Our Military Men and Women deserve better

The war in Afghanistan is winding down, all of NATO and ISAF members are starting to bring their men and women home. This means that war budgets are being reduced and military’s around the world are taking stock of what is good, what needs to stay and what needs to go. Add onto this that the world has been plunged into the largest recession since the 1929 great depression. This means that countries are looking to cut their budgets and the military is just one place that they can do that. Canada is one of those countries who have been cutting their military budget in order to bring their national budget into line. I personally believe that a balanced budget is one of the most important thing a government can do but the way that this government has done it has been terrible to watch. Men and women who have sacrificed their time, spent their blood, tears and sweat to protect this country and they are being left to the wolves. Soldier, sailors and airmen who have been forced to use antiquated equipment, sent to war without the proper uniforms and then when they come home left to suffer on their own. To place this blame entirely on the conservative government would be wrong of me, the previous Liberal government did little to provide for our men and women. The problem I have now is how this government made a propaganda machine out of the military when it served their purpose but are now shoving them into the dirt only a few years later. It really starts with the conservative governments $490 billion dollar (20 years) plan to retrofit the military and make it one of the best equip in the world. Everything from buying new helicopters, replacing ships, new planes and new tanks to improving the daily lives of the average serviceman. This plan released in 2008 is basically a shadow of itself and is nothing more then a pile of papers at this time. While I believe that this should have been delayed in order to help deal with the deficit the plan gets worse with each news conference.

The Aurora aircraft was one of the best surveillance planes developed and excelled at its role. It was designed to hunt down soviet submarines around Canada’s territorial waters before they could launch their ICBM missiles into North America. The plane is a staple of the Canadian Airforce and while aging does its job effectively. One of the purchases that was set out in the Canada First Defence Strategy was a new surveillance plane to bring us into the future and serve the forces for the next 30-40 years. It was announced in the 2014 budget that these planes wouldn’t see a retirement date in the near future but instead would see a retrofit to the tune of $2 billion dollars. This retrofit would extend the lives of the planes by 10 years and see them in service till 2030 at which time they will be almost 50 years old. This will be the second retrofit on the planes, the first coming in 1999 at a cost of 1.6 billion dollars which originally pushed back the end of life deadline to 2020. This investment means that we will be spending $200 million a year to keep these planes operational but only kicks the can down the road in terms of replacing the planes. These planes will be almost double the age of many of the pilots who fly them and will only increase in down time, cost and maintenance as they age. Breaking the cost of this purchase into a couple of years would have continued to allow the government to purchase the planes and meet the retirement deadlines for the planes by 2020. The Airforce said that it was there decision to retrofit the planes rather then purchase new ones. Covering up for the government is just sad but I guess that’s to be expected when its bad press and not good press.

There are a couple major black eyes for the Canadian Navy that continue to pop their heads up almost monthly in Canadian newspapers. The submarines that are the laughing stock of the Navy and the supply ships so old that some would wonder if they date back to World War 1. In all seriousness the supply ships aren’t that old but they are old and in desperate need for repair. These ships are closing in on the 50 year range; they no longer are adequate for the needs of the navy today or into the future. The current government and the previous Liberal government have all struggled to find the right design to use and find a pricing point that is fair to the taxpayers dollar. While the current government is moving ahead with its plan to purchase new ships it has not come without major headaches, design issues and bad press. The original plan is to purchase 3 ships for a cost of $2.9 billion that would be produced in Canada. The plan faltered when the tenders came way in over budget and the government cancelled the plan. They restarted the plan to purchase new supply ships but reduced the specifications in order to cut the cost and reduced the number of ships from 3 to 2. While these delays and changes may have reduced the price of the ships it left the Canadian Navy is a precarious position. It would only have 2 ships to resupply either coast at one time and there wouldn’t be any ship to replace it while the damaged ship was being repaired. This would leave the Canadian Navy completely reliant on other nations but would also impair the ability of the Navy to undertake operations and exercises. So the government which viewed the original tenders to be overpriced mumbo jumbo is now going to risk the Canadian Navy’s ability to operate and buy them ships that don’t meet their needs. At this point why are we even going to spend this money? Its a bigger waste of Canadian taxpayers dollars then if the original budget was to go over a little bit. Add onto this fact that the navy will likely be without a supply fleet for a number of years as the current ships are beyond their operating lifespan and you have yourself a major issue.

The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau thought that it would be a good idea to purchase for the Canadian Navy 4 submarines from Britain. Seems reasonable to purchase equipment from another friendly country for use in your own military. Save yourself some money, get the machines right away and push them into service while you look at something newer in the medium term projections. The one issue was that these submarines were used, abused, mothballed, left to rot and then sold to the Canadian Navy. These ships were in such poor condition that on the maiden voyage under the Royal Canadian Navy banner one of the submarines caught fire and killed a Canadian sailor. Turns out that the wiring wasn’t well enough protected and it caught fire when a bit of salt water got inside the submarine. This tragedy easily could have been avoided and this sailor would be alive had someone had the balls to say no to the crap they were buying from Britain. HMCS Chicoutimi was out of service for 10 years, the retrofit cost $125 million dollars and it can’t dive in the deep parts of the ocean. It will have to stay close to home in order to avoid going down and not coming up. What kind of navy has a submarine fleet that your concerned it wont resurface after its dived. Add onto this the fact that the Navy promoted recently that their subs were now able to fire torpedoes. Like seriously, what were they doing beforehand that your excited they can finally do the job they were purchased to do. It only took the Navy and its contractors around 12 years to do since they were purchased in 1999. The original cost of the purchase was $750 million dollars and about 150 million was spent on reactivating and making these submarines ready for life in the Canadian north. We have easily spent close to 1.5 billion dollars on submarines that are rust buckets, don’t meet the operational needs of the Canadian Navy and that are simply embarrassing. Its time for the government to stop shelling good money on a bad decision, its time to put these ships to rest and make a decision on new ships. Canada could look at purchasing either Virginia Class attack submarines from the US for $1.8 -2 Billion per year or look to the British Astute submarines or French Barricuda ($1.45 Billion) as replacements. While neither will be cheap they will give the Canadian Navy the operation capacity it needs to conduct its missions properly. Give the men and women who serve our country the proper equipment they need to do the job.

The Canadian Military is adaptable, its used to be handed old equipment and then be told make it work for the next 20 years. The one thing we can’t and should not accept is the poor conditions that the military puts its men/women and families into. Military bases with facilities straight out of the 50’s which are inefficient, cold, old and worn out. The government and the military knows that this is a major issue but has done little to fix these issues. One has to wonder why these issues are not addressed, is it simply because it is not glamorous enough to be press worthy. The 2008 Canada First Defense strategy says that the government will increase spending on base infrastructure to around 100 million dollars a year over the 20 year life of the plan. With so little being spent on replacing or renewing what the military already has one has to wonder how much they are behind. 100 million dollars a year is 1/4 of the cost of the new courthouse here in Thunder Bay and they are spending just that on hundreds of bases/reserve units across the country. Something here can’t be right. Such little money spent on providing a shelter, running water, sewers, etc for our men and women yet they are spending 1 billion dollars on a new special forces headquarters. Add to that $1 billion the $2 billion that the Department of National Defense spends on consultants every year and its begs to question really where the money is going. I’m truly not against either of these purchases, anti-terrorism activities are the future of modern warfare and having information behind making a decision is smart. It just kills me to see stories like this of Cpl. Darenn Tremblay busking for extra money because the rent continues to increase at market rates while wages are stagnant. No one would pay $1,500-$2,000 a room for a 50-60 year old house that needs nothing more then a wrecking ball and a good rebuild. Why are our men and women who are serving this country pushed into such terrible conditions. If you are going to charge that kind of money then provide them with a proper place to class their own and give them what they need to be comfortable. These people are going to potentially give up their lives to protect everyone in this country.

The biggest issue I have with the conservative government and their lack of action on the military front is the apparent lack of services for men and women suffering from PTSD and other ailments. The government and the military leadership had to know that this was something that would be on the rise after the war and were completely unprepared for this. I don’t want to bring the doctors/ nurses and psychologists who are working there asses off to help these people. This is clearly a failure of the decision makers in the DND and the government. To have been so unprepared to help treat these men and women is simply astounding and embarrassing. We need to provide these injured warriors with the tools they need to return to as much of a normal life as is humanly possible. We need to reduce the suicides being committed by members of the military and give them the help they need before this is an option. 9 suicides between November and February with many of the members having served in Afghanistan. This number is too high and these are all preventable with the proper consoling and treatment options. We need to do better on this topic for all the members of the Canadian Forces whether it be better recognition training or more money for better services. The status quo is not working and cannot be considered acceptable and this fact is also a nationwide epidemic. We are failing each other and we need the government to step up the the plate and do its job and fulfill its responsibility.

This blog post was meant to provide a forum for my thoughts on the state of the government/ the military and the Canadian Forces. This was meant to push the government to fulfill its promises and give the men and women serving this country what they need to do their jobs. I totally understand if it takes a little longer due to the recession but falling back on promises is something that can’t happen when it comes to life or death situations like the military. We need to stand with our soldier on the battlefield and at home and we need to do all we can for them. I personally want to serve my country and serve in the military which is why I take this so deeply to heart. If one day this blog post stops me from getting into the forces because they don’t like the message I will be ok with it. The people need to know what the government is doing and understand its far reaching effects. There is so much more that I could have posted on the failure of this government to the military men and women. You either support the military 100% or not but stop using them as pawns when the time is suits you. If you make a decision stand with it and accept the praise and the failure.

You can read the Canada First Defense Strategy here: http://www.forces.gc.ca/assets/FORCES_Internet/docs/en/about/CFDS-SDCD-eng.pdf

References:

Feds shelve plans to buy new military patrol airplanes

Canada’s C$ 2.9B “Joint Support Ship” Project, Take 3

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/rebuilt-hmcs-chicoutimi-submarine-to-return-to-navy-1.2486251
http://www.canadianperiscope.ca/#!victoria-class/cvpc
http://www.naval-technology.com/features/featureastute-arihant-ohio-worlds-top-nuclear-submarines/
After Cold Lake soldier caught busking to make ends meet, viability of military pay in booming 'little Fort McMurray' called into question
http://www.torontosun.com/2014/02/12/another-canadian-soldier-dead-in-apparent-suicide-2

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