Author Topic: Fisher:Amid talk of his retirement, Gen Natynczyk defends 'one of the most profe  (Read 1942 times)

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Fisher: Amid talk of his retirement, General Walter Natynczyk defends 'one of the most professional' militaries in the world

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By Matthew Fisher, Postmedia News May 28, 2012 1:02 PM

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk, seen in this July 22, 2011, file photo, defended the Canadian military as "one of the most professional, disciplined, well-trained forces in the world."
Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington , Ottawa Citizen

While genially denying that his retirement as commander of the Canadian Armed Forces was imminent, Gen. Walt Natynczyk bade me goodbye in his own way last week in his office at National Defence Headquarters, pressing his personal coin — with its four Maple Leafs and crown — into my hand.

It is a matter of weeks, rather than months, before Natynczyk steps down, those who work with him tell me. However, it is still not certain whether the general intends to move immediately to the retirement home that he and his wife finished building last year near Kingston, or take up another appointment.

Multiple well-placed officials in the Harper government have indicated that Natynczyk's likely replacement as the chief of defence staff is Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, who assumed command of the Royal Canadian Navy last summer. As two army officers in a row have held the position, the assumption is that the new chief of defence staff would be from the navy or air force, although the government has recently considered several army officers as well.

Natynczyk has not had an easy time of it lately. After successfully guiding Canada's fighting men and women through the Afghan maze to great acclaim from the country's allies, the armoured officer and others in the senior military command have been caught up in the media furor over the potential costs of the F-35 fighter jet.

The controversy over the possible purchase of a fifth-generation fighter jet and unproven allegations that Canadian troops countenanced the torture of a few Taliban detainees by the Afghan authorities have diverted much of the public attention from a very busy branch of the government that now spends more than $20 billion a year, has more than 90,000 full- and part-time soldiers, and has been involved in the country's biggest foreign military operations (Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya) since the Korean War.

Unlike his outspoken predecessor, Rick Hillier, Natynczyk has always preferred a less adversarial approach. But in his own quiet way, he has regarded such attacks as a personal affront and an affront to the military.

"The Canadian Forces, in my mind, is one of the most professional, disciplined, well-trained forces in the world," the general said. "And we are a self-regulating profession, such that if someone does something wrong, we take action, and we investigate it, and we deal with it. I just want to say that I am so proud of our men and women and how they've handled the difficult circumstances, like detainees on the battlefield, in awful circumstances, in austere conditions, and that we have been — to the degree that we can within operational security — as transparent as we could.

"With regard to the issue of the next-generation fighter, again we've laid out to government what we think are the threats to Canadian security over the next 25 to 50 years, looking at the global situation of technology, and looking to what are our gaps in the security and sovereignty of our country, and also cognizant of our NORAD commitments with our U.S. allies, and of our NATO commitments with the alliance . . . The high-level statements of requirement reflect all of that. I can't suppose where government's going to go (from there), but we stand (by) our high-level military advice."

While not elaborating on the debate over who knew what and when about the F-35's long-term costs, the chief of defence said: "All we can do is tell the truth. And that's what we do each and every time. And again it goes back to our code of duty, of integrity, of loyalty and courage that brings honour to Canada. That's what we do, we can't lie."

Later, speaking generally rather than about the F-35, he added: "It takes a little bit of time for people to understand what the truth truly is. But we're a big institution, and we have to realize there's a lot of emotion, especially when you've been in combat, or doing search and rescue missions (and) domestic operations, especially when people are getting hurt and killed, and so it just takes a little bit of time for people to get to the truth. I would just ask that people wait for the truth and let truth get a fair airing."

No Canadians had been killed in combat in Canada since Confederation, while over 110,000 have died in combat in foreign lands, because "the defence of our country begins on the other side of the world, whether that be at Vimy Ridge, the shores of Normandy, or in Kandahar," Natynczyk said. "We've got to ensure that our outer perimeter is secure, as in places like Kandahar where terrorists can come together, coalesce, and launch attacks (against) North America, including Canada. It is in our national interest to ensure that foreign lands are secure. By so doing we are ensuring that Canada is secure."

A key lesson that Canada had taken away from the Afghan campaign was that "we go into an operation thinking that we're going into the last operation, instead of the new operation. And when things change, as they did in Kandahar, our ability to adapt to the environment can never be fast enough."

Something else that had been learned in South Asia was that Canada had to have its own equipment and not always depend on equipment belonging to other countries, he said.

"The challenge here is that when things really get tough, key enablers — such as helicopters, or intelligence, or artillery, or unmanned aerial vehicles — they all become scarce. And so we need to ensure that when we go into a theatre, that we have sufficient agility in case things, the situation deteriorates around us, that we have the means by which to be self-reliant on those operations, within reasonable means."

There was a "tactical pause" for much of the Canadian Forces now, as troops get training and time with their families, equipment used in Afghanistan is repaired or replaced, and the navy and air force takes delivery of new ships and aircraft.

But with only about 500 troops slated to be overseas after the training mission in Afghanistan ends in 22 months, and trouble aplenty in Syria, Yemen, Sudan and western Africa, there is every chance that Ottawa will be sending troops out the door again before too long.

Whenever that happens, those in uniform have to feel that they have the support and the ear of the military leadership, that every effort is made to give them what they need to be successful and come home safely and that the wounded, the ill and their families, and the families of the fallen are heard, too, the general said.

"From my view it's not about me. I'm part of a big team that's working hard to meet the defence needs of this country."
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