Monday, October 02, 2006

When times are tough and friends are few

The infantry's the place for you.

Back in the day, when the Earth was somewhat flatter, I wandered into a recruiting office with the single-minded purpose of joining the navy. Although Unification, an act for which Paul Helleyer deserves to be flogged, had not yet been enacted, recruiting offices had been combined. While I automatically went to the desk and spoke to the petty officer in the naval uniform, a Canadian Guards sergeant and an RCAF corporal both offered information on their respective services.

It mattered little to me. I was joining the RCN or nothing. It's not that I didn't like the army, or thought that it was a lesser service, it was simply a matter of preference for me. (The fact that no-so-many years later I would be carrying a British L1A1 SLR, a bergen and 58 Pattern webbing, in a role very similar to that described by the Guards sergeant is somewhat irrelevant. Technically, I still belonged to a navy.)

In subsequent years I encountered many people who had entered the armed forces after Unification and was surprized to hear that, in the early 1970s, recruits into any service and any trade encountered some serious pressure to become infantrymen. In later years, there would be a program (LOTRP) which saw recruits enter one of the combat arms trades for a period of three years with a guarantee to reassign and retrain each such program participant in a non-combat arms trade.

The overwhelming majority of these participants came from the infantry - with good reason. Arguably, the job of an infantry soldier is the toughest, dirtiest, most soul-wrenching and often the most personally dangerous job in almost any armed forces. An infantry soldier's primary job is to close with and destroy the enemy. It goes without saying that the enemy is intent on doing exactly the same thing.

Canadian infantry soldiers are not the cannon-fodder of wars long-past. They are well-trained, specialized and highly skilled. And, it takes a special kind of person to do the job.

It was with the knowledge of some of the history of the challenges in recruiting infantry soldiers that I read this from Renata D'Aliesio. What started out as an article describing a decision to increase the armour on the LAV III revealed a plan by the Canadian Forces to take people in the recruit training stream in various occupations and redirect them to the infantry. Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier:

"Back home in the army, across the Canadian Forces, we are going to be re-rolling a whole bunch of folks in the training pipeline now into the infantry," Hillier told the troops. "They might be signed up to be an armoured soldier or an artillery man or woman, but for the next two years or so we are going to turn them into infantry men or women."
Isn't THAT special!

It puts a whole new spin on the definition of "volunteer". While Hillier's statement appears to suggest that it will be combat arms soldiers from armour or artillery redirected to the infantry, the "across the Canadian Forces" reference indicates that it may be conducted with a wider sweep.

It also has the potential of turning recruiters into liars.

This is desperation which needs to be watched.

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