Soldiers, families pay price for serving Canada
Date: Monday, September 30 2002
Topic: International News
Monday, September 30, 2002
Canadian soldiers are paying the price of too many overseas rotations but they will line up to fight a war in Iraq or elsewhere, says the man who commanded Canada's first combat mission in 50 years.
"There's no doubt in my mind if the second battle in this campaign against terrorism arises -- as I'm sure it will somewhere, sometime -- that we will have troops standing shoulder to shoulder saying goodbye to their families and lining up to do it," says Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran.
Stogran, who led Canada's 850-member battalion for six months in Afghanistan, said the military is rife with stress and marriage breakup, yet its soldiers are more than willing to take on tough assignments.
"The strange irony is if it's really routine, humdrum like Bosnia or an exercise, the troops aren't interested in it," he said.
But in the Afghanistan campaign "there was a perceived risk, an element of danger . . . and troops were crawling over themselves ... to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda."
However, said Stogran, 44, such dedication and enthusiasm comes at a cost in a country where military spending was cut 25 per cent through the 1990s.
The federal government has begun restoring some of that money, but Stogran and others say it's nowhere near enough to meet military demands. The force, 80,000-strong in 1992, is by some estimates down to 52,000.
Taking into account logistical support at home, at bases across the country and headquarters in Ottawa, Alain Pellerin of the Conference of Defence Associations puts the deployable force at about 22,000.
The effective army force is more like 9,000, Pellerin said.
"There's no doubt the level of stress on the family is very high," he said. "They keep saying the policy is a year between deployments but there's a gap between the rhetoric and the reality."
Soldiers have been rotating through the Balkans and other areas of conflict at an exhausting pace.
"We're just too self-absorbed as Canadians, thinking that we get something for nothing," said Stogran, 44. "We don't.
"Yes, we're international peacekeepers, but we do it at a cost and the cost is in terms of human sacrifice -- civilians and military. Canadians have to wake up and smell the coffee."
Stogran, who recently took a staff job at defence headquarters in Ottawa, said there is an "inordinate amount" of stress on military marriages right now.
"There's a whole bunch of kids who are going fatherless and motherless time and time again to satisfy our level of commitment to the international community," he said.
"That's something you don't often see written up in the media, it's not on any accountant's ledger when you're looking at budgets and deficits and things like that. The sad fact of the matter is, it's taking its toll in terms of our personnel. We need more money and we need more troops."
Defence Minister John McCallum said last week that while he wants more money he doesn't know what to expect from the throne speech Monday or from the next federal budget, expected in February.
"The Canadian Forces are stretched," said McCallum. "Clearly, we have sustainability problems. So I will be asking for more resources. There's no guarantee I'll get them."
Canada may, over time, scale back its peacekeeping commitment in the Balkans, he said.
Stogran, whose job is in procurement -- specifically, buying equipment for soldiers -- said Canada's international commitments compel it to become involved in conflicts like the war on terrorism. "This fight in Afghanistan was not our fight," he said. "It was Canada's fight. It wasn't sending troops over to sort out somebody else's problem. It was fighting a threat to our society and our way of life.
"Canadians are up for that. It was an overwhelming success at every level and we've got to maintain that momentum. At our peril we will let the impact of Sept. 11 dissipate."
The only way to curb terrorism's spread is to attack it "at its source," he said.
And come what may, Canadians will be lining up to help in that fight.
© Copyright 2002 Edmonton Journal