Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The right man, in the right place, at the right time

Christie Blatchford, as usual, says it best (text for this and next excerpt payers only):
The miracle is that Rick Hillier, a native son of the plainest-speaking province after all, stood it as long as he did, surrounded as he was by the mealy-mouthed, the fork-tongued, the rawly insecure, the nakedly ambitious and the others who form the political elite and professional class in the national capital.

Leaving the job, he said, is akin to the pain of "a sucking chest wound."

Can you imagine anyone but a Newfoundlander - and a soldier - putting it like that?

He meant it is difficult leaving soldiers; he meant he has mixed emotions; he meant he knows that, as he put it in a phone interview with The Globe and Mail last night, "Nothing will ever come close to being CDS [Chief of the Defence Staff]." He hopes the next job, whatever it is, will be a challenge, will be exciting, but, as he said, "It won't be this."

That, I've always thought, is the real reason soldiers, whatever their rank, have a tough time coming home or rejoining the civilian world or adjusting to the joys of wandering the local Wal-Mart: There is no company as fierce, as much fun or as rock-bottom true as the company of soldiers...

He wasn't pushed out. When he met the PM last fall, he told The Globe, "One thing was clear: There was no hurry for me to go out the door. It was the opposite way." But it was also obvious that if an extension was in the wind, it would have been a two- or three-year long extension, taken him "past the Olympics" in Vancouver, and that was too long.

The job was impossible to sustain for years longer the way Gen. Hillier did it.

Just the public part of it was exhausting to watch - the speeches; the gut-wrenching appearances at Trenton for the return of Canadian casualties; the rubber-chicken circuit he so dominated with his funny patter; the hockey rinks, soldiers always at his side, where he kept showing up; the meet 'n greets in Kandahar and at home...

For all that he did and all the change he presided over, Gen. Hillier's singular accomplishment, and the one that endears him to soldiers more than any other, is that he made it respectable again to be in the Canadian Forces.

One of his most memorable phrases, and one that got him in almost as much trouble as calling the Taliban "scumbags," was a description of the 1990s as the "decade of darkness." Neither phrase was a literary flight of fancy: What else would you call those who kill doctors and teachers and send suicide bombers into markets but scumbags? And what other term would do for the post-Somalia period in Canada?..

The CF has, as retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie said yesterday, real bench strength now; there are several worthy and accomplished candidates in the wings. In many regards, as Gen. Hillier wryly told The Globe, "Two weeks after I'm gone, we'll have a great CDS" and his shoes will be filled in many regards. "I was very touched by all the e-mail messages," he said last night, then, "All three of them, two from my family."

But only Rick Hillier gave the Canadian soldier his mojo back...
The Globe and Mail's editorial is also bang-on:
General Rick Hillier was the right man at the right time for the Canadian Forces. A largely successful Chief of the Defence Staff, he helped rebuild Canada's military not only in terms of resources, but also in terms of morale and prestige. His kind of leadership - visible, blunt-spoken and persuasive - was especially timely, as it came when Canada was involved in the country's most dangerous mission since Korea. He spoke frankly and correctly about the need for Canadians to embrace their military as a fighting force, refashioning the spin from Ottawa that had long sought to portray Canada's military as an NGO. He put the bite back into the Canadian Forces...

...the general's popularity among average Canadians will not end with the change of command on Canada Day [the actual day of stepping down has not been set]. The mechanic's son from Newfoundland has left an indelible imprint on the military, and the country, he has served so long and with such distinction. Gen. Hillier represented something noble in Canada, a country that was historically, and is again, unafraid to fight for what's right.
Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star writes a piece that rivals Ms. Blatchford's:
He was an anomaly: A general with brass balls, not just clanging insignia on the chest and gold braiding on the shoulder.

In the vacuum of leadership over Canada's military deployment in Afghanistan – because neither Harper nor his revolving door of ministerial adjutants has ever properly seized the Kandahar file – Hillier put a face and a moral clarity to the mission... his 3 1/2 years at the mast, Hillier accomplished remarkable things.

He placed the military once again into a proper place on the national consciousness, securing billions to revitalize the services, restoring dignity and fighting muscle. He reconnected soldier to civilian...

"I think Canadians have always realized you have to do certain things as a nation, particularly as a G-8 nation. In fact, only being blue berets was a very narrow point of our history, and can still be part of our future. But the spectrum of operations of Canadian Forces will be the entire spectrum, whether it's blue beret operations, peacekeeping operations, peace support operations or full combat operations in a place similar to Afghanistan."

Hillier put the lead back in the pencil...
The two ladies really do get it.

The CBC has a backgrounder on Gen. Hillier, with a photo gallery. CTV has "The essential Rick Hillier". CP provides "Straight from the general's mouth" (end at link):
On his appointment

"Any commander who would stand up here and say that we didn't need more soldiers should be tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail."

On terrorists

"These are detestable murderers and scumbags."

"We can't let up. There are those who might say that by doing that we make ourselves a target in Canada here for terrorists. I would come at it this way ... We need to take a stand."

"We're not going to let those radical murderers and killers rob from others and certainly we're not going to let them rob from Canada."

"In the war against terror, there is no such thing as a doorstep defence. You cannot be, as a nation - any nation - an oasis unto yourself. You've got to be part of an international dynamic that is more stable, less chaotic and not the fertile garden for growing terrorists."

On the military

"We are not the Public Service of Canada. We are not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people."

On Canada's role in Afghanistan

"An army is what's required to allow them to keep their security, so that's a long-term project. It's going to take 10 years or so just to work through and build an army to whatever the final number that Afghanistan will have, and make them professional and let them meet their security demands here."

On his relationship with Stephen Harper

"I've talked to the Prime Minister. I'm absolutely clear where he wants to go and on what he needs and I'm absolutely in line with that; otherwise I wouldn't be his chief of defence staff."

On himself

"I admit I am no politician. And I don't think I'm very wise. But I represent the 87,000 Forces members and their families."


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