any quicker because of all the 'life support equipment' we had to move on our toboggans. Wham! Kip's blood pressure blew out his ears. "Life support equipment. Life support equipment. Fxxx life support equipment. Life destruction equipment is what we should be carrying. Machine guns, grenades, ammunition, that' what should be on the toboggans. You don't need all this crap we drag around. The Mad Trapper of Rat River led the RCMP on a merry chase around the north until they finally got him and he carried his life support equipment on his back."
 

daftandbarmy

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Thanks for the reminder about the 'Tigers' article. All good stuff, hopefully subscribed to by a majority of our officers today. A good definition of 'careerism' below....

From: A Solution to Careerism in the Canadian Forces

By Major Darwin J. Gould

“If I were to be asked to list the primary negative influence in the officer corps today, I would unhesitatingly nominate ‘careerism’ as being at the root of the problem of ethical shortfalls.  In its essence, careerism can be described as the subscription by an officer to that school of thought described by Gabriel as the ‘entrepreneurial model.’ Such an officer believes he has a ‘job’ to perform within a corporate bureaucracy, that the true measure of success is how far and how fast he can climb to what he perceives as the ladder of success.  His credo is risk avoidance and promotion of self, his loyalty is entirely personal, his ethics situational….  If he manages to maneuver himself into a command position, he uses his subordinates to advance his career with concomitantly little understanding or appreciation of his role as a leader, teacher and example to his junior officers…. The tragedy of the careerist is that he is self-replicating, for he drives off many of the very type of officer needed in the military services.”

A citation from a marine Colonel made in an article by Dr. Joseph G. Brenan, Ambition and Careerism, Vol XLIV, Number 1, Sequence 333, Naval War College Review, Winter 1991, p. 80

http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:hliLPQHq4JgJ:wps.cfc.forces.gc.ca/papers/csc/csc27/gould.doc+A+Solution+to+Careerism+in+the+Canadian+Forces&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ca
 

ltmaverick25

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I just read through this thread.  Excellent insight.  Has anyone ever read:
David Bercuson Significant Incident: Canada's Army, the Airborne, and the Murder in Somalia. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1996.

Here is an excerpt from the afterward of his book which touches slightly on careerism and ties it into the Somalia incident.

“The most important story of the Somalia affair has been the one most ignored:  How and why did the Airborne get “totally out of control” in the words of Col Peter Kenward, the regiment’s last commander?  Kenward was appointed after Mathieu with a specific mandate to clean things up.  He did a good job in short order, and the regiment was ready to undertake a peacekeeping mission to Croatia when it was disbanded.  But he is the first to admit that something had gone horribly wrong before and during Somalia.
That story is ignored because it is rooted in the larger story of the crisis that has been developing in the Canadian army for at least a decade, and nobody in the press seems to care much about that.  That crisis was caused initially by the deliberate bleeding of the defence establishment to near death by successive, mostly Liberal, governments.  It was made a great deal worse by unification and the imposition on the Canadian Forces of a structure designed to ease political and bureaucratic burdens rather then promote military effectiveness.  The sins of unification were compounded by the creation of National Defence Headquarters, designed to murder military initiative.  With NDHQ safely ensconced at the top of the defence structure, it was not long before soldier-managers took control of the army and soldier-warriors were shunted aside.  We now have an army in which war fighting is of secondary or even tertiary importance.  Which is absurd.

All these processes took place against a backdrop of change.  Canadian society changed.  The Cold War ended.  The army was downsized and its missions redefined.  Prolonged peace is always a time of trial for any military, but in this country, where the Armed Forces are not held to play an important role in asserting national interest, it is particularly testing.  It is difficult for Canadians to face the bare fact that an independent nation must have a well-run, effective, and efficient military capable of doing what military forces exist for – to fight wars.  To do so, after all, would cost money that is apparently better spent on endless cycles of welfare.  But unless Canadians begin to face this fact, they had better get used to the sort of thing they have been seeing from the military since the news of the Somalia murder first broke.

Armies can and must reflect the changes that take place in the larger society around them.  At the same time, armies are for war. And the nature of war hasn’t changed much since the first dawn.  The requirements of good soldiering and good military leadership haven’t changed much either.  The solution to the crisis in the Canadian army is simple to prescribe but hard to put into effect.  It entails the restoration of preparation for war fighting and combat at the center of the army’s existence.  Any other mission is peripheral.  If that is done, the warriors – the real professional soldiers – will regain control.  When that happens, the old-fashioned, but necessary, virtues of honour, integrity, professionalism, dedication to the military as a vocation, and acceptance of the unlimited liability of soldiers will once again form the core values of the Canadian army.  Only then will the army of Vimy Ridge, the Scheldt Estuary, and Kap’young be redeemed”

Bercuson, Significant Incident, page 241-242
 

Greymatters

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daftandbarmy said:
1. After an upbringing in The Permanent Force, service in World War II and during the Korean War (minus combat experience, which is an acknowledged factor), and a normal career in the regular army, I am left with the paraphrased impression that the average Canadian officer carries a sergeant-major’s pacestick in his knapsack; as I consider it an officer’s duty to look up and ahead, rather than down and backwards, this strikes me as a Bad Thing.

Said in 1980, was still true in the early 2000's...
 

Edward Campbell

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I was trained by and served with the likes of Kip Kirby and Nick. They recognized that society changes; they also understood that war does not – not in it essentials.

I came away from all those discussions (in the mess, over a few drinks, after a presentation by some pretentious senior officer, at the ENDEX hot washup and, on rare occasions, at debriefings after deployments) with a little laundry list that I worked up, with Kirby’s help, amongst that provided by many others, in Kingston and Ottawa circa 1980/85.

I wanted to shift the focus of our discussions (and some (probably pretentious) presentations I was required to give) away from sterile force structure debates that, invariably in that particular decade of darkness® (the third of four in a row), foundered on the shoals of too little money. I wanted to look at the required attributes of the people we had/have. My little list (with abbreviated explanatory notes), for what it’s worth, went something like this:

The Canadian serviceperson must be, in this order:

1. Tough – because, no matter what legions of social scientists say, battle is a harsh, dirty business - physically, mentally and morally exhausting. Sailors, soldiers and aviators must be, in Field Marshal Lord Wavell’s wise words, robust: able to withstand the shocks of war. Toughness is a mix of physical fitness and stamina and mental fitness. It is not related to what MGen (Ret’d) Clive Addy described (circa the 1990) as “macho thuggery;” real tough guys are, usually, cheerful, kind and helpful to those having a hard time; they have great reserves of quiet strength that they cheerfully share with others when the chips are down.

2. Superbly Disciplined – the toughest person is of no use in modern warfare without discipline: the sine qua non of every soldier. There is more to discipline than we see on parade squares, even though it starts there. Discipline is most often seen in a desire to ‘be the best one can be’ and do the best one can, in any situation. Discipline help to overcome fear and it allows sailors, soldiers and aviators to find the deepest reserves of their strength when the situation demands one’s all.

3. Well Trained – the modern soldier is a skilled craftsman, naval electronics technician, infantry soldier and loadmaster alike practice their often unique skills in situations unimaginable to their civilian friends and relatives. They need extensive and intensive training in order to be able to do their jobs in situations when the equipment is not working, when supplies are unavailable, when it is cold and wet, when fear is a constant companion, when bombs are falling and when others’ lives depend upon the task being done quickly, right now, regardless of risk and difficulty.

4. Adequately Equipped – the ‘best’ would be ideal but, as the old saying goes, it is the bitter enemy of the ‘good enough’ and, anyway, we can rarely afford the best and we can never afford enough of it. Tough, disciplined, well trained soldiers can always coax the best results out of ‘good enough’ equipment – provided they have enough of it.

5. Properly Organized – the military team, what Field Marshal Slim described as the “orchestra of war,” needs to be well enough organized so that all the component parts can work together, efficiently and effectively, in order to accomplish the mission given by the people of Canada.

6. Well Led – this is last only because it cannot be first. Average sailors, soldiers and aviators can work miracles if they have good leaders and, sometimes, even the best people will fail if the leadership is deficient. Part of ‘leadership’ – in its broadest sense – is political or strategic leadership; even the bravest of the brave will fail to ‘be the best they can be’ if they are made to serve an unjust cause.

 
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