The recent Arbour report took aim at the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and its inability to reform itself. The report gave a special shout-out to the military colleges, questioning their need moving forward. The crisis of identity that the military and these educational institutions are facing needs to be recognized as a final warning.
It is no wonder that the military which is essentially irrelevant to the vast majority of Canadians can so often find itself at the mercy of an angry and disappointed public and government. Insular, out of touch with reality, woefully behind the times, rigid, and defensive all describe the past and present state of the Forces. No one really cares about the men and women in uniform except when there is a crisis, an ice storm that needs cleaning up, stranded boaters who need saving or wars that need to be won and a world that needs saving.
It is clear that careers spent inside the military establishment don’t open the perspectives to keep those men and women who serve conscious of how society is evolving and the world around them is changing. Professional aircrew, soldiers, sailors need to focus on developing their craft, the art of warfare, with full time dedication to being a professional fighting force. With that mindset, they do not have time to explore and experience what the civilian world is living.
Yet someone has to help the Canadian Armed Forces keep abreast of the values that Canadians respect and demand. How does the Forces, which is not large by any standard, fall so short when it comes to managing sexual harassment, intolerable behavior and fail to enforce legitimate consequences for misdeeds? What are the senior ranks doing to open the blinders and see the bigger country, that the landscape is changing and driving change?
Well, that answer is simple…they aren’t.
I want warriors to fight with me in combat, not cowards.
I commanded the CF-18 force that fought over Kosovo and Serbia in the spring of 1999 as part of NATO’s Operation Allied Force. In the 3 months of combat, I witnessed the performance of virtually every combat-ready fighter pilot in the Canadian Air Force. I watched fighter pilots become warriors. In combat, we have to rely on one another, have absolute trust in the men and women we fight next to. We need to know they have the courage to execute the mission, to support fellow warriors and to win. Courage in combat is not found in sexual predators. The cowardice that allows them to prey on others and abuse power for sexual gain does not translate into the courage I seek in the men and women to take into combat. They don’t have the strength of character to lead and execute under fire. I can’t trust them. They are cowards when it comes to battle.
Military Colleges sow the seed for the warriors we need to win in combat.
The Honorable Madame Arbour focused a recommendation on the Royal Military College (RMC) / College Militaire Royale (CMR) system calling for a review of the benefits, disadvantages and costs of continuing to educate cadets at the two military colleges. Civilian academic institutions across Canada as well as the military colleges feed men and women into the officer ranks. Yet, the military college (Mil Col) system consistently provides more officers than any other institution. While so many universities have extraordinary academic programs, none have the explicit task of molding men and women into soldiers. The Mil Col system focuses on the profession of arms, not making young lawyers, doctors, or engineers. Men and women graduate from Mil Col to serve their country, not just enter the work force, to learn and master their profession, and are ultimately expected to lead men and women into combat.
The military colleges have always been behind the times, entrenched in generations of traditions and ways that don’t often keep up with society’s evolving norms. Some of those traditions help uphold the truths of high ideals like duty, honor and trust. The system is rigid, imposing discipline from Day 1 that would never be experienced at a civilian university.
Do Mil Col graduates make the best pilots, soldiers, or sailors? I can’t speak outside of my lane but within the world of fighter pilots, during my 23 years of service and 40 years of flying fighter jets, none of the top 5 pilots that I have known came from the Mil Col system. So, Mil Cols might not produce the best airmen, soldiers or sailors but they certainly produce more of the men and women who will command those talented airmen, soldiers and sailors. RMC grads excel at other areas in their careers, rising disproportionally to higher rank within the Forces. Looking across the leadership spectrum, at all officer’s rank levels, Mil Col graduates make up a critical percentage of the men and women we entrust to protect our ideals, safeguard our borders and way of life, and send off to foreign lands to fight evil.
Does the insular thinking within the Mil Col system, need to be revamped? No…it needs to be blown up…pull the pin from a grenade and throw it in the middle of the fray. The system needs to be rid of dinosaur-thinking where institutionally, predators are protected more than their victims and consequences are not truly enforced with punishments that will end the intolerable behavior inside those walls.
The absolute intolerance of sexual misconduct starts at the beginning. If you don’t teach the officer cadets these absolutes at the earliest stages of their careers, you miss a crucial chance to influence the entire officer corps and then the men and women they will lead moving forward. Mil Cols are closed institutions where it is remarkably easy to root out the old ways and ram change down the throats of everyone in the system.
Read the Room
In typical military fashion, the alumni of the Mil Cols have responded as a community by circling the wagons, entering self-protection mode, instead of reaching out to be part of the solution vice reinforcing the problem.
Please stop the infantile alumni defensiveness of posting RMC graduate photos on LinkedIn profiles, with the ex-cadets wearing their scarlet uniforms. This is not the time for Bruce Springsteen “Glory Days” reminiscing. Read the room. Canadians are calling for change. Adapt quickly or RMC / CMR may very well find themselves shut down, just like the Airborne Regiment years ago. And to the old-school loyalists who think that the Mil Col systems can never be ended…look around. Cancel culture exists. Woke exists. If the RMC / CMR ex-cadets want to help their colleges to survive, they would better serve those institutions by helping offer what measures can be taken to educate everyone inside those walls on how to crush the sexually inappropriate behavior and impose measures to cement permanent change. Ex-cadets need to focus their energies on ensuring that RMC-knowledgeable experts are on any official review of RMC / CMR. I watch so many veterans hang on to their military roots long after they retire, afraid to venture out into the real world. They want the military to remain as it was when they served and fail to see how the Armed Forces needs to change with society.
RMC / CMR is the best place to institute fundamental change.
There are so many rules already in place for Mil Col students preventing them from experiencing liberties that civilian universities students enjoy. Of all the places to introduce values to protect men and women from sexual exploitation, unacceptable behavior and to change the entire military culture moving forward, there is no better place than the military colleges. This next step is not impossible to achieve.
Should the CAF and Canadian population give up on RMC / CMR? The invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s ambitions to reclaim a great Russian empire have taught us all that evil is alive in this world. Canada needs men and women to lead, fight and defeat that evil.
You don’t breed the profession of arms in a Frat house at Queens University or with “Animal House” parties in dorm rooms at McGill. We give amazing educations to young engineering students at U of T and Waterloo. And across the land, we provide unmatched learning opportunities for higher education to all walks of life. But none of those institutions plant the seed and begin the journey of creating leaders and warriors. This is only accomplished on the grounds of RMC / CMR. Until the world is rid of evil forever, Canada will need to graduate men and women from military colleges to become those leaders and warriors.
The tiny Canadian Armed Forces, dwarfed by our American neighbors, is often too small to get out its own way, too late to change, adapt and mobilize.
Take this unwanted scrutiny as an opportunity not a witch hunt. Clean house, institute wholesale change of behavior, cull the minority offenders who have put the entire system at risk and plant the seeds to ensure that is this done, once and for all.
Remember, if you don’t like change, you will like becoming irrelevant even less.