[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Monday, April 27, 1998
The Chairman (Mr. Robert Bertrand (Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle, Lib.)): I'd like to welcome everyone here this afternoon. We have members from the foreign affairs committee with us. I would like to welcome the witnesses and also Mr. Eggleton, the minister.
I just want to advise everyone that this presentation is going to be longer than usual. I hear it's roughly 50 to 55 minutes. Afterward we will go to a very short question and answer period.
We will go right away to Colonel Calvin.
Colonel Jim Calvin (Department of National Defence): Mr. Chairman, Minister, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Colonel Jim Calvin. I'm an infantry colonel with the Canadian Forces of some 29 years' experience. I had the pleasure in 1993 of commanding the second battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry battalion group, which deployed to Yugoslavia under Operation Harmony in Croatia.
Today I am here to tell you quite a remarkable story. It's a story that we haven't heard for quite some time in Canada. In my mind it's a story of the bravery and determination and considerable valour of the young Canadian men and women who were with me in the former Yugoslavia in 1993. It's a story about the Medak pocket operation, a 14-day peace enforcement operation we conducted.
Before I begin the actual account of the operation, I would just like to take a couple of moments to introduce the team I've assembled here today to give you the broad perspective of the operation. Really it was the soldiers here who actually conducted the nuts and bolts of the operation.
We have Officer Cadet Scott Leblanc. In 1993 Scott was a reservist in the artillery from Nova Scotia that augmented the battalion out of Winnipeg and went overseas. He was a C-9 machine-gunner at the time. He was involved in the heat of the fire fights and the battles you'll hear about, exchanging rounds at ranges of 150 to 200 metres with one of the warring factions. At the moment, as you can see, he's a second-year cadet at RMC, having chosen to join the regular force and become a full-time member.
We have Master Warrant Officer Jim Butters, a regular force NCO within the second battalion, Princess Patricia's. At the time of Medak he was a warrant officer in charge of my anti-armour platoon of some 25 people with the only weapons system we had in this operation that was capable of defeating a tank. It's an unusual position to have an NCO in charge of a platoon that was normally commanded by an officer, and he commanded that for the entirety of the operation.
Elise Huffman is here in the capacity of the co-chairperson of the family support group we created before deployment amongst basically the spouses of the soldiers we're deploying. This group helps to take care of activities back at home in Winnipeg and to handle the stresses and the problems that happened amongst families while their—primarily—husbands were deployed on operations.
In 1993 Chief Warrant Officer Mike McCarthy was the regimental sergeant major of my battalion, the most senior and experienced non-commissioned officer within the battalion, with some 32 years of experience. He was really my right-hand man in terms of matters of discipline and low-level tactics within the battalion, accompanying me throughout the entirety of the operation.
Captain Tyrone Green was a lieutenant at the time. He was a reservist from the Seaforth Highlanders in Vancouver. Tyrone was one of seven reserve platoon commanders who joined me for the operation. He too has decided to join the regular force and he is a regular force captain with the second battalion at this time. He was involved in the fire fights you'll hear about and a lot of the shelling at the time.
Sergeant Chris Byrne was an NCO, a section commander during the actual operation. He was involved in the majority of the operation and is here today probably to talk to us about his experiences in cleaning up the ethnic cleansing that we witnessed, and giving a firsthand account of some of the reactions to that.
Without any further ado, I think we should launch off into the actual operation. The Medak operation was a peace enforcement operation of 14 days' duration that was set in the context of a broader traditional peacekeeping operation. In other words, we deployed to do one thing and then on very short notice we were required to move into what was an enforcement operation, using almost the full extent of the weapons systems we had available to us to enforce the will of the United Nations on one of the warring factions that did not want to comply with the agreed mandate.
As I tell the story I like to throw up this quotation, because sometimes it's evident that people forget that in all of these operations we're dealing with human beings. Sometimes the expectations we have back here in Canada are higher than what we can really expect of individuals. In all of this we're talking about human beings. The people on my left and right are human beings and so were the 875 who were over there. We must understand that what they achieved was truly remarkable, as I'm sure you'll agree when I finish the story.
I'm certain that I don't have to dwell on this, because I'm sure the members of the committee on foreign affairs realize that peacekeeping has evolved considerably from the 1970s and 1980s, when by and large we were into roles where there was an agreed peace agreement. The sides had agreed to stop fighting and we were by and large interposing ourselves between factions that were not firing back and forth on each other. Certainly the evolution of peacekeeping has become far more warlike. It's caused us to have to have far more war skills when we deploy, and that too will become evident when I tell my story.
Before we get into the meat of it, I want you to understand the type of unit we were dealing with. In the fall of 1992, when we were first warned for operations in Yugoslavia, the second battalion was a very under-strength unit. We had just finished deploying some of our own soldiers with the contingent that was going before us and we were warned off to go ourselves.
We had a nucleus of two PPCLI regulars of only 325, 37% of the overall strength of the battalion. We were augmented by other regular force soldiers like cooks, maintainers, and medical assistants to the tune of 19%. That left a full 44% of our contingent who were reserve soldiers whom we would take over, with only two and a half months of training. In the normal course of a year, a reserve soldier gets an average of 44 days of training out of the 365. He's nowhere near a regular force soldier. But that is what we were given to go out.
In understanding what this means in a unit of 875, and to make sure you have the context for Medak, soldiers from the reserves are not trained vehicle technicians, not trained tow gunners, anti-armour gunners, not normally signallers; they're riflemen. The bulk of the soldiers you get go into your rifle companies and go into the front lines as riflemen.
When I talk to you about what was achieved by those soldiers in the front lines, in many cases they were the sections and the platoons. A section commander of ten would have had himself as a regular force section commander, and may well have had nine reserve soldiers under his command to achieve this mission. It put an extraordinary burden on the non-commissioned officers I took over, and it further attributes to their skill and their professionalism that they could actually do what they did.
In addition, I had seven of twelve platoon commanders—a platoon being a thirty-man unit commanded by an officer, the only officer in that thirty-man unit—who were reserve platoon commanders I trained up before we went over. It was quite an extraordinary occurrence. The percentages of reserves in contingents have not been to that level since, and I don't believe you'll see them to that level in the future.
In terms of the next slide, I just want to set the scene here as to where the operation took place, so that you can situate yourself geographically. When it was first deployed, 2nd Battalion was in Croatia, not Bosnia. We deployed over initially into the area called sector west. Sector west was a stable, traditional peacekeeping area where both sides had an agreement, and by and large they were abiding to the agreement. However, midway through our tour, because we were the reserve for the force commander, he ordered us to deploy half of our battalion 550 kilometres to sector south in the area of Peruca Dam, far to the south, near the Adriatic.
Sector south was a far more volatile and demanding sector. Open warfare was going on here. Artillery shelling was a daily occurrence. Shots were being fired. Tank fire was being fired on a daily basis. We remained with half of our battalion in sector west and half of our battalion in sector south for a period of five weeks.
At the end of that five weeks, the force commander, General Cot, decided to do a total realignment of the battalions within his force in Croatia. He said the Canadians would stay permanently in sector south and not return to sector west, and we would move up closer to the front-line action in the area of the Maslenica Bridge, the Zemunik Airport and the area around Medak. Half the battalion I had at the Peruca Dam began the 100-kilometre redeployment up to Medak and Maslenica, and the rest of the battalion that I'd left behind in sector west began the 550-kilometre deployment down to sector south.
I point this out to you because the day before Medak began, I received the last 125-man company from my battalion that deployed from sector west to sector south. We weren't stable in this position. We were very much getting used to the area and were trying to find our way when we arrived and began the operation.
The next schematic shows you the terrain where the Medak operation took place on the ground.
If you take the south of the area, it was flanked by the Velebit Mountains, a very high, rocky mountain range that was impassable to vehicles but was passable to soldiers on foot. To the north, there was another low ridge line of hills that flanked us on the north. In between, you can picture a large flood plane, arable land, populated by people on farms. These were rural people trying to go about their lives. On the western side were the Croatian forces, with their headquarters in Gospic, and on the eastern side were the Serbian forces, with their headquarters in Medak.
As a United Nations contingent, we were occupying the area controlled by the Serbs this time. We had no forces to the west, in the area where the Croatian forces were. When we moved forwarded, we were moving forward from behind the Serb lines.
This is a picture of the Velebit Mountains, to give you an idea of the terrain that flanked us to the south.
This slide is intended to give you an idea of the terrain that the operation actually took place over. I pirated this slide from another area. It isn't the exact terrain, but it gives you an idea of arable land between the ridge features that the operation took place over.
The Medak operation really began on September 9 with an artillery barrage. This was a typical method used by both sides when commencing operations. This one was launched by the Croatian army against the Serb forces. It was the Croatian army that was launching the major attack into the area.
The artillery barrage happened throughout the length and breadth of our sector, some 60 kilometres north to south, 40 kilometres east to west, but by and large the majority of the artillery rounds were focused on the area where the attack happened, and that was in the town of Medak.
It says up there that 525 rounds fell on the town of Medak in a 24-hour period. The reason we know that is because the soldiers who were holed up in the actual house began recording the number of rounds, after the first hour or so, in a small school book they had so they could keep track of what was happening.
What you have to picture is Tyrone Green and 25 soldiers in a house that they'd moved into two days earlier. It had not been sandbagged up. They'd basically just put the wire around the outside of the house to come up with a sort of initial defensive position and then the artillery started falling on them.
Medak is not a huge town, ladies and gentlemen. The whole village of Medak would fit into an area smaller than our Parliament Buildings sits on today, as we sit here giving this briefing. So when you have 500 rounds falling in four this time, five minutes later another three, over a 24-hour period, it tends to wear on one's ability to withstand the stress.
During this 24-hour period, we were trying very much to resolve the situation. There was an attack going on, the Croats were launching their attack into the Medak area, and the United Nations was clamouring for information.
What we tried to do during this 24-hour period was to establish an observation post. Sergeant Ruurds Bajema, one of Lieutenant Green's section commanders, went out under shellfire and established an observation post on one of the hills and was looking over the terrain with long-range binoculars, trying to get a feel for which villages had fallen and which were still being disputed between the two sides. In the end, it was his radio reports back through the chain of command that virtually gave the United Nations an idea of who was winning and who was losing the battle for Medak between the Croats and the Serbs at this stage of the game.
At the same time, there were tremendous casualties inside the town of Medak, with all the rest of the shells falling on it. At one point, a woman came into the house that Lieutenant Green was commanding. She was bleeding from the head. She said her house had just been struck by shellfire. Warrant Officer Trenholm went out and jumped into an armoured personnel carrier, while my RSM gave her basic first aid in the house. Warrant Trenholm went out to pull her children out of the building and take them to a Serb bunker where they would be safe.
This was a difficult period for us. Canadians had four casualties during the first 24 hours due to artillery fire. Two within Lieutenant Green's platoon picked up artillery shrapnel. Two others, who were some 15 kilometres behind the lines driving a supply truck that happened to meet the incoming rounds at the wrong time, were flanked by mortar fire and the front of their truck was shredded with shrapnel and they all picked up shrapnel. None of them were life-threatening injuries, but we still had four casualties before we had a chance to do anything about it.
This brings me to the point about having the correct facilities here. We were very fortunate that the French battalion, from which we had just taken over this area, had left behind their surgical facility within the area of our battalion headquarters. Canada hadn't deployed one with us for this particular operation, but because this facility was actually there, still within our area of operations, we were able to get our four casualties immediately back and have them operated on within a reasonable amount of time.
I can't stress enough the value of having an immediate surgical capability, where we're putting soldiers' lives in danger, to sustain their lives and to keep up morale among the rest of the soldiers.
At the same time this artillery barrage happened, the Croats launched their attack. If you take a look at the slide that's on the screen now, you'll see a red line that goes from the top of the screen into a large pocket area and out the bottom. That is the Medak pocket. The Serbs controlled Medak and they controlled the area up into that pocket, and the Croatians controlled the area around Gospic.
The Croatians wanted to seize the pocket, some 25 to 30 square kilometres of terrain. So they did a pincer movement, with tanks and infantry coming in from the north and dismounted infantry coming in—their special forces—from the Velebit Mountains in the south, which I showed you earlier. Over a period of 36 to 48 hours, the Croats and the Serbs waged war for the pocket.
We have an example here of some of the equipment they used. The Croatians attacked with T-72 tanks.
After the first 24 hours of conflict, the Serbs reinforced the area. They were very thinly held along most of their areas, and they kept a reserve centralized, but after 24 hours, busloads of Serb soldiers started passing by our headquarters, and tanks, artillery pieces and APCs were brought into the area. The Serbs reinforced and succeeded, after about 48 hours, in stabilizing a new front line in between the Serbs and the Croats.
They reinforced with tanks. This is an actual photograph of a train that the Serbs used to bring up 10 or 12 tanks to reinforce their front lines. What you're looking at is a little bit difficult to make out, but it's a tank hull that has been removed from the chassis and mounted permanently on the front locomotive of the train for protection, along with some anti-armour rockets on top. And behind that were about 10 or 12 flatbed cars with tanks on them, which rolled up about 24 to 36 hours after the battle started. The tanks were then offloaded and moved into front lines and stabilized the front lines.
These are some other examples of equipment that the Serbs brought forward.
This is a typical Serb...with machine-guns on the front, anti-armour weapons on his APC.
After a period of fighting of about three days, a pause ensued. We now had a new front line, on which no one was able to do any more advancing and from which no one was going to retire, just outside the town of Medak. Things stabilized and the political process kicked in to try to sit there and bring a resolution to the area. This was at Zagreb, between the United Nations and the two warring factions, the Serbs in the Krajina and the Croatians.
The negotiations were really not going very far initially until the Serbs up in the Bihac pocket in Bosnia fired a FROG ground-to-ground missile at the capital city of Croatia and landed one of the missiles in a suburb outside of Zagreb, at which time it's believed the President of Croatia became vulnerable and had to come to the table and achieve an accord to resolve the situation down at Medak.
An agreement was reached by the UN and the two sides out at the political level that the Serbs would stay in their new lines to which they'd been pushed back; the Croatians were to withdraw to the line they had had before they attacked on September 9; and the United Nations would take over the area in the pocket and make a buffer zone in between the two sides and stabilize the area.
I received orders on the morning of September 14 that within 24 hours I was to execute this buffer zone between the two sides. During those orders, I was told I would get two companies of the French army under my operational command to bring my total strength up to that which was necessary for the operation. Each of these two French companies was about 250-strong, with their own weapons systems, their own engineers, and their own support systems, and they arrived with these vehicles over a 24-hour period.
I show you this because this is a vehicle that has a 20-millimetre cannon on it. Being augmented by the French gave us the best long-range direct fire capability that we had within the battalion group. Because the Croats, who eventually fired upon us, had direct-fire cannon larger than this, this was the only resource I had to actually be able to fight back.
I show you one of the other APCs, and I show you this because mines became a tremendous factor during the Medak operation, and the French came with these APCs. It's a funny thing to say, but it takes a mine hit a lot better than some of the vehicles that we had over there. With the high ground clearance it had, the mine would tend to hit it with one wheel and knock a wheel off, and it wouldn't penetrate the hull. So with the three mine strikes they had with those vehicles in a three-day period, they did not suffer any permanent disabilities to their soldiers. It was a great little vehicle.
I gave orders at 1600 hours the same day for what was going to be a four-phased operation. Because the two sides were still by and large at war in their new trench lines, the first thing I had to do was insert my companies in between the two sides and make sure I stopped the fighting. That would then serve as the blocking point so that the Serbs would not be able to move forward when the Croatians blocked back. So that was the first phase I would have to do.
In the second phase I would have to establish crossing sight from where I was coming, from behind the Serb side across to the Croatian side, and be able to get across to the Croat front lines. I was then going to move two companies across and start monitoring the withdrawal of the Croatians to the September 9 line, and then we would sweep all of the area and record any evidence of warfare that we saw. Since we knew they had been at war, we expected we would have to do a report.
We went into the operation using normal Canadian equipment. This is an armoured personnel carrier, M-113, 1965 vintage, with the shields to protect the crew commander and the people in the rear hatch.
We also had the TOW anti-armour weapons system. This is the platoon and the weapons system that was commanded by Master Warrant Officer Butters, as I explained to you in the introduction. In fact, this is Master Warrant Officer Butters in this photograph in the middle of the Medak operation.
On the first morning of the operation, on September 15, after moving all night to move the two Canadian companies and the two French companies that were coming from 300 kilometres away down to Medak, by 9 a.m. we had the better part of 1,000 soldiers in and around the area of Medak, ready to commence the operation.
The reason I mention this as a significant time is that the force commander, French General Jean Cot flew in by helicopter and had a chat with me that morning. For a period of about an hour and a half to two hours, we spoke. We walked through Medak. I'm sure he was checking us out to make sure we were ready to begin the operation, but we also sorted out some rules of engagement that I felt I needed in order to effectively achieve the mission.
He gave me two very pertinent pieces of advice and information. The first thing he said was that, in his assessment, it was absolutely essential that the UN have a successful operation and succeed in establishing the buffer zone. He said quite clearly that until this point in 1993, the UN had been unable to sit there and do what it had said it would do, and that we had lost face in the past and it was critical that we show that we could actually enforce our will and make this buffer zone work.
The second piece of information he gave me was far more pertinent to the soldiers. He said he did not believe the Croatian high command had told the soldiers on the front lines that they were required to withdraw back to the September 9 line. You can imagine what that felt like to us, knowing that we were now going to move from behind the Serb front lines, pass through the Serbs, and we were going to now be moving forward towards a warring faction that didn't know that they were being ordered by their high command to withdraw and give up the positions they had just earned in a hard-fought fight.
That notwithstanding, we passed that information on to the Canadians and French companies, and General Cot said we could begin the operation at noon that day.
At 1200 hours our two companies, Charlie company on the left and one of the French companies on the right, started moving forward past the Serb tanks and infantry and into the zone between the two front lines. This area between the two front lines varied. Sometimes they were 400 metres apart, sometimes 1,200 metres apart; it varied on the terrain. But you can appreciate that if each side had now taken the point of terrain that was the most tactically sound to defend, the terrain that was in between them was what we normally refer to as a killing zone, and that was the area into which we were moving the Canadians and the French.
When we passed by the Serb front lines, we started being fired on by the Croatians. Initially, it was one round, two rounds. Captain Green can certainly speak to this issue later, as his was one of the first platoons that moved forward of the line.
Initially, we honestly thought it was a mistake, and we gave direction to put bigger UN flags on our antennas and make sure the white vehicles were prevalent so that they would know who was moving into the no man's land between the two front lines. When we did that, they started firing machine-guns at us instead of single rounds, and it became evident that this was not an accident but actually a concentrated attempt to fire at the United Nations.
The Canadian and the French soldiers started taking the normal actions when you're fired on. They started responding in kind, and for the next 15 hours, between roughly 1 p.m. and 8.30 the following morning, the Canadians and the French were in what was basically a combat situation with the Croatian army at ranges of 150 to 800 metres.
The platoon on the far left, in the town of Citluk, commanded by Captain Dave McKillop, was engaged five separate times in fire fights, some of them lasting only five minutes, some of them lasting more than an hour.
In terms of fire fights, I'm saying they were fired upon by 20-millimetre cannon, heavy machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and they responded with all of the inventory they had: .50-calibre machine-guns, their own C7s, C9 machine-guns. They fired back everything except our major anti-armour system.
When the Croats fired at them, they would respond until the Croats stopped. Some of these engagements took longer to win the fire fight than others, but you have to picture people over a period of time digging in trenches, under fire, while they were actually responding and covering themselves with their own fire.
This went on for all of the afternoon and sporadically through the night, but significant after a period of about six hours....
I think it behoves us to take a look at some of the pictures we have here. This is the area around Citluk that I was trying to describe. This is where Captain McKillop's platoon was. You can see some of the actual damage to the building. In fact, in some of these picture you'll actually see Scott Leblanc, as he was part of some of the most intense fire fights, being a machine-gunner who was actually fired at and responded.
You can see the hole there that was caused by an anti-tank weapon that hit that particular building. There were people in the attic of that building attempting to gain observation, when at one point 20-millimetre cannon fire ripped through that building like it was Swiss cheese.
This is a picture of Master Corporal Deans. I like showing that because this is at the conclusion of the fire fights. This is what a peacekeeper looked like in 1993 during the Medak operation. He hasn't a lot of spit and polish to him, but he certainly knows how to use his weapon and he knows how to react to enemy fire.
This is a picture of Sergeant Rod Dearing and Scott Leblanc in the trench they dug during one of the fire fights at 8.30 a.m. the next day, after the last of the fire fights happened and before we moved into the next phase of the actual operation. Scott Leblanc is actually the smiling soldier in the trench, who you see in the foreground. It's a long way to RMC.
At about 6 p.m. that day we received a call from the military observer radio-net, from one of the officers who we had stationed in Gospic, that the Croat general wanted to speak with me and that he summoned me to an orders group or a conference for 8 p.m. in Gospic so that we could sit there and sort out what the problem was on the front line. This was a bit awkward because darkness fell at around 6 p.m. and at 1930 hours we then had to find a way to get across from the Serb side, where we were, to the Croat side, which had been firing at us all day long, without getting ourselves shot.
At 7.30 p.m., I and three other people, my regimental Sergeant Major Mike McCarthy, Major Dan Drew and one of the military observers, with the one radio with which we could talk to the military observers on the far side, began the long walk across the paved road towards the Croatians while in the distance there were machine-guns fired off on one of our flanks.
It was a bit of an interesting walk in the darkness, but literally we were in a situation where the lead man, not myself I might say, had a red flashlight and was actually giving three flashlight bursts towards the Croatians so that we could sit there and they could tell that we were the friendly people coming across and that they weren't supposed to fire at us. we just had to go on good faith that they had got the word out to their soldiers this time that they weren't supposed to take aim at the red flashlight.
We did get across without much consequence. We met up with the UNMO on the far side and he took us to what could only be described as a very heated meeting in Gospic with the Croat army commander. We actually met another Canadian colonel there, Colonel Mike Maisonneuve, who had flown down from Zagreb and was to handle the political interface from that side. After an exchange of words between myself and the Croat commander about why he was firing at my soldiers for the last six or seven hours, we finally came to an accord where he would permit us to establish the crossing site that night and that the next day at noon we would be allowed to move across, take over the Croat front line positions and that they would begin moving back to their September 9 lines.
So that evening until 2 a.m. we moved back to the zone of separation, then the two front lines. Major Drew established the crossing site and by 2 a.m. things quieted down for the duration of the evening.
The next day at 8 a.m. or at first light, whenever that happened, when we arose and we looked out at the situation, we knew that we had made a tragic error in allowing them until noon to prepare to move, because as we looked out over the kilometre that separated us from the Croatians we could see nothing but billowing smoke starting to go up from every one of the villages that we could plot on our maps and we started hearing large explosions and we started hearing small arms fire coming from all over the villages within the pocket itself.
It was clear to us in our own minds, based on our past five months' experience, that the Croatian army had now started a serious ethnic cleansing session within the pocket, and we were required to sit there and watch for four hours, until noon, before we could actually move to the other side.
I believe we have a short video clip to show you what the soldiers watched while we waited for that four hours.
It was an extremely frustrating time. You didn't have anything you could use as proof of what was going on, but you knew in your hearts what was going on because you'd lived in it for the last five months—old ethnic cleansing. But it was very demoralizing at the time.
Sharp at noon I sent Major Drew's company across to move forward through the Croat front line and assume the front lines of the Croat army in preparation for their withdrawal to the September 9 line.
When we got across to the other side, we found that during the night the Croatian army had moved a company defensive position up behind Major Drew's APCs, they'd moved a T-72 tank into position, and they'd moved two Sagger anti-armour missile systems plus other anti-armour missile systems onto the high ground and they had over 100 soldiers dug in ready to stop our advance. They'd put mines on both sides of the one paved road and they'd put the dragon-teeth barriers across the road and mines surface-laid on the pavement.
When we got to the other side they said we couldn't pass. This caught us very much unawares. We were basically lined up expecting the agreement we'd reached to be followed to the letter. We were in the killing zone of this particular company so we were very mal-positioned. For a period of about an hour and a half we were in what can only be described as a bit of a Mexican stand-off, as I moved up to argue with the general across this minefield, claiming he had to let us pass. He'd agreed to it the night before and he was saying, no, you cannot pass, you're not going to cross.
At one point we said we were going to go through by force. They uncovered all their Sagger weapons, they manned all of their weapons, all of my soldiers cocked all of their weapons. Master Warrant Officer Butters started moving the TOW weapons systems through the minefields and getting them into position so they could engage and cover us if a fire fight broke out. For over an hour we were in perhaps what was just an extraordinarily tense situation.
In the end, what really saved us at that time was the fact that we had perhaps 20 reporters and cameramen from the media who had expected to come through with us and to record what the aftermath of this particular battle had been. They were all huddled behind one of the APCs in case all hell broke loose. And I came up with the idea this wasn't the time to say charge; this was time to use the indirect approach. So I went to them and I asked if we could stage a press conference in front of the minefield so that I could jeopardize the Croatians' reputation on the international front and accuse them of bad things and try to get them to lift the minefields and to let us through.
They readily agreed. We set up in front of the media. In English, I accused the general in the rear of doing any number of atrocities, and when he heard what I was saying to the international press, he soon had soldiers out clearing the minefields and he renegotiated the agreement to allow us to pass by. Then he gave an impromptu press conference to the media right then to try to sit there and regain the moral high ground.
Notwithstanding that, we achieved it, and by 1.30 p.m. the first company, Major Drew's company, was moving through this position and into the front lines of the Croatian trench lines and the second French company then moved forward at 14.30 hours.
Where you see the Canadian flag with D company on it, that was where Major Drew's company moved in and started taking over from the Croatian front lines and the Croatian tanks started withdrawing at about 3.30 p.m.
With my reconnaissance platoon and a company of the French army, I moved further in depth, as you can see on that slide, and started going into the village of Citluk. We arrived at just around 1800 hours, just as it was twilight and beginning to get dark. At this stage of the game there was smoke hanging in the air; it was a very still evening. We can remember it very clearly. There were still buildings burning on either side of the road. As we slowly drove into the village, there were Croatian soldiers with bags of loot jumping on trucks and buses and laughing as they evacuated themselves out of the pocket. We began to see at first hand our evidence of ethnic cleansing.
These are two slides of burning buildings, and we have a short video clip that shows you some others. These fires continued through the night. I believe this video clip was taken the following morning, after everything had burned throughout the night. A family had lived in that building six days earlier.
We also began to see bodies. I caution you that some of the next pictures are going to be reasonably graphic, as is the video clip that I'm about to show you.
That evening, when we moved in just before dark, we did a preliminary sweep of the area that we'd actually secured. This woman was lying in a field that we had selected for my tactical command post. Our normal drill when we move into an area is to have dismounted infantry secure the area to make sure there are no mines and there's no danger there. When they swept the area they found her, and we had to sort of cordon her off and leave her until the morning until we could address her in a more dignified fashion.
The French company came upon these two women the first evening in the dark. They were between the ages of 16 and 25. It was very difficult to determine. They'd been held prisoner for 4 or 5 days by the Croatian army in a barred room in a farmhouse. They must have been shot and set on fire just before the Croatians moved back, because when we actually found them, the bodies were so hot that before they could be put in the body bags the soldiers had to douse them with water to cool them down so they wouldn't melt the plastic of the body bags.
All of the livestock in the area had been killed. Every well had been poisoned with oil or animals thrown down into them. In fact, in the broadest sense of ethnic cleansing, they had made sure that the people who had lived there could not return to that area, either by killing them, by destroying their property, or by poisoning their wells.
I believe we have a short video clip here as well.
You're looking right now at an RCMP inspector who was there with the military CIVPOL. He had forensic training and we used him to sit there and document and record the time and date of injury or death for the purposes of the report that we eventually put in to the United Nations. You can see what it must have been like for the soldiers, who had received no training in this, to actually have to treat with a certain amount of dignity what can only be described as parts of bodies as we attempted to recover them, put them into bags, and take them back to the impromptu Serb morgue that was set up in Medak so that families could come forward and identify what could be identified, and then they could be interred at a later date.
There were people who were doing some of the medical analyses on types of death. My two doctors were part of this team that went around. Actually, my two chaplains were also part of this team so they could help deal with the stress of the soldiers who had to deal with this.
Some of these individuals had been dead for four or five days. You have to understand that it took these men a lengthy period of time to actually get in there, so they were in various states of decomposition at the time.
We stayed in place because there were so many mines. You don't move around at might. We stayed in place that evening, but the next day I have to confess that the soldiers were quite infuriated, not just because they had been fired at by the Croatians but because professional soldiers don't wage war on helpless civilians. I would say that they pressed on with vigour on the day of the 17th, and by the end of the 17th we had moved the Croatians back to the line of September 9, and we had succeeded in establishing the buffer zone between the Croatians and the Serbs as it was meant to be.
During this three-day period we had four mine strikes, not by Canadian vehicles, although this next slide shows a Canadian vehicle. I've also pirated a copy of this slide to show you what the damage is to the Canadian vehicle. Three French APCs and one front-end loader hit mines during four days. I couldn't get pictures of those, but I have a picture of this vehicle that was hit by a Canadian contingent a year after we redeployed, and this is the kind of damage that occurs to one of our M-113s when it strikes a mine and catches on fire. It's totally destroyed.
This next slide is a shot of the sweep team. The masks and gloves are worn for a reason. During the next three days of a detailed search of the area for all the evidence of ethnic cleansing, whenever a company would find a body the company would sit there and report in, and the specialist team, with engineers, with a backhoe to dig up graves and with the two doctors, the two padres, and some of my soldiers from the mortar platoon, would go there under the command of Major Craig King, who was in charge of putting together the final report for the United Nations, and do an in-depth analysis of what had happened.
The next slide shows that we divided them up in sectors, which finished phase four.
In the end, if we wanted to have one slide that would actually summarize what happened, this next slide is it. In terms of overall casualties, four Canadians were wounded in the initial artillery barrage, and during the next several days seven French soldiers were injured, either when their vehicles hit anti-tank mines or they walked into anti-personnel mines. Perhaps two of the injuries were life-threatening. The last two who walked into the anti-personnel minefield were quite badly wounded.
We had one Canadian die and two Canadians severely injured in a vehicle collision where one of our Canadian jeeps ran into a Serb truck. Captain Jim Decoste died on September 18 in the middle of the operation.
The Croatians reported that 27 of their members were killed or wounded during the fire fights with my battle group during the 14 days in Medak. And of course we had the three French armed personnel carriers and one front-end loader that hit mines.
In terms of ethnic cleansing in the broadest sense, we actually found 16 bodies. We believe that is not the full extent of the killing, however, because when we went through the Medak pocket, there were surgical gloves everywhere on the ground, and we couldn't figure out any other reason for the Croats to leave surgical gloves all over the ground other than the fact that they had a systematic method of picking up the bodies that we didn't find and clearing them out before we actually got in there. And it might have been the reason why they were delaying us at the actual roadblock.
There were 160 homes destroyed, about 190 barns and all the livestock, and anything that would make the area liveable.
In terms of successes other than strictly military success, you should be aware that the Croatian general was removed from command shortly thereafter, although I don't think he was punished. However, the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague has been taking up this cause; in fact, they sent over two inspectors last December for a two-week period. They went across Canada and interviewed some of the men under my command and officers about what they actually viewed. I believe they're going to be coming back in June to get further evidence to see if they can prosecute the Croatians at The Hague.
At the conclusion of that the French general, General Cot, was singularly impressed with the performance of the battalion and he actually created the Force Commander's Unit Commendation. Until that time the Force Commander's Commendation had only been given to individuals, but in light of what we had done, he reformed it to a unit commendation and we received the first unit commendation by the UNPROFOR force commander in theatre. In the whole history of the operation, with some 160 units from all the countries that went through UNPROFOR over the four years, only three of them were ever given out, so we're reasonably proud of that.
In terms of individual honours, the unit raised the issue of individual honours and I believe eight or nine citations were given out. One was given to Captain Green and one was given to Officer Cadet Leblanc for their valour under fire. Warrant Officer Johnson received the medal of bravery for prodding through a 400-metre minefield in the middle of the rain to rescue a French peacekeeper who was in the minefield. The rest of them are indicated there.
As we make the transition into the future, it is clear in my mind that when we send people over to some of these missions, we have to expect them to be bold, and expect them to make the decisions on the ground that they have to make. We can't send them over to be hesitant and to think we're going to second-guess them all the time. I believe we have to make sure they're well trained before they leave, but once we send them, we have to give them all the support we possibly can here.
People who are hesitant and aren't able to make a decision and have to constantly refer back to people in Canada will certainly not be able to take the initiatives they need. It was initiative and good decisions in a timely fashion that got us through Medak, and we have to make sure we do foster that in the future.
This is the kind of individual we experienced over in Croatia. We like to describe them as thugs with guns. They are not professional soldiers. Professional soldiers don't wage war on innocent civilians, but over there it was a matter of routine. By and large they were people with very little professional training, if any. They were very courageous when they were facing unarmed civilians, but they certainly weren't as courageous when they were facing people who knew how to operate their weapons and were willing to take a stand for a good cause.
I like to say this. I began saying this when we had visitors in 1993, because we always seemed to get into the debate about how well you have to train a soldier to go on peacekeeping operations. There seems to be an idea in vogue that you can have an armed gendarmerie go over into peaceful situations and they'll do just fine. I believe that's a fallacy. I believe that for any situation you have to train up the individual soldier and the small units of section and platoon so that they are absolutely confident in the use of their weapons, not just confident that they can use their weapon but confident that the person on their left and their right can bring their weapon into action immediately with good effect.
The reason I say that it's absolutely essential, ladies and gentlemen, is that I found that almost on a weekly basis, if not more so, we got into situations where my soldiers were confronted with deadly force. They were confronted by people who were willing to shoot at them. You're not supposed to shoot back immediately.
If you are going to expect someone to remain calm in a situation like the one we were in at the roadblock, where everyone was armed, everyone was cocked, and one errant shot going off would have had a bloodbath going on between the two sides, if you want people to remain calm, they have to know that the guy beside them didn't get 51 out of 100 when he fired his personal weapons test. They have to know that if I'm going forward to do negotiations, Mike McCarthy is absolutely able to cover me and to kill somebody who is shooting at me before that guy kills me.
You can't have people who are half-trained go over there. You don't really know how dangerous it's going to be when you first send them over. They were over there for six months, and the situation didn't change. That saying is absolutely critical, and you have to train them up very well.
I would like to introduce you to two people on this particular slide. During the six-month tour, we lost two soldiers. The one on the left is Corporal John Béchard. You'll see him down there as a member of 2nd Battalion. He died on August 6.
John Béchard had just gone home for his two weeks of go-back-to-Canada leave. While he was back in Canada, he had had the great pleasure of attending the birth of his first daughter, Janessa, with his wife, Amy. The timing had worked out just perfectly for him: he got back, and Janessa was born.
When came back into theatre, he found that when he got back into sector west, the rest of his company had deployed to sector south. Twenty-four hours after getting back into theatre, he went walking out in the morning to throw his kit bag onto the truck to go to sector south. At the moment that he was throwing his kit bag onto the back of the trailer, the truck slipped its chock. Its brakes failed, and it rolled back. He was crushed between the two vehicles, and died in a matter of minutes. The next phone call that went back home to Amy was to say that her husband was dead.
The second person I want to introduce you to is Captain Jim Decoste. He died in the middle of the Medak operation on September 18, just as the fire fights had died down. The situation was starting to come to some degree of normalcy, and we'd thought we'd gotten over the hump of this particular operation. In all the situations where we thought we probably would have lost a soldier to a round or a shell, suddenly we had a tragic vehicle accident and we lost Jim Decoste.
His wife Jan was back at home. We were due to redeploy back on October 3. He was within two weeks of going back home, and his wife Jan got the phone call that Jim had been killed.
Death within peacekeeping missions is a reality for all of us sitting at this table and the rest of the 873 members who were over there with us. It's not just a matter of past wars. Remembrance Day holds a very sincere meaning for us today.
This, by and large, ends the explanation of the actual battle from Medak pocket that we dealt with. We now want to move on to the second portion, which is the impact that an operation of this degree of magnitude of danger has for the soldiers.
Since we have members of the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Trade here, I think it's absolutely appropriate to begin by talking a little bit about the contract between the military and the nation and how we feel, having gone through this particular operation.
We within the military feel that we certainly have responsibilities to the nation. We feel that when you, the members of the Department of Foreign Affairs, decide that we have to go somewhere because it's in the nation's best interests, it's not our place to ask why we're going. To the best of my knowledge, we've never asked why we're going.
We certainly recognize that with the genocide that happened in Rwanda, what happened in Haiti, all the conflicts that happened in UNPROFOR, and following on in IFOR and SFOR within the former Yugoslavia, it certainly didn't threaten my family back here in Canada or anyone else here in Canada, to the best of my knowledge. We don't ask you why we're going. We understand that it's your business to sit there and rule the nation. If you say it's in the nation's interest to go, we just say “Yes, sir!” and we get on with the job.
When we go, as I think you've seen with the two soldiers we lost within the 2nd Battalion, we still feel it's our role to go. Also, unlimited liability is part of wearing this uniform. We're prepared to go even if it isn't a war, and we'll die for the nation's interests because you say it's important enough for us to go there.
We in the military have no collective bargaining rights. To the best of my knowledge, even the police forces and the medical profession have collective bargaining rights that they can bring to bear to make sure they're treated properly, but that's not our role and that's not our lifestyle.
We truly believe that it's service before self and service before family. Again, if you say that it's in the nation's interest that we go, we'll go, and we really rely on the government to take care of us when we go.
This kind of commitment from us, we believe, in the unspoken words of a contract, puts a certain burden of responsibility on you, the government, and on the nation as a whole, and the commitment that we feel you bear is the non-negotiable responsibility to care and support the soldier.
When we go, we expect that you have taken the necessary steps: that you've thought about it in the Department of Foreign Affairs; that it is necessary; that we've kitted ourselves out properly when we go; that we've trained ourselves properly before we go; and that our families are taken care of when we're gone so that we can focus on the task at hand.
I'm sure you've all realized lately that there have been some big question marks among some of the rank and file as to whether the nation has really fulfilled some of its commitments in this regard. As as example, I'll show you this next slide.
I certainly know that the members of SCONDVA have had the issue of pay beaten to death as they've gone across the country, but for the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, I would just like to show you an example of what we pay one of the front-line soldiers who we expect to go out and get shot at, shelled, to tap-dance through minefields and, sometimes, sacrifice his life on behalf of the country.
The slide shows the take-home pay of a fully trained private after three years of service. After all of his deductions for taxes and benefits, he gets $1,714 a month in his pocket.
We're using the example of somebody who is married and has a couple of children, so I've taken the liberty of putting in the deductions that he has to pay to live.
He has to pay PMQ rent. I've put it at a modest $490, which is the rent that you would find in a typical PMQ on one of the bases these days. Hydro would take another $160. His phone and cable would take another $60. His compulsory mess dues and haircuts would take another $65. If he has to have a car so he can move his two children and his wife around, he'd have a car payment of about $300 a month and he'd have to pay insurance of about $100 a month. He'd pay fuel for that car of $100 a month and he'd have to buy groceries for about $400 a month. These are average costs. We can debate whether they would be higher or lower in any given part of the country, but I think they're pretty representative. That gives him a disposable income every month, at the end of the month, of $49 in his pocket.
You'll notice that I didn't put the cost of any shoes or clothing for any of his two children on that list. It doesn't talk about medical bills if they're ill and have to buy medicines. It doesn't talk about putting him in hockey so that they can have a normal lifestyle, or even about the school trips, which are now starting to cost us as everybody downloads costs that were a regular part of the education system. How do these people do that when they have $50 in their pockets at the end of the month?
Here's how they do it. They go and ask mom and dad for loans, and mom and dad sometimes help them out so that they can get through. The spouse often works these days, but I think you all know that when the spouse works, that means there are added expenses for day care, which erode that second income. They don't get all that money in their pockets.
Increasingly, some of the soldiers moonlight; we find them driving pizza trucks and cabs in the evenings. They turn to credit, which is a slippery slope that's very difficult to get off once you get on. And I think we've all heard that from time to time they use the grocery money so they can actually buy the medicines for their children, and therefore they go to food banks when they can't afford to pay the grocery bills.
This is our biggest challenge, no doubt, and I'm sure you will agree: if the Canadian Forces is one of the arms that has really borne the brunt of the burden of our foreign affairs policy over the last six or seven years, I'm not certain that we're treating the front-line soldiers actually going out to do this in the proper fashion.
It's inevitable that when we look around we start to compare how we're treated, in terms of overall benefits, with some of our allies, in terms of how our nation really respects the kind of commitment we give to it. As an example, I'm going to show you what some of our compatriots to the south get in terms of routine benefits. I'm not saying this is the answer; I'm just saying that when we look at how the United States government treats its soldiers, these are some of the things they have provided in the past.
First, the GI Bill. This is a hell of a bill. If a soldier, when he first joins up, makes a $100-a-month pay allotment toward the GI Bill, after a three-year commitment and paying only a total of about $3,600 toward his education, the government gives him a cheque for about $25,000 toward his university education. This is win-win all around, in my mind.
First of all, the military gets a higher level of recruit, because they come in knowing it will go toward their university—they all have their high school diplomas—and at the end of it they get a good pat on the back and go to university as a person who's been around the world, probably been on a foreign deployment, knows what self-discipline is, and is really ready to study when he hits the university field.
The next thing they have is a routine thing. When they have enlistment periods of three to five years, at the conclusion of that they get what they call re-op bonuses. The person is a trained soldier now, sometimes a highly trained person in a weapons system like a TOW missile system. In some cases it's an anti-aircraft gun. The same thing happens in the air force and the navy. What they do is to say, “If you sign up for another five years, lad, we'll pay you $15,000 minimum so we don't have to train another soldier.” It's a routine thing. I'm not certain it's our solution, but it does show the value people place on soldiers in other armies when they sign up for service.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've talked enough. I know others are here to speak to some of these issues and I think it behoves me to end at this time. Thank you very much for your attention.
I would like to turn the microphone over to Ms. Elise Huffman. She is here in the role of co-chairperson of the family support group that was created for our tour, to take care of all the problems that dealt with families for the six-month deployment we had in this dangerous theatre. I'll turn it over to her now.
Ms. Elise Huffman (Department of National Defence): Thank you.
I don't propose to follow quite the presentation you've just seen, but I do have a few slides, mostly in order to keep myself on track and to make sure we get as many points across as we possibly can in the shortest period of time.
There were many things that occurred on this tour. It was very unique in a number of different ways. I actually spent a year, rather than the six months, as co-chair because the battalion had already sent one company over in support of a mission in Croatia and there were approximately 160 families that were all by themselves to sort it out. Then the main rotation took place, with the addition of all of the other attachments, regular force and reserves and those families. So the entire period of a year provided me with a wealth of experience. I don't have all the experiences and all the stories to tell you today, because there were so many, so we decided to break it into three major areas.
The presentation will talk about some of the pre-deployment difficulties we went through, then the actual deployment itself, followed by the post-deployment.
In those areas in the pre-deployment, the question for many is when does a tour really begin. These gentlemen left in March to go for their six months. But the very day they announced they were going on tour, their minds were elsewhere. They were concentrating on the training that had to be taken care of, the administration to get them over there, and all the meetings and discussions that took place really took the men's focus away from their families at a time when the families very much needed them.
At that point the families were placed on a secondary waiting list for attention. It's a very natural sort of situation to happen. It was complicated, because we had D Company families who already had their husbands away and were facing that isolation. So the rear party, or the very slim rear party organization that was supporting them at that time, was now being redeployed to take a look at the bigger mission confronting them. So whatever service was being given at that time was greatly reduced.
A further complication was the reserves. As of January, there were going to be hundreds of young gentlemen arriving to be trained up, tested, selected and then sent off as well. For those families, from January to March, the reserve families were separated and isolated, with absolutely no support given to them whatsoever. They then turned around and went off to the United States to train up in preparation for the actual departure overseas. We now not only had them mentally away on leave from the families, so to speak, but they were physically removed as well.
When does the rear party start acting and get into their preparations to deal with those situations? In general, there are mechanisms for pre-deployment in place, but for rear party the priorities are usually low. The members are considered to be taking on secondary duties, so they carry on with their primary duties on a regular basis. When they have a moment, they can take care of the families.
One of the main members dealing with the family is called the welfare officer. I speak from the period of time when many of these problems occurred but have since been changed. For one of these things, we changed the name to “family officer”. It may be a very small detail but, for the families to be considered welfare cases when their soldiers and their husbands disappeared became very negative. The family officer was changed, and in that very small element the priority for the families was very much increased.
The mechanisms for pre-deployment that are in place are good, but some of them are flawed. Again, we attempted to make changes to those, but at the time the D Company group was away, they were given a family handbook. It was a very militaristic, rigid and officious handbook, with information destined to assist the families in the deployment, such as aspects of coping with separation. This was annex I to chapter 6. Right beside annex J is a list of things to do, so in terms of coping with separation, there was not really a priority laid on that.
One of the motivational statements included in the book was: “The only thing that will limit what happens is your imagination and willingness to get involved and make activities a success”.
In many cases, that kind of statement is a motivational statement, but when you're dealing with women who are realizing they are going to be alone, who have children to take care of, who have a job to deal with, when are they going to find the time to get involved in these activities? Their imaginations are not limited. Their imaginations are going full-tilt at this point in time, and the horror of having their husbands disappear is resting solidly on their shoulders.
Another mechanism is the padre interviews. Once you've read this handbook, you have interviews with the padres. Generally speaking, they are done to ensure that if your soldier is going to go away, questions about whether or not there will be any undue hardship placed on the family are answered.
After they've read the book and the chapter telling them they should look at supporting their husband's career and not find ways to keep him from going on the tour, that they should remember he gets lonely too, to sit there and tell this padre that no, they don't think their husbands can go is not necessarily an option given to the wives. You sit and nod, and you listen to the understanding words of reassurance that, yes, you will be taken care of; yes, you will be supported; and yes, the handbook outlines everything you possibly need to know. You then sign the paper and send your husband on his way.
The briefings they do hold are so important that I just can't understand why they don't attend them more regularly. One of the greatest disappointments to me was to see the battalion put together a briefing to give the families an idea of exactly where the men are going, what they're going to be doing, what kinds of support organizations and systems are in place for those families, what is active and up and running. Very few families attend, and there are a number of reasons for that.
One of the reasons is that for the very short period of time when their husbands are home, the last thing they want to do is do something involving the tour, something that is a military and a formal function. There's also a sense of mistrust among the wives and a sense of distrust among the soldiers as to what information will be passed on to their families. That problem continues to this day, but we're working on it.
Power of attorney is one of the mechanisms that is supposed to allow the families to carry on with the normal family business. In fact, during our tour, on each of the four or five occasions when the wife attempted to use the power of attorney, it was denied. So that's a mechanism that certainly does not work at all.
That's the system we started with, and in the second main deployment, the family handbook was greatly amended and some of those problems were addressed. Others are still to be worked on.
There weren't all bad things. We did have the support organizations, and in a sense we were lucky with D Company going over. The wives got together, and I became the co-chair of a group that was headed up by a young sergeant's wife, Monica Maxwell. She had a tremendous sense of compassion and understanding for the families, having been involved in various tours, as had I, and she launched into trying to produce local newsletters to keep the community of families in contact with the appropriate sources. Activities were planned for wives as well as for children.
We started working with the family resource centre that was in Winnipeg. Very soon into our discussions with how it could support us, it determined that because it was such a very small number of families—only about 160 out of the total complement of the base—it could no longer support those families in such a way as to provide them with the social contact that was required, nor could it allow us to use its facilities to meet. So it severed its ties with the D Company support group.
We continued our meetings in family homes until the main body became aware of their deployment and the CO brought on an officer to command the rear party, Major Jim O'Brien. He started to reintegrate the base facilities with the actual support group facilities the women had started.
That is generally how we started with the predeployment. It was a rocky start, but as things progressed we saw the need for improvements, and with the new rear party structure going into place we actually saw some of them come into being.
On the actual deployment itself, I tried to break it down as succinctly as I could, because so many things occurred. The MFRC was brought back on line. We started working with it and it started supporting programs for us. It started to get involved with us as well.
We did, however, continue with separate mess organizations. The senior NCO's mess and the officers' wives' mess continued to meet. During the deployment, the junior ranks women decided to meet and create their own program.
The support group itself became an all-encompassing group, because we discovered we weren't just relegated to the families here in Winnipeg. We knew we had to start expanding, so we included the wives and the family members—mothers, fathers and grandparents—of the reservists. We expanded across Canada.
We decided there were a lot of other members on the base and families whose husbands were in UN duties outside of Croatia. They became involved, so the whole support network continued to grow.
The newsletter became one of the focal points for our whole group, because we determined that keeping connected or staying connected with the families was a key issue.
The amended handbook that went out for the main tour included a copy of our very first Yugo News, the official newspaper of the support group. I have copies here of the issues that went out. In most of these copies you'll see how the groups addressed each of the issues we came across.
We sent out a questionnaire with the newsletter, asking, “What kind of support do you require? How do you wish to stay connected?” We received hundreds, literally hundreds, of responses, not only from the families but from the serving members themselves asking that we put their families' names on the mailing list. Each of those letters was answered, and we included their comments in the continuing newsletters.
We sent the newsletters across Canada, and as of May, the issue was still growing. We sent 1,100 copies out monthly. We had 216 that were delivered by hand within the base area, and at the halfway point we had hundreds more requests for them.
Each and every time we received a letter, the need to stay connected with not only the serving members but the families going through this, and the need to reduce that isolation they felt, became the driving force behind the support group. Isolation became a major issue with us. We had family members who had no military background, no military support. We had people in the States who couldn't tap into any kind of support system. We had people in Europe who couldn't tap into anything. The newsletter became the lifeblood.
It was through the rear party that they started funding this, and it fell off the shoulders of the wives funding the programs. That was a main concern for us.
Children are a big issue, and we address that time and time again in the newsletters as well as in all of our activities. We had children's activities as well as adult activities throughout the program. But as the tour progressed, we discovered that there were more and more requests for help for children.
The children were watching television. The children heard what was happening on the radio and read the newspaper reports, and their classmates were reading and making comments on the same thing. Behaviours became difficult to handle for the family groups. Children were constantly being asked questions in school such as, “What's your dad doing over there? Why is he shooting people? What is he being sent over there for?” We realized that more and more programs were required to help those kids, so many of the schools did start some programs to support this.
Warrant Butters in Calgary had another group of women who were finding that to be a very stressful situation. I know in Calgary they had a good program going.
Maybe you'd like to comment on that.
Master Warrant Officer Jim Butters (Department of National Defence): In Calgary it was very much different from what the 2nd Battalion was going through in Winnipeg, where they had a period of months to work up to the deployment. From the time I received the phone call to say I was going overseas to the day I left was 10 days.
Our families and our children.... While our soldiers were happy and jumping up and down that we were going to go overseas and go to Croatia and do the job, the families were sitting back and saying, “Wow! What just hit me?” The wives didn't know what to do. There was no support set up for them in Calgary at the time, because there was no talk of ever sending anybody from Calgary out, and the kids were one of the big concerns.
We were very fortunate that in Calgary at the time, I'd say a good 90% of the kids still went to a school that had 90% military kids, Currie Elementary School. We at that time went and talked to the school and told them what our concerns were: yes, the wives can deal with it and the husbands can deal with it, because they're adults and they can deal with it in their own way, but the kids don't understand. So the school brought in experts, civilians, to actually sit down and talk to the kids in their own language and deal with the kids on a kids basis, at their level.
at their level. During the school day there was always half an hour or 45 minutes during the day when they would sit down and go through the tapes from TV news broadcasts and the letters in the newspaper. They would discuss this with the kids, explain to them what we were doing over there. “Yes, it is a dangerous place to be; however, your parents are trained to a high level and they'll be coming home safe.”
That took a lot of the burden off the wives and the husbands who were left behind with kids, and the system worked very well. However, that was strictly on the initiative of the service members themselves. As I said, there was no support element in Calgary at the time because the battle group wasn't going out of Calgary.
Ms. Elise Huffman: One of the most successful programs was actually taking some of the members when they came back on leave and going over to the classrooms of their daughter or their son and talking to the class. Then the kids started doing projects whereby the whole class became involved, not just one or two isolated children.
The whole class took on letter-writing campaigns or supporting different programs that the soldiers themselves had initiated while they were in Croatia. It not only tied the children to their families overseas, but it tied them back in with a sense of belonging to the classroom. The kids in the classroom and the community as a whole started understanding a lot more of the stresses that not only the families were under, but very specifically the children themselves were facing as well.
At the halfway point, we thought things were going along quite well. A young master corporal's wife had taken over as the chair of the support group, and she had more common sense in the palm of her hand than I think half the Land Force Command of the army of the west. She came up with tremendous ideas in terms of concrete programs and solutions for the problems we were facing, and she instituted those.
At the halfway point people were saying, “We're going to make it. We're actually going to do this and we're going to do it with some measure of success and as little stress as possible.” We'd had several soldiers who had been injured within that first portion of the tour, but it had turned out that everything was all right there. We were looking at the end of the tour, with reunions, homecoming, happy, let's get back together.
Then the media started talking about the incredible increase in tensions in Croatia. Up to this point, Croatia had been the bridesmaid of Bosnia and of course all of the news was coming out of Bosnia, and we could sit back with a measure of relief, saying our husbands weren't there. But when they started very specifically talking about Croatia, we became news and media junkies and devoured every piece of information that came out. Tensions started to rise.
Then there was this sudden indication that the battalion was going to leave sector west and go to sector south. There were so many phone calls that came in, not only to myself but to the battalion, that they determined they were going to have to brief the families and let them know what was going on. In fact, they called for a briefing on August 4 and told them this move was going to take place. There were going to be some problems with it. Yes, they were going into a more dangerous area. There were not going to be any kinds of communications during that move until they came in and set up at sector south, but things were going to go on all right.
The support group came out and said fine and carried on with the information. We pushed the paper. Then on August 6, all of our plans that things were going to go well kind of fell apart. That was Corporal Béchard's death, and I'll talk about that a little bit later.
The briefing was successful. We were also going through a move in terms of the support group. We had been transferred from homes to the hallway of the main gymnasium to an old storage room to conduct our meetings and create our drop-in centres, and then to an old classroom. We finally set up there long enough to carry over and create an information centre that the briefing pointed everybody towards in order to get good information.
One of the major problems we were having was getting good information, and the media was one of our main concerns. Sensation sells news, and the headlines plagued us for the entire period of time.
As they got closer and closer to Croatia and what was happening there was mentioned, our stress rose. We have no means of governing what happens with the media, but we certainly should learn to be able to interpret and understand them a lot better. That was one of our major lessons.
The misinformation, the inaccuracies of reporting, lent an awful lot of stress to the families. Every time they mentioned 2nd Battalion without saying which battalion it was, whether it was the Royals or the Patricias, the phones lit up. We asked them to please be more specific. We also counselled the families to go back to the support centres and get their information.
When it came to inaccuracies during the leave time.... When my husband and I got together in Toronto, we were visiting my family. I had breakfast with my mother that morning and she very quietly handed to me the front page of the Toronto Star and said to read it. I looked through it, but I couldn't understand what she was wanting me to do until I got to a small article on the front page that talked about an officer having been shot in Croatia.
I read through the article and very quietly said to her, “Excuse me a moment. I'm going to go downstairs and talk to that officer.” I went downstairs, gently woke him up and said, “Excuse me, dear, but is there something you've forgotten to mention to me?” As it turns out it was a totally inaccurate piece of reporting. He had not even been there during the timing of the shooting.
Of course, I immediately phoned back to Winnipeg. They were phoning all over the place to try to find out where I was, and whether or not I had in fact disappeared from Winnipeg not to go on leave but to go to a funeral or to visit my husband in the hospital. The media sensation that created within our group was, again, something that we had to constantly deal with.
Then we come to deaths. As I said, after our briefing on August 4 to reassure the families that this move would not endanger the soldiers or the mission, Corporal Béchard died on the 6th. I got a call at midnight from the officer commanding the rear party. I was asked to meet the adjutant and the chaplain at Amy's home, because Amy was a member of our support group. I went to meet with them, and then spent the rest of the evening dealing with her and her family and and the young infant, Janessa. We talked about what we were going to do and how we were going to help her.
At dawn, I returned home and started the fan-out phone calling to let the families know what had happened. For the next few days, the entire community was in a state of shock. We didn't know what to do or how to handle it, and of course this sense that we'd just been told things were going to go all right with the move was completely thrown out the window.
Incredibly, the community got together. Everyone supported not only Amy but each other. We went through an entire funeral, and then had to go back to the reality of whether or not they were all going to come home. We realized we had to get together, take care of the kids, take care of ourselves, and look at the reunion process.
We carried on with that until Medak pocket. The phone calls then started again, and the level of tension again rose. And this time phone calls were coming from all over the world. We had parents and grandparents in Ireland, we had California, Florida, and across Canada. We had to deal with that situation again, and had to reassure everybody. Letters, press statements and briefings don't do half as much to reassure a wife or a mother sitting at the other end of a phone and asking what's happening? The voice contact was absolutely essential. The women who did that did it on their own, as volunteers.
We got through that aspect, and then it was September 18 and Jim Decoste died. I got a call at noon to meet with the adjutant and the chaplain at Jan's house. Jan was a good friend. Unfortunately, the adjutant and the chaplain were delayed, and Jan spotted me waiting down the road. So although it's a very unusual situation to occur, I told her that Jim was not going to return home. For me, it was a very traumatic situation, and something I never, ever wish to repeat.
The community was totally devastated at that point. It required all of our energy to try to bring it back together. That evening, after I'd left Jan, I had a meeting to go to with the officers' wives. I sat down and talked with them, and we had basically a grief counselling session. Not one of them could look me in the eye when I had to tell them that we had to carry on. There was a tremendous sense of guilt that one of the first thoughts that went through each of our minds was “Thank God it's not my husband”.
Jim's death had a very strong effect on all of us, and the men overseas suffered the two casualties. In fact, our community suffered three, because just six days prior to Jim's death we'd actually handled another funeral—that of young Corporal Paul Delmore. This young soldier took his life, and one of the heightened senses of distress that occurred in the community was that he had returned from the previous tour. The great question that hung over the families was what had happened there to make him do this?
His mother was flown in from Toronto, and again we dealt with trying to console this woman who was involved—not involved, actually, in anything. We had thought we'd just recovered when Jim died.
Shortly after, we had to try to talk about everybody reuniting, and it became a very difficult time. We did have survivors—Captain Rick Turner and his wife Kathy. Rick was involved not only in Jim Decoste's death, in the vehicle, but he had been there with Corporal Béchard. His wife was just inconsolable, and her family was completely torn apart because of her husband's involvement. He was alive, but had been just traumatized, and so had she.
We had other survivors, and those were our husbands. They were the ones we now had to focus on, saying please, God, bring them home. In addition, we had the survivors in the community. We had to turn around and look at the kids, and say come on, let's get ready, they're coming home. So we threw ourselves into a homecoming that I don't think has been equalled. For us, it was a mechanism of survival.
That ended the actual deployment, when they started coming back and there were no further casualties, or so we thought.
Post deployment, we had the reunion. No matter how often you prime yourself to get back to a regular situation of having the family come home, there are a tremendous number of stresses involved in that. We try to work everybody through them, but it's hard to do.
One of the major problems with reunion is that everybody who had been so involved in doing the supporting of all the families left those support organizations to resume their family life. Very shortly after reunion the stresses started to build again. There was a void. There was nothing there for them to fall back on, and that became very evident because the caregivers needed more care. That's one of our greatest failings. We provided a lot of care for the soldiers in their debriefings, in their critical incident stress debriefings, but there was nothing left for the women and the family members, and particularly those women who were so involved in support.
Post-traumatic stress disorder we've heard about in many cases in reference to the soldiers, and there were a number of soldiers in the unit who did suffer from that. But the hidden victims of PTSD were, I think, mostly among the family members. There's a tremendous stigma attached to that and the admittance that you are suffering from the disorder, but it's very important to realize that there are many out there who suffer it. It's not being addressed properly.
It took me four years to determine that I had lost the main tenet of our support group, of staying connected. When I started to withdraw and started having sleep disorders and finally realized there was something wrong, I asked for help. I was told basically by everyone that they were all very busy because the soldiers are their primary concern. They did send me an envelope with a list of names and addresses and phone numbers of local therapists who could help me, and their hourly rates. I was so angry with that I left it and I didn't go back to until four years later, when I determined that no, it wasn't corrected.
I finally went and talked to a woman, gave her a brief outline of what had happened. Her first comment to me was, “Well, where is your medal?” I thought, I like this lady.
I stayed with her and I now see her quite regularly, because I have been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder. I take a look around and think of the conversations I had with other wives. I don't think I am alone in having it, but I may well be alone in actually being counselled for it. We have to take care of that.
My last slide is a summary in terms of what we learned. There must be a use-it-or-lose-it attitude for family resource centres, and support for them. It doesn't matter how often it's being used; the fact that it's there is comforting. The attitude that you put money into something only as it's needed does not work for the families. You have to have continuous support. There has to be continuous funding.
The majority of the people who are involved are the wives. The majority of them are volunteers, and they're all becoming victims of this volunteerism. They need that support and they need it by having people professionally involved in providing the programs for them. They're not just add-ons.
We need to have money that's designated for the family resource centres, because they're doing a wonderful job and building the programs, and a lot of those programs were built on the basis of what happened in this tour, but they need the money to keep them going. And they need the money to keep them going on a day-to-day basis, because there is not one day that goes by when some family member doesn't have a spouse who is deployed.
On the issue of staying connected, the reserves really fell through the cracks. We had within our own small group some measure of support, but as soon as those young soldiers went back home to areas that had no peer groups in the military to understand what they had gone through, no peer groups for the family members to contact and seek comfort from, they were left isolated, and they remain that way today.
This whole Medak pocket presentation should go out to each of the units so that not only the unit members can see what what was done, but the families too can see what their sons and daughters were involved in and try to work it through. To stay connected, there should be ongoing liaison between each of the bases and the support units to lay the foundation now, so that it continues to be built on, instead of being rebuilt at every single tour.
There's so much more I want to say, but I know I can't say it. I just want to thank you and to say that for the solutions you are going to find for the families, please remember that we are the ones who will have to live with them.
I don't know how many times there have been discussions, meetings, reports, and hearings. Each of these items has been addressed in the past. We really would like to thank you, hoping that maybe this time the problems of today won't be the same ones we will face next year.
The Chairman: Thank you. Thank you to you both for your most interesting presentation.
We have roughly 11 or 12 minutes left. We can go to a very small question period, if that's what members want to do.
Mr. Benoit—really short questions, please.
Mr. Leon E. Benoit (Lakeland, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you both for your presentations.
Colonel, I would like to ask you a question just to get a bit more information about something you presented. You said that after you'd reached an agreement with the Croat commander to establish a crossing site between the Croat and the Serb lines...that the agreement was reached somewhere near 2 a.m. or something?
Col Jim Calvin: It was probably reached by 10 o'clock that evening.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Ten o'clock at night. And you agreed to hold off until noon the next day to actually cross.
Later on you found out...well, you saw the smoke and so on, and you realized there was ethnic cleansing going on. As you got closer, you saw evidence of ethnic cleansing. Was there anything you could have done to try to prevent some of that?
Col Jim Calvin: In my military judgment at the time, there wasn't a lot we could actually do. We could not, short of launching an all-out attack, an open assault, using all of the resources that we had.... And make no mistake, we were outgunned by the Croats. They had tanks; we had no tanks. They had artillery; we had no artillery. They had mortars; we had no mortars. The biggest thing we had was MWO Butters' anti-tank weapon, and that's something that shouldn't be fired on the move. It should be used in a defensive position and shoot at things from static.
Sir, I'd have to say no, we had to rely on the Croats' allowing us to get over there before we could do something. There was very little we could have done in the way of offensive operations.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Can you give us an idea of the command structure? Was that strictly your decision, or was that a decision that was made by someone else?
Col Jim Calvin: What decision are we talking about, sir?
Mr. Leon Benoit: First of all, the decision to hold off until noon, the agreement that was reached, but also the decision that you do nothing about the ethnic cleansing. All I'm trying to do is get an idea of what authority you were given in that circumstance. Did you have complete authority?
Col Jim Calvin: When I went to the meeting at Gospic, I was not the primary member attending on behalf of the UN. Colonel Maisonneuve, the individual who came down from Zagreb as General Cot's representative, was the central figure on the UN side at that meeting. I was the central tactician, but he was the man who handled it.
We certainly pressed for eight o'clock in the morning as the start point, since you have to see where you're going when you first go over. The Croats successfully negotiated at that meeting that they needed at least until noon to get the word out to their soldiers in order for them to withdraw. That's why noon was the time that was decided upon. Once it was decided upon, I had no real latitude to change that at my level.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Once it was decided on, you had no.... Who did have the authority at that time, then, if you had decided that you wanted to try to do something about the ethnic cleansing? I'm not saying whether you should have or not. How do I know? But who had the authority at that time to make a decision like that?
Col Jim Calvin: At that time, I would say that if I had decided it was necessary and it was within my power to do so, I would have had to consult with two people: Colonel Maisonneuve in Gospic, so he was aware that I had changed what he had agreed upon the night before, and probably my sector commander, the French General Baudot in Knin. I would have had to tell both those people if I was going to change what had been agreed to the night before.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Okay.
The Chairman: Are you almost done?
Mr. Leon Benoit: I have more questions.
Col Jim Calvin: Is it absolutely necessary that this conclude at 5.30 p.m. because—
The Chairman: I was just coming to that. The meeting officially ends at 5.30 p.m., but if it's okay with you and some colleagues want to stay later and ask questions, I'm willing to stay later to make sure all the questions are asked.
Col Jim Calvin: Initially we thought this was a three-hour session, and there's at least one other member up here who has a statement he would like to make, sir. I realize we've gone perhaps a little bit longer than you expected, but we were told initially—
Mr. Bob Wood (Nipissing, Lib.): You're here...
[Editor's Note: Inaudible]. Go ahead.
Chief Warrant Officer Mike McCarthy (Department of National Defence): I'm biting at the bit here.
Mr. Bob Wood: I know you are, and I've been waiting to hear you.
The Chairman: We'll finish with Mr. Benoit and then we can get back to you, sir. Do it quickly.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I understand that part of the French force that had been there before left before this incident happened. Was that something that had been planned well ahead of time or is that something that happened for some other reason?
Col Jim Calvin: The French army battalion had been in there since the start of UNPROFOR. In January 1993, the Croats had launched a similar attack. At the time they launched the first attack, the Serbs had their weapons in UN cantonment sites under UN control, so they were basically defenceless. When the Croats attacked in January 1993, the UN did not defend the Serbs, and because they'd disarmed them, the Croats overran the Serbs and the UN watched them go by.
As a result of that action, the French battalion that had been in sector had no credibility with the Serbs. The Serbs would not deal with them, would not speak with them, would not trust them and would not let them forward, even to observe where their forward deployed lines were. That was one of the primary causes of the move that General Cox had to eventually make when he moved that French battalion out of there and moved us in to try to regain credibility. That's what we were trying to do in September 1993 when he ordered us into Medak.
By and large, from the reports after we left theatre once we finished our operation, the Serbs had a great deal of faith and trust in what the Canadians did because we acted in an impartial way. We weren't on their side, but we certainly weren't on the other side, and we acted as true peacekeepers.
Mr. Leon Benoit: If you could predict that there was likely to be the same type of military activity, the same situation with a similar level of tension, there are two things: do you think Canada should be sent again into a situation like that as part of the UN force, and secondly, do you feel now that the Canadian Forces would be properly equipped and much better equipped to deal with a situation like that?
Col Jim Calvin: I'll deal with the first part of your question first. And I will tell you that this is my opinion, but it's also the opinion of the rest of the peacekeepers who were there. I believe that Canada still stands within perhaps the top three or four countries in terms of reputation. When there's a tough job to do, you can still give it to a handful of countries.
So in answer to your first question, absolutely; if there is a dangerous mission to do, I think we have the non-commissioned officers and the soldiers who have the proper level of training. Some of our NCOs are the equivalent of officers in other nations. Let us be very blunt here. We have extremely good sergeants, extremely good warrant officers and extremely good sergeant-majors. Our officers are extremely good, tactically, so absolutely, we're able, with the training we give, to do all the hard jobs.
In terms of equipment, there are certainly some things that I would have preferred to have had when I went through Medak. Some of the equipment that is coming on-line over the next several years, particularly our new armoured personnel carriers—provided we get all of them that they're going to buy—will rectify the direct-fire weapons system that we lack right now. A .50 calibre on a pintol-mounted machine-gun is not the answer, but a 25-millimetre cannon like we're buying is, and provided that we get all 650 in the buy over the next several years, that will certainly ease some of the problems.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Over the next several years, but what about a month from now, two months from now?
Col Jim Calvin: Sir, we've got what we've got, and we'll just have to make up for some of the kit we have now with perhaps some—
Mr. Leon Benoit: This is four years later.
Col Jim Calvin: —extra training and better tacticians. The will of a soldier to get the job done is still more important than the kit he carries, sir, I have to say. If you believe you can do a good job, sometimes you can figure creative ways to get around equipment. If you don't have soldiers with the will, just handing them excellent equipment is not the answer. But you still need to have a level of equipping. Absolutely.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Benoit.
Chief Warrant Officer Mike McCarthy, you have a submission.
CWO Mike McCarthy: Thank you very much. I know we've been here for a while. I'll try to keep this as brief as I can. As the colonel alluded to earlier, I was the RSM of the unit deployed, and in that capacity I feel that it is my duty and responsibility to speak on behalf of the soldiers.
Now, where did I go about getting the information? Last year I was employed at Land Force Command, working for General Cox as the command inspector, and in that capacity I had an opportunity to visit most of the bases across Canada three or four times and speak to some of the soldiers, regular force and reserve, deployed with us, and they voiced their concerns. So in some of the points and issues that I raise here, all I'm doing in some cases is echoing, and/or amplifying, what they have already said.
The first thing I want to deal with, which I think is very important, is recognition of the reserves and of the impact they had on this particular operation. I am also going to talk about the lack of recognition of the unit, which is important. And those are the big points I have that I've heard across Canada in the last year up to this particular point.
Five months from now will be the fifth anniversary of this particular operation. I think about it and it seems like just yesterday. But it'll be five years. The reason I raise this point is because, as we're all aware, what has transpired in the last couple of years is that when things go wrong in the military, things are corrected swiftly, justly, etc. And we've seen that. I would just like to see that this same sense of urgency applies when things go right. And it doesn't here. It's been five years.
So a little bit of balance would be nice. And we're not seeing that. As you can see, as an RSM I don't have too much diplomacy. I'll call a spade a spade here today, so there you go.
The colonel talked about the 44% in reserves and why it was effective, which I think is important for you to understand. I just want to amplify a little bit what the colonel has said.
It was a bit scary for most. We didn't know what type of operation we were going into. The key words here are “confidence” and “leadership”, and also the skills of a soldier—confidence up and down. We needed that—confidence in the soldier to the leader, that he's got good leadership. We went through two to three months of constant training, intense training, and that confidence was gained, up and down, by the leaders into the soldiers and the soldiers into the leaders. That's important. If you go on an operation of this nature lacking that, you're going to have one hell of a problem. Is this guy good, or is this guy not good? You need that particular confidence. And that's why this operation went very well, because that confidence was there.
There are some things I've learned with the reserves. I think that in the area of RESO, that's the reserve officers training, we are doing very well. We've gained a lot of ground. A soldier is a soldier is a soldier. If he's well trained, if he's given proper guidance and good leadership, a soldier will do exactly what he's expected to.
The area we have to work on, where we have real problems, is the senior NCOs, or the NCOs within the reserves. In many cases these are very intelligent kids, but they are just not seasoned. They're not seasoned in leadership. They don't have that experience of the regular force NCOs. A lot of the NCOs who came on the training that we were going to implement into our force didn't get accepted because they lacked that leadership. We have to recognize that and do something about it. Officers and soldiers were doing very well. And I have some reserves here who, if they wish, can dwell on that particular point relating to training.
Officer Cadet Scott Leblanc (Department of National Defence): As for myself, I joined in 1992 and I had about a year in reserve. Talking about reserves, you go on weekends and you train, and it's not very much training—especially for me; I was in the artillery.
So in 1993 when I commenced training in January, I was expected to fulfil an infantry role, which is totally different. You have to learn all the tactics and all the weapons. And so we did three months of training, and there was even lots of controversy about all the money that was spent on training, especially going to California, which was essential because it's pretty hard to do section packs in Winnipeg in the middle of snow. You can't really get the effectiveness and the intensity. So the training down there, which was realistic—we did live fire—was very important because it gave you the confidence in yourself and your peers to do the job.
In September 1993 we actually had to use those tactics and all the training that we learned during the three months of training. Without the intensity of the training we may have had more casualties, but luckily we were all well trained to a high level and we came out okay. So for me the training I gained in Winnipeg was essential.
CWO Mike McCarthy: The last thing I want to deal with is the unit recognition. You've all seen on the screen today the individual recognition that was rightly awarded to individuals. You have to remember that a lot of those individuals got those particular awards, be it bravery awards or mention in dispatches, based on the subordinates who performed for them, and that's a key. We have not had any sort of unit recognition.
I have to take you back a little bit to when I was working at Land Force Command last year and was approached on what I thought was a good recommendation in relation to recognition of this unit and its performance. I gave my recommendation after careful thought.
Just recently I had an opportunity to read the recommendation of the land force commander, General Leach. I have to acknowledge General Leach and his staff for putting forward an absolutely excellent recommendation for the unit. This is a three star general, a commander of the army, who has put forward what we thought was a super recommendation on what the unit should achieve. Basically what we're looking at is a streamer or a banner on our colours, not an actual part of the colour, but a streamer identifying the Medak, and the Governor General's citation. It's something similar to what I'm wearing here, which is the Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation, with maybe stars or something else inside. We thought that was super.
So he forwarded that to the chair of the Canadian Forces awards and honours committee. I have to tell you that I've read the response of the chairman to his committee members, and with all due respect, I think he may be missing out on a great opportunity here.
Mr. Leon Benoit: On a point of clarification, could I ask you who is the chair of that committee?
CWO Mike McCarthy: The chairman is General Dallaire, who wrote a memo to his members watering down the recommendation to a department citation. I think we're really missing out on an excellent opportunity, and I'll point out the reasons why.
First of all, I think we have an obligation to our veterans in Canada, people in Korea and people in the Second World War, who, over the last two years based on our operations overseas, have only seen bad things in the papers. Here is an opportunity to show something good. We have an obligation to them. They have served us well, and we served Canada well in this particular operation, and they have to know that.
I think we owe it to the Canadian Forces, who have been taking some pretty good hits overseas. I think we're doing well in relation to the people of Canada now, based on the ice storms in Quebec and Ontario and based on the floods in Winnipeg. I think we're getting vision. But there's still that cloud over us when it comes to operations overseas...and I think they should be what transpired here.
We have an excellent international opportunity here for the French, the two companies who were under the command of a Canadian colonel. We have an obligation to them for this particular award. I think we are going to miss out on something really amazing here. Again, with all due respect to the general, I think we're missing the mark here.
The last thing I want to talk about is that this particular unit, the 2nd Battalion, has a great history. I only point out two operations post-Second World War. The first is Korea in the fifties, Kap'yong, and the second of course is Yugoslavia and the Medak pocket operation. Recognition.
For Korea in the Kap'yong operation you will see a blue citation here, ladies and gentlemen. That is a presidential citation given to this unit. It is the only unit in Canada to wear this citation by the President of the United States.
The second one, of course, you've seen in respect to General Cot, the UNPROFOR commander who recognized the unit and gave out a citation.
I ask you to look at the bottom one: Canada, nothing. There's absolutely nothing. Here again, I just wanted to echo that we can do something here. We can take the lead. We can get the French on board. We can give them their recognition. I think we owe it to the people, we owe it to our soldiers, and we owe it to the government.
I thank you very much.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Is there anybody else who had a presentation to make? Are there any other witnesses?
Col Jim Calvin: Mr. Chairman, there's one thing I did not mention at my initial introduction. I know there's a lot of interest in post-traumatic stress disorder, but we also have a soldier here, Sergeant Byrne, who was diagnosed on return as having post-traumatic stress disorder. He is actually willing to respond to questions as to what effects high-level stress deployments have on individuals at this time.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Mr. Wood, you have a question.
Mr. Bob Wood: I just have a couple of quick ones, because I've already asked some of these questions before when I had an opportunity to get this briefing before. I just wrote some quick notes here.
Colonel, you talked about half-trained personnel. You said that in your opening remarks. I can't remember what context you said it in, but I guess I just want to carry on and talk to Chief Warrant Officer McCarthy about training. I know maybe we talked about this a bit before about the reservists, but maybe you can elaborate a little bit about how you felt the reservists in your unit responded to the training that they had in such, I guess, a short period of time.
CWO Mike McCarthy: Could you put that one by me again, and give me the last part?
Mr. Bob Wood: I just wanted to get your comments on the training that went through for the reservists.
CWO Mike McCarthy: Prior to deployment?
Mr. Bob Wood: Yes, tell us just how you felt about how reservists were trained in your unit. I know Scott came under intense fire and awkward situations.
CWO Mike McCarthy: I think that with the training we conducted, it didn't really matter whether or not reservists were involved. We would have conducted the same type of training no matter what. It's very, very important, as the colonel mentioned, to train for the worst case. The worst case, folks, is that you're going to be under effective fire, and you have to be able to react as a section and a platoon in doing fire manoeuvres. So we focus in on that.
We all understand that females in combat arms is a very sensitive topic, but let me tell you, I had two females in the reserves who were in sections in that operation, and I had one female captain who was a company operations officer. They did well. They went to our training camp and proved themselves well. They went into the theatre as a member of a rifle section in an operational theatre.
But again, just to get back to your point, the training was no different. They got exactly what we got. They performed well.
The problem, as I told you before, lies in the NCOs. The NCOs, when it came to the selection process, didn't fare very well. Again, it wasn't because they weren't smart; it was just that they weren't seasoned. They had just never had the leadership experience.
But having said that, they all sort of went down one rank and ended up being section 2ICs within a section, so they got to go over, but not in the capacity they probably wished for. They just never had it. We could not give them that responsibility, knowing what the worst case is there.
Mr. Bob Wood: In your mind, is that a common problem in the reservists?
CWO Mike McCarthy: Yes, it is.
Mr. Bob Wood: How do we change it?
CWO Mike McCarthy: It's a very difficult one. I think that for senior NCO training within the organization, we should get the NCOs involved with the regular force more often on major exercises, where the reserve section commander is in command of a regular force section under the tutelage of a regular force section commander. Things of that nature have to happen. But the way we're going now, we still have one hell of a problem. It's not right yet.
Captain Tyrone Green (Department of National Defence): One of the biggest things, particularly in the deployments earlier but not so much now, was that a large part of our pre-deployment training was spent in taking the reserve soldiers and bringing them up to at least a minimum standard so that they could be compared to their regular force counterparts on some of the basic infantry skills. A lot of that can be done prior to the soldiers actually going and joining a regular force battalion.
That allows more time, of a very limited resource of time that's usually allocated, to spend in building cohesion within the sections, training at the same level right from scratch as opposed to spending the first month trying to bring a large percentage of your soldiers up to the same standard as your regular force soldiers are at. I think that's something to recognize.
In terms of the NCOs, I think we can offer the opportunity for the junior NCOs in the reserves, the master corporals and the sergeants, to get on the regular force training. I guess it's 13 weeks for a sergeant to attain the qualifications to become a warrant officer. It's very similar to what the junior officers do in phase three and phase four, summer-long programs.
That would go a long way to building that important foundation for the reserve sergeants and warrants. They tend to be the soldiers who are willing to stick it out through thick and thin in the reserves. They've shown that by staying in for five to ten years to attain the rank of sergeant and warrant officer, and if we can get them on the same sort of training as we do for the junior officers, I think that will pay a lot in dividends in the long term.
CWO Mike McCarthy: I'd like to get back to a point that was mentioned, and I'll just take a couple of seconds on this. Are we still good at what we do and with our equipment? I have had 32 years in this man's army with four tours in Cyprus, a tour in Yugoslavia of course, and most recently, from 1994 to 1996 I was a force sergeant-major for a multinational force in the Sinai, and I can honestly tell you that we are still good at what we do. We are one of the best in the world. I've seen some of the worst. I've seen a lot of the multinational UN forces, and we are still far ahead of a lot of them. We still do the job very well.
The Chairman: Thank you.
Ms. Jean Augustine (Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to pay a compliment and recognition for the very impressive and clear presentation that was made here this afternoon. I'm a member of the committee on foreign affairs, so I'll address my question to the responses that I hope will affect the work of the foreign affairs committee.
Canadians are rightfully proud of you and proud of the work that's happening out there. I think we stand on our peacekeeping abilities, we stand on the fact that our soldiers are doing what we as Canadians expect of them. But I was a bit taken aback today when you talked about the lack of recognition, and that was pretty clear, with the small things we could do that would make a big difference. At the same time, there is the issue of remuneration or the salaries and the fact that families are caught in this situation of not having what could be called ample dollars left at the end of the day in order to meet all their needs.
I would like to ask how our remunerations line up with those of other nations, with the individuals qualified or holding the same proficiency. We always say we're number one in this or we're number seven here or we're number six there. Is there some way we can say something like that in terms of remuneration to our junior officers or how we line up with remuneration, looking at the other G-7 countries, for example?
Col Jim Calvin: Ma'am, I did not do any research as to how soldiers line up among the various countries. So I'm afraid I can't tell you, in terms of soldiers or NCOs, what the equivalent rates of pay are.
We do have an exchange officer at the staff college from Britain, however. Because we have primarily officers there, he did mention to me that at the lieutenant-colonel rank, whereas our highest rate of pay for the rank at which I was when I deployed over is somewhere in the area of $73,000 per year, they get the equivalent of $109,000 Canadian for the same rank level.
I have no idea how that fares down in soldiers, so I can't respond to your questions on that.
Ms. Jean Augustine: My second question has to do with the issue of stress, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ms. Huffman, it seems to me that the general public is not fully aware that this also affects the families of the soldiers who are out in the field. Could you speak a bit about it—I understand you said earlier that there was someone here who has suffered the effects—and maybe provide a bit more clarification on this area?
Ms. Elise Huffman: In terms of the soldiers, Sergeant Byrne is a representative here who can very personally provide a story on the post-traumatic stress disorder from the soldier's perspective. So I might turn this over to Sergeant Byrne to answer.
Sergeant Chris Byrne (Department of National Defence): From a soldier's point of view, upon return from Croatia in 1993, I came back from a war-torn country and I was placed back in Canada within 48 hours, in that time span. It didn't really occur to me that there was something wrong with me until about October to December of that year, when I started getting a sleep disorder, nightmares and such. Being a soldier, you kind of put it off and say, hey, this can't be affecting me.
At the same time, these things were affecting my family. I was angry at what was going on inside my head, but I couldn't really explain it to anybody. I was at a point where I was afraid to talk to anybody, especially my wife, and I was driving my wife further and further away from me—and my family.
That went on until June 1994 when the RSM approached me and asked me if I wanted a posting to Valcartier for a year-long French course. At that point, I thought this would be the answer; this was going to sort out everything in my life.
If I get emotional, don't feel uncomfortable. Just give me some time.
At that point, I thought everything was going to be okay. I would get into a new posting, a new area, new surroundings. But it didn't. It just progressed and got worse.
In November 1995 my dad passed away, and it was at that point that I knew I had done my sorrow, where my dad had passed away and it was time for me to carry on. But there was still something inside me saying there's still something wrong. I approached a psychologist in Valcartier at that point, and we dealt with the death of my father. But there was still something that wasn't being dealt with, something deep inside me.
I got posted to Kingston the following year, in 1995. It was after I returned from an exercise that I started getting panic attacks.
It's the worst thing you can experience as a human being, because it feels like your life is coming to an end and everything is shutting down and you have to get away. This I was going through all by myself. I wasn't telling anybody about anything, because it wasn't supposed to be. I was a soldier, the big, tough infantry soldier. It wasn't supposed to happen to me.
It was at one point when I had come home from work and I sat on the step and I was crying, and my three-year-old daughter came up to me and put her arm around me and said, “Dad, it's okay, it's going to be all right.” It was at that point that I looked at her and said, “Yes, it will be okay.” The next morning I went in and asked for help; I asked what was wrong with me.
I was lucky enough that the doctor I'd seen also was trained in psychology, and he sent me forward to go to Ottawa and get an assessment. From then on I've been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. That's a long story that I don't think we have time for here, but in short, that's exactly how it came about for me.
Ms. Jean Augustine: Can I ask what percentage of soldiers fall into that category?
MWO Jim Butters: I think what Chris said.... He's an infantry soldier, and stuff isn't supposed to happen to you like that. It happens in everybody. Everybody dealt with the stress in their own way. To some degree, every soldier who was involved in the Medak battle, who had to deal with the dead bodies at the end, who had to deal with the stench of death, brought something home, and they still live with it today.
Certain smells remind me of Medak. That is my biggest reminder. If you had asked my wife whether I had any stress when I came home, she would have told you a totally different story from what I would have told you at that time. It probably took me a year before I was back to myself and my wife was finally happy that she had her husband back home.
All I could think about when I came home was going and seeing my parents and my brothers and sisters. My wife and kids were sitting in Calgary asking, “What about us? We've been waiting for you to come home for six months, and now all you want to do is go visit your parents.” That was my way of dealing with what I went through.
At that time in my life I was saying, “This is it. I'm getting out of the military. I'm ready to pack it in.” But after a year or so, and dealing with it, I continue to carry on with the life and the career I chose for myself. But there are many young soldiers, especially reservists, who went home to units that don't know anything about this operation and don't know what they did overseas. They don't have any support, which we touched on earlier. I'll guarantee you there are young reservists out there today who may not be in the reserves any more, there are regular force members who may not be in the regular force any more, and they are dealing with problems on their own on civvy street.
Sgt Chris Byrne: One of the big reasons I wanted to speak here today was that if the government wants to send us into situations such as this.... We as soldiers are proud to be part of a country that's the greatest in the world. We go through these episodes where we're not acting to go and fight. These people, Captain Green and Officer Cadet Leblanc, were in a fire fight. I was in the other side, where I had to go in and look at the result. I was trained for war, but I wasn't trained for the result of war, in my mind.
If we're going to do that, if we're going to make ourselves vulnerable—and that's what it is.... We had to not only shake hands with these so-called murderers, because they weren't soldiers, for doing this ethnic cleansing, but we had to clean up the people they killed. If we're going to do that, then there has to be some kind of therapy in place when we get back. You just can't take people off the street of a war-torn country, slam them back into a civilized country such as this, and expect that everything is okay. There has to be a stand-off period; there has to be a gap.
To be honest, there is not a lot of help available for the soldier, with the budget cuts. Since I've been going through therapy, it's actually pathetic to listen to somebody in a psychology department say, “Well, we're just scraping by”, when I am really just the tip of the iceberg of what is really out there within the forces, people who are dealing with this as well.
CWO Mike McCarthy: I would like to just remind you of the recognition portion of this briefing.
The argument you made here was that we were not engaged in active war. You're going to have a hard time explaining that to the soldiers in the trenches who were inflicting casualties and taking casualties, with the stench of death all around them, for that period of time. There was stress, and the conditions were the same as in Korea or in World War II. Maybe it wasn't as long, but the atmosphere and all the ingredients were all there. You're going to have a hell of a time convincing my soldiers that wasn't a wartime scenario for them.
Again, I just have to echo that our soldiers are not happy. They're not happy with the lack of recognition for a major operation like this, and I think we have to do something.
The Chairman: Mr. Pratt.
Mr. David Pratt (Nepean—Carleton, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd just like to echo the comments made by Ms. Augustine with respect to the tremendous pride Canadians feel in our peacekeepers, and in this case peacemakers, in terms of your involvement with the particular action at the Medak pocket.
Chief Warrant Officer McCarthy, getting back to the issue of unit recognition, are you hearing anything at all through the department that would lead you to believe at this point that there exists within DND headquarters the creativity to be able to acknowledge what the 2nd Battalion has done? Do you have any level of confidence at this point that recognition is coming down the pike?
CWO Mike McCarthy: I have every confidence in the world in the commander of the army, who has put forward what I think is a marvellous recommendation, as I alluded to, of a banner for our colours so it will be seen hundreds and hundreds of years from now and remembered; and for the soldiers of the battle group, a citation pin from the Governor General of Canada to signify that this man or woman was part of this particular operation. That is more than enough.
As I said, I have read the recommendation of the chairman of the awards and honours committee to his committee, and he is trying to water it down to a department citation, and I think that is unfair. With all due respect, he either hasn't been briefed properly or he doesn't have all the facts. He hasn't seen this particular presentation, and hopefully he will change his mind if he sees some of this presentation.
But I'm not confident that action will take place. I think maybe based on his recommendations they will water it down. That's my perception of what may happen. I hope not. I hope this particular forum will be able to aid our part.
Mr. David Pratt: So do you think a little political pressure might help at this point?
CWO Mike McCarthy: I do.
Capt Tyrone Green: Individual recognition is very important, as opposed to the unit itself being singled out for a plaque that would hang on the wall. Probably over half of that actual battle group that was on the ground at the time would not have any idea that such recognition came forth. The two French companies, for example, and the 40% of reservists who are now spread across Canada would not really have any idea that such recognition came about.
That's why I think it really needs to be tied in with this individual aspect, particularly for the reservists. I think that would go a long way as well, because we pretty well had a reservist from every single regiment, or a large part of them anyway, from across Canada. We could look at it a number of ways. Recruiting them would be one way of looking at it. The international implications with the French counterparts are another.
Mr. David Pratt: The department seems to have a real difficulty getting information out about its success stories, and this is a case in point. Here we are four and a half years after the fact, and this is the first opportunity a parliamentary committee has had to hear from you. What's the problem? Where is the difficulty?
Clearly, if we're going to have a Canadian public that is fully informed with respect to what our military is doing when it's in places like Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, the Sinai, or wherever it is that our troops may be, if they aren't aware of the work being done, how can Canadians possibly support our defence policy? They have no information.
Col Jim Calvin: Sir, I think we have to be fair. We all know that for about the last five years, we've gone through some pretty troubling times. When they've thought about the military, up until this past year the focus of Canadians has been Somalia, Somalia and more Somalia.
We had a centre of introspection on one operation like that, which did not highlight the best of what we have done in the past, even though a great many soldiers over there did a great job. There was a focus on what we did wrong there, and on top of that there were some of the failings of individuals in the leadership. I don't think the climate was right that anyone really wanted to hear about the success stories.
By and large, I think the department probably wanted to sit there and talk about some of the success stories. I'm just not certain about the climate and atmosphere that existed at the time. It would have been just like shouting into the wind, frankly. I think we were in a maelstrom of bad atmosphere vis-à-vis the military for a variety of reasons, and I don't think it would have received the level of review and the level of credit that perhaps is available now.
That is a frustration for us. We were in theatre doing Medak in the same six-month period as others were beating people to death in Somalia. They all happened at the same time. We think there should have been a balance in terms of what was reported, but there's a reality to the world and it didn't happen. I think it's perhaps a more favourable climate now. As long as the true story is told, I think we should focus on the future and how to fix it, not on what the hell happened and why it wasn't fixed at the time. To be honest, I think it just wasn't going to happen back then.
The Chairman: Were you finished, David?
Mr. David Pratt: I just have one other question.
Based on your experiences there, Colonel, if the CDS came to you and said he had an operation for you that was not unlike the Medak pocket, would you volunteer for it? What would your response be, and what do you think the response of your men would be?
Col Jim Calvin: If those exact things happened, I'm a wiser man now than I was when I was training up to go over in the first place. I trained up my unit for what I saw when I went on my reconnaissance three months earlier. I saw nothing like Medak when I went on my reconnaissance. I trained my unit up for what I thought was going to be the operation. When I signed my declaration of op readiness, which every commanding officer has to do before he goes over, I stated categorically that I was very well trained to the platoon level and the company level, but that I was not ready to do a battalion-level operation.
A battalion-level operation is exactly what I described to you today. It is only through the grace of God that this operation happened in the last month of the tour, when we had five months of seasoning and getting all of our operational experience ready. That's what allowed us to handle it. I have no doubt that with the training that we did, we probably would have struggled if it had happened in the first month.
So yes, I would say absolutely that I would be prepared to go over and do it again, but I would train slightly differently before I allowed myself to be sent. It was my own decision when I said, yes, I could handle what I thought was going to happen, but I would not allow myself to train to a lower level. I would demand that we had a battalion's worth of training and that we had the time to do that.
But yes, you're damn right I'd go over again. And I'd take all these guys with me, too.
Sgt Chris Byrne: May I say something, sir?
Col Jim Calvin: Absolutely.
Sgt Chris Byrne: As one of Colonel Calvin's soldiers, I've gone through an intense therapeutic stage in the past four years. Even with all the stuff that I've gone through and the hardship that my family has gone through, as a soldier I would still go. I'm a soldier, and I always will be, because I represent Canada. That means more than anything, and I think everybody who was part of 2nd Battalion feels the exact same way. We were there not as 2nd Battalion but as members of Canada, as ambassadors. Of all the things I've gone through—and it's been very hard for me and my family—I'd still go today.
The Chairman: Mr. Benoit.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have some questions for Sergeant Byrne and also one question for the colonel.
First, Chief Warrant Officer McCarthy, you made a statement that the awards given to individuals were based on the work of subordinates. Is that a common thing? Is that the way it usually works?
CWO Mike McCarthy: Some of them, not all of them. In order for those young soldiers to perform to that level it requires good leadership, and that leadership has been recognized in an award.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Is it a common thing in the military, in Canada and other countries, for the lower ranks to be left completely out?
CWO Mike McCarthy: No. If you look at the mention in the dispatches that was up there, we had young soldiers who were getting mentioned in dispatches. We had NCOs getting bravery awards. There's a mixture there, depending on what happened.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Could you explain to me why you feel it's important that the unit receive the recognition?
CWO Mike McCarthy: Because of what I just said. It took the whole unit to make this operation happen. There were some outstanding performances by individuals and they were recognized. What's happening is that we may lose this 10, 20, or 30 years from now, and the unit must be recognized. What happened here has to go down in history, and the only way to do it is to give unit recognition. Unit recognition in a banner or a streamer stays on the colours, and recognition for those who have served is something pinned on their uniform. I think that's very important.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Having said that, why do you feel General Dallaire is unwilling to give this unit recognition?
CWO Mike McCarthy: I cannot look into the mind of General Dallaire. I'm not quite sure; maybe he just hasn't been fully briefed or doesn't have a complete understanding of exactly what happened.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Does it make any sense to you?
CWO Mike McCarthy: I'm not quite sure, but I don't think he has seen this particular briefing. I think if he sees it he may change his mind. I don't know.
Mr. Leon Benoit: If he's the chair of the committee, surely he's gotten all the information that you have.
CWO Mike McCarthy: The only thing that has taken me aback a little bit is that I was quite surprised that he made the recommendation to the committee. To me that influences the committee. I think it should have been just brought out and the committee should have been left to make their comments as opposed to having him make his recommendation, if you understand what I'm getting at here.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Based on what you have all shown us here today, if that's an accurate portrayal—and I have no reason to believe it's not—I just can't understand it, quite frankly. I can say there will be political pressure put on to carry through on this.
CWO Mike McCarthy: I thank you very much for that.
Mr. Leon Benoit: It doesn't make any sense with what's happened so far.
Colonel Calvin, I have just one quick question before I get to Sergeant Byrne. I asked you the question at least once as to whether you felt the equipment right now would be the equipment you would expect should Canadian peacekeepers end up in a situation like that again, and they could within a month or two months. It could easily happen again. I don't know if “peacekeepers” is the right term. I don't think it is the right term here.
You said we have some of the best performing soldiers, but that wasn't my question. I understand that; you made that point very clear, but my question was specifically on the equipment.
Col Jim Calvin: Sir, we use so much equipment in the army. It's not like saying do I have a good fighter jet or do I not have a good fighter jet. We use small arms weapons, which I think are as good as any in the world. The weapons we actually put in the hand of the soldier are the equal of any in the world.
But we also use vehicles. We have several different types. We have wheeled vehicles, we have track vehicles. Some of the track vehicles are getting very old. They're not older than I am, but they're certainly older than Scott is. There are also much better vehicles.
The problem is that in some cases the people we have to confront, in this case the Croats and the Serbs, have better vehicles than what we have. We were able to use ours better, but if you're asking whether there are better things on the market, absolutely. There is some better equipment that we could certainly use to better effect and it would protect the soldier better and let us do a better job.
On the other hand, we were willing to go to war with the stuff we have now as late as 1988. We were in Germany at the height of the Cold War, ready for the Soviet Union to cross the border. What we're going to peacekeep with now we were ready to go and do absolute warfare with then, with our allies, with the other artillery.
So you have to put it in perspective, I think, sir. Yes, there are some things that we can address.
There are the things the people we have to confront have now, like a 20-millimetre cannon or a 25-millimetre cannon. We have to fix that. There is a project ongoing now to fix it. We have a clothing program that will at least give us the basic clothing, but clothing doesn't really fix some of the other more expensive equipment.
Mr. Leon Benoit: I'd really like to pursue this with you more, but I do have a couple of quick questions for Sergeant Byrne, if I might, to do with post-traumatic stress and your experience with that, Sergeant. Do you feel the help you've had is as good as you could get? Do you think there's anywhere in North America—
Sgt Chris Byrne: Right now, no. In Ottawa certain things go on in NDMC. They have their own ward and that type of thing. In the rest of Canada, no. In Winnipeg, for instance, when I was posted back to Winnipeg, the therapist I was supposed to see on the civilian side wasn't taking any more patients, so I had to go to the next best thing, the social worker.
I'm not taking away from the credibility of the social worker, because in fact it kind of worked out well for me. But the fact is that I wanted the same type of help in Winnipeg as I was getting in Kingston, where I was before I left. It's like, for instance, taking your BMW to Canadian Tire to get fixed. It's service, but it's just not the same.
Mr. Leon Benoit: You could have had better help.
If I could, I'm just going to follow that up. Ms. Huffman mentioned that some wives of soldiers who were over there also suffered from this condition. Knowing that, first of all, do you feel that any members of your family needed some help, and if they did, could they get it? Was it offered to them? Could they get it through the military?
Sgt Chris Byrne: For instance, my wife is able to come and sit with the social worker if she wishes, but with post-traumatic stress disorder, you have to sit and talk one on one. You can't sit there and talk in group, and I think that's what happened with the critical incident debriefs. People were experiencing things, but they didn't want to tell their best friends because they felt it would be weak. That's exactly how I felt. It was like this: “I can't tell him because he's not going to trust me any more. He's not going to believe that I'm a strong person. It's going to make me weak.” And in actual fact, I was weak for not coming forward.
There is nothing in place for spouses as such. It's exactly like what Ms. Huffman said. They'll give you a list of people you can go to see, and that's the extent of the help. And that's unfortunate.
Mr. Leon Benoit: We as a committee have come across several people suffering from this disorder, in very sad situations. I feel it's completely improper that our military hasn't offered them better support. Spouses were saying that these people are threatening suicide on a continual basis.
Sgt Chris Byrne: You have to look at it like this. This is not a new thing. We've been at war for centuries and post-traumatic stress disorder is not a new thing.
However, it is new for the Canadian Forces. When I first came forward and did a two-week stint in Ottawa, I was told that I was sort of a pioneer of post-traumatic stress disorder. I felt that was very alarming, because so many other people have had this before. There are Korean vets and World War II vets who have had the same thing, and yet nothing has been implemented.
I think that is one of the reasons why I'm here today, to bring it forward, to educate you, to tell you that this happens to soldiers, and if it happens, there has to be something in place to help. We can't second-guess ourselves, saying we can't do that because of budgets. I feel my life is more important than a budget cut, and not only my life, but the lives of the other soldiers who are in the forces.
Mr. Leon Benoit: I completely agree with you. It just leads me to wonder.... You know, General Dallaire attended the committee last week and told us he suffers from this condition himself. I think it has to be extremely difficult for anybody to deal with. He also said his family was receiving help from the military for this condition. I think that's great. I think they should be, if they need it. But if his family is receiving this help, why on earth aren't the families of every other person who's suffering from this condition and needs that help getting it? I think that's completely unforgivable and has to change quickly.
Sgt Chris Byrne: You've got to look at what kind of help he may be receiving. Is he taking his family into a social worker's office, which I did at one point? It just didn't work; it wasn't helping the situation. Fortunately for me—and I'm probably a select case—I was able to actually sit down and work things out with my wife. I was able to actually talk with my wife. That helped tremendously. At the point when you can't, when that person is suffering just as much as you are or worse, that's when things go bad and that's when the help is needed. If that's not there, you have to look at what type of help is going to be available outside the parameters of the military.
My wife isn't in the military. She's married to me and she is always told she's married to the military, but she's not. She's a civilian. We, as soldiers, put ourselves up here. We're actually just human beings. This is our plight. We're always ahead of being human.
CWO Mike McCarthy: You raise a good point there, though. I really honestly believe our own leaders have to be educated to identify to our soldiers exactly what's available, as opposed to not knowing what is available to our people for this. We have to educate them.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Something that was encouraging that we heard from—I think it was the base commander at Petawawa—was that at least this condition is now fully recognized for what it is. This is progress, because it wasn't long ago that the Canadian military wouldn't recognize it at all.
This colonel also made a startling revelation that more American soldiers who went to Vietnam have died since they got back than died in Vietnam. He didn't say it was from suicide or drug abuse or other self-abuse that resulted from post-traumatic stress disorder, but from the way the connection was made I think he was kind of wondering about that.
Sgt Chris Byrne: Those are the results of post-traumatic stress disorder. The first thing you'll do is become abusive, either to your body with regards to drugs or alcohol, or abusive to the people around you. You push people away; you succumb to yourself. You don't want to involve yourself in society any more because you feel there's something going on inside your head. You're battling with it, but you don't want to tell anybody because they'll think you're weak. It's very hard for society to accept that this happens.
When you mention mental illness to anybody, it's like.... Maybe I shouldn't compare it to HIV, but that's the reaction that the community has. Mental illness is a bad word. HIV is a bad word. In actual fact, both are just reality. I notice that my own friends tend to push away because they're afraid to accept the way things are.
Mr. Leon Benoit: It's got to be unbelievably difficult for you. As a soldier, I think it would be much more difficult than for me, for example, should I feel that same need. It's almost—
Sgt Chris Byrne: It's like anybody with a cancer. I can't feel what that person with cancer is feeling like because I don't have it. So how do I expect him to feel for me if I have post-traumatic stress and he doesn't? He can't understand what I'm going through. He may think or he may try to understand, but he can't feel what I feel. That's just within the person himself.
Mr. Leon Benoit: One of the things that's commonly recommended, I understand, for people with post-traumatic stress disorder is to get away from the army for awhile while they deal with the problem. Have you done that? Do you feel that would have been best for you?
Sgt Chris Byrne: At the time, it was suggested that I take time and get away. I felt it would have made me worse.
What happened was that I was in a situation in Kingston where I was away from the regiment. We always consider ourselves family. I felt it important for me to get back to Winnipeg, where the 2nd battalion was, and to be in that family atmosphere for the support I needed. That really helped me. I had people within the organization who understood where I was coming from. One was the career manager. At the time that was Master Warrant Officer Butters, who I talked to in Kingston, and he arranged for things like that.
It was important that I get back to Winnipeg and it helped me a lot. But I needed to stay within the military. I felt that if I had gotten away, it would have won. That is the way I feel today. Call me stubborn, because I'm Irish and I'm a Newfoundlander, but it's not going to win. I am going to beat it. But I take it day by day and eventually it will get better.
Mr. Leon Benoit: Of course, an added difficulty, especially if you are a commander in the military and you are diagnosed with this, has to be that you could be pushed away from that area of responsibility. I think this is a chance for the military, with General Dallaire having announced that he is suffering from this.... Certainly some would question whether he is fit to command as long as he has this disorder.
I think it is a real opportunity for the military to really take this problem—and it is a problem—and deal with it. They must deal with it in every way they can possibly imagine to—
Sgt Chris Byrne: As for your statement about whether he is fit to command,there were commanders in the British war who had this as well and produced fine results. But whether or not you are fit to command depends on the severity of how you deal with it. You have to gain control of this every day. You cannot let it slip and slide so it gets to the point where your depression sets in.
Mr. Leon Benoit: I want to make it clear that I wasn't saying that you wouldn't be fit to command. I was saying that if there is doubt, then deal with the problem.
I would like to thank you very much. I appreciate the input from all of you today. I think it is admirable. The presentation was terrific and I sincerely thank you all.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Benoit. Mr. Clouthier.
Mr. Hec Clouthier (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I guess most of my questions have been asked. I realize it was a very profound experience, I might even say gut wrenching, as evidenced here today with Sergeant Byrne. It was not only for the people on the front line but, as Ms. Huffman has clearly indicated, there is a lot of concern for the people left at home.
As you know, up at Petawawa we had that “keep the home fires burning” project that enlightened people more on what is going on.
Colonel, I have two quick questions. I come from the field of business, and when I make a deal I usually like to keep it. I am just wondering about the rationale behind the general changing his mind, or did he explain that to you? I remember you said the general said you could cross through and go across the bridge or the road....
Col Jim Calvin: Sir, I have my opinions.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: He didn't tell you?
Col Jim Calvin: No, he didn't tell me. But if I was a Croat general involved in ethnic cleansing, I wouldn't want people finding a whole bunch of bodies left behind. I think the chances are that they were doing their clean-up job and making sure they destroyed all the houses before we got through. They were holding us up so they could finish the dirty business of ethnically cleansing the area.
Mr. Hec Clouthier: Second question, and this is my last question, about the ethnic cleansing: did it include women—yes, obviously—but children and the aged people also, everyone? Or do you know?
Col Jim Calvin: We never found any children, sir, but we found several people over the age of 60. What is your definition of age?
Mr. Hec Clouthier: That's fine. Thank you very much.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, colleagues. I had a few questions also but they were answered. I have one last question for Ms. Huffman.
With regard to the two soldiers who were killed in Bosnia, how was the news announced to their families? Was it a letter they received, or was it the base commander who went over to announce it? How was it done?
Ms. Elise Huffman: It was the padre and the adjutant and, in those two particular cases, me. That is part of their role, once hearing that information from overseas. Then there's a complete blackout of communications with everybody else until the family members have been contacted by the rear party, in particular the adjutant and the chaplains. They go in and speak with the family. I know that the CO followed up with letters but he—
Col Jim Calvin: Sir, you have to understand that as soon as there's a major event, either a death, injury or an activity in the theatre, we shut down all the phone lines. As the commanding officer, I would sever all communications until we found out who was injured, what the truth of the situation was, and we would have the adjutant phone back to the major commanding our rear party and give him the exact details of the information.
He would contact the padre and anyone else he felt should be involved in telling the spouse back home, and we wouldn't open up the phone lines again until the spouse was told by the appropriate people. This is done so that the family wouldn't get it on CNN, hopefully, or from a friend, or whatever. We have some very set procedures there to make sure that in the case of a death there would be proper notification of the next of kin.
The Chairman: In conclusion, I want to thank you so much for your presentations this afternoon.
If there are no other questions or comments, I'll call this meeting to a close.
The meeting is adjourned.