Canada's top soldier says troops ready and eager for new overseas missions

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Canada's top soldier says troops ready and eager for new overseas missions

CALGARY - When it comes to future missions for the Canadian Forces, Canada's top soldier has to battle to keep his eager troops satisfied with staying out of major combat zones for now.

Canada's military presence in Afghanistan will come to an end once the current training mission concludes in 2014 and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk acknowledges that's a disappointment for many soldiers, sailors and air personnel.

"We have some men and women who have had two, three and four tours and what they're telling me is 'Sir, we've got that bumper sticker. Can we go somewhere else now?'" Natynczyk said in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press in Calgary.

"You also have the young sailors, soldiers, airmen and women who have just finished basic training and they want to go somewhere and in their minds it was going to be Afghanistan. So if not Afghanistan, where's it going to be? They all want to serve."

But Natynczyk is unsure about what is in store for the Canadian Forces or even himself for that matter.

He has been on the job for four years, which is past the normal tenure for someone in his position, and if he knows what is going to happen next, he isn't providing any details.

"I'll just keep on sprinting in this job until I'm told to get off the playing field and recognizing that I'm living in a pretty good time to be in the military," he said.

"I never aspired to this job. I just serve. I serve Canadians and the country and look on every day as an opportunity to make a contribution."

Natynczyk said he is telling Canadian troops to keep their "kit packed up" because the world is an unpredictable place right now.

"The world is turbulent right now and the fact is our allies want more of Canada, more of the men and women who wear Canadian uniforms," he said.

"I've told them all to catch up on that training that lapsed while we had this high operational tempo between Afghanistan and the Olympics and Haiti and Libya, and let's make sure we have all qualifications and training up to date so when we're called upon we're ready to go."

The general said outside of Afghanistan, Canada has a number of other smaller missions underway including in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.

Natynczyk said he is satisfied with the success of the Canadian mission to Afghanistan and pointed out that he flew into Kabul on a commercial airliner for the first time when he visited troops in the city last month.

He said the departure of Canadian and U.S. troops will give the Afghan forces the little push that they need to succeed.

"It has helped the Afghans in a sense, taking ownership of their own security. One of the real challenges was the sense that NATO and our allies were going to stay there forever. (That) actually was not helpful in terms of their own culture and own atmosphere," he said.

Natynczyk is focusing much of his efforts now in making sure more attention is being paid to injured soldiers and their families, especially those suffering from the psychological effects of war.

"It's almost easier to handle people with physical injuries, with physical wounds. People can see it. They can understand it, whether it be shrapnel, a broken leg, even these horrific amputations," he said.

"It's much more difficult in the mental injury, whether it be post traumatic stress, operational stress injury, traumatic brain injury because we're just understanding the beginning of a process of understanding the complex nature of this."

Natynczyk said he talked about mental health on his last visit to Kabul, especially about overcoming the "stigma" of mental issues and making sure people come forward if they have a problem.

"Many of our personnel support units see soldiers, airmen and women trying to walk in the back door because they don't want to be seen as having a problem," he said. "The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you are back in the saddle."

Organizations: Canadian Forces, Canadian Press, NATO

Geographic location: Canada, Afghanistan, CALGARY Kabul Haiti Libya Middle East Africa Caribbean U.S.

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  • Gord
    November 13, 2012 - 11:13

    "Do you really want the Canadian Forces in your country?" I was on duty with the Canadian Forces in 2009 when I received the H1N1 shot (AREPANRIX by GlaxoSmithKline) and had a severe adverse reaction resulting in PERMANENT neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory symptoms: dizziness, vertigo, irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and pain, and numbness in hands and feet. My physical fitness changed from special forces fit to that of a 70 year old in a matter of days. The Department of National Defence (DND) ordered all personnel to attend the vaccination, but claimed the vaccination was voluntary. Prior to receiving the vaccination, the DND advised personnel the H1N1 Influenza "could cause a virtual shut down of military operations", " Just because you've never caught the flu in the past is not a valid reason to not get the H1N1 shot this year", "Be proactive. We all have a role to play in minimizing our risk and being prepared", "Personnel ... must provide proof of the vaccination ... otherwise, they will be required to attend the clinic (flu)" and "Without your past record (of immunization), you will have to be re-immunized". According to “Canada First Defence Strategy ... first and foremost, the Canadian Forces must ensure the security of our citizens ... requires the Forces not only to identify threats ... but also to possess the capacity to address them quickly and effectively”. Personnel who volunteered to take the H1N1 vaccination were preventing a virtual shut down of military operations which ensured the CF maintained the capacity to provide security to its citizens. Veterans Affairs has taken the position that injuries resulting from this vaccination are not service related and personnel are not eligible for rehabilitation. The DND also advised "having mild chills and fever a few days following the shot means it is working" which is false and contradicts GSKs product information provided by Health Canada. The DND also stated "There is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of acquiring a serious neurological complication" which is false and contradicts the product information which states "neurological disorders" are "very rare (may occur with up to 1 in 10,000 doses)", a significant difference. According to DAOD 5028-0, the DND and CF are aware of the concept of “informed consent” and understand its purpose which, according to Health Canada, is “information given to participants (which) should provide adequate information for the participant to make an informed decision about his/her participation”. The DND listed 3 of the 28 side effects, two of which were the most common and least bothersome and significantly understated the risk of a neurological disorder. However, the DND did provide a detailed list of "Symptoms of H1N1 Pandemic Influenza: Almost always: Sudden onset of cough and fever, Common: Fatigue, Muscle aches, Sore throat, Headache, Decreased appetite, Runny nose, Sometimes: Nausea Vomiting, Diarrhea, Most Patients say its like getting 'hit by a bus'!!". Thus soldiers were “informed” their choice was chills and fever or getting hit by a bus. PSYOPS or Psychological Operations use methods of communication and other means in order to influence perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour, affecting the achievement of military objectives. In order to use PSYOPS domestically it must be directly requested/approved by Cabinet and be in accordance with applicable Canadian law and Canadian doctrine.