By Micaal Ahmed
On June 21, 2017 Esprit de Corps journalist Micaal Ahmed met with Lieutenant-General Paul Wynnyk, Commander of the Canadian Army, for an in-depth interview on the current challenges facing the Canadian Army and plans for the future. The text below has been edited for length and clarity.
Esprit de Corps: General, first of all, allow me to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with Esprit de Corps today. It is most appreciated. You have been the commander of Canada’s Army for nearly a full year now, and this has been a period of great transition for the Canadian Armed Forces. What would you say have been your three greatest challenges to date?
LGen Paul Wynnyk: Well, I think the challenges are common to any Army Commander. There is one constant challenge, and that’s making sure that our troops are prepared for operations both at home and overseas. As a force generator, that’s probably the most important thing that we do here in the Army — to make sure that our troops are well-trained, well-led and well-equipped for operations.
I would say that what’s unique about last year is the work we’ve done on preparing for the release of the new Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged. The last policy we had was in 2008, so it’s not something that comes up on every Army Commander’s watch. I sit on the Policy Committee, and in fact I’m the only service commander that sits. So, that was challenging in a very good way. We had the opportunity to shape the next 20 years, which is a privilege most Army Commanders don’t experience.
The third challenge … [speaking of Operation HONOUR, which addresses inappropriate sexual behaviour in the Canadian Armed Forces] is ensuring that every member of the Canadian Army understands the importance of respect for others. We constantly place emphasis on treating our people right. Sexual misconduct is but one aspect of treating our people right and acting ethically. In fact, I’m not sure I would call it a challenge, but the way we do business. Obviously, there are issues that come up from time to time, and we deal with them, but I think the emphasis that [Chief of the Defence Staff] General Vance has placed on this issue and the buy-in that we have from the entire leadership across the Canadian Armed Forces, is paying dividends.
Esprit de Corps: Following up on that theme, in what area would you feel you have accomplished the most positive change to date?
LGen Paul Wynnyk: I wouldn’t say that I have personally accomplished anything. I mean, I work here with a fantastic Army team. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last year on strengthening the Army Reserve — that has been a big priority. And, as you probably read in the new Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged, this is the first Defence Policy that has a separate section dedicated to the Reserves. We are also making progress in actually devolving a number of responsibilities and authorities right down to the unit level.
A good example I’ll use is recruiting for the Army Reserve. Prior to the first of April, recruiting was centrally controlled through the Chief of Military Personnel, and it was a rather lengthy process. The average time to get into the Army Reserve, and I suspect it was the same for the other Services, was about six to seven months. As you can well imagine, for most of our younger people who want to join — 17, 18, 19 years old — most of them are not willing to wait around for that length of time and seek employment elsewhere.
So what we’ve done is we’ve transferred the authorities and responsibilities from the Chief of Military Personnel and we’ve pushed it right back down to the unit level. So now a young person, in their last year of high school or first year of university, can actually walk into a local armoury, conduct a number of tests — there’s the basic physical fitness test, we do a medical screening, we do a basic criminal background check — and they can be enrolled in as little as two weeks. We’ve actually proven that concept. From my point of view, that’s huge because that should be able to increase the strength of a number of our units. We’re competing for young Canadians with skills; we’re an employer. We need to get people in, and a seven-month waiting period just hasn’t done it. So I’m confident this initiative will help maintain and increase the strength of the Army Reserve.
And there are more significant initiatives in the Defence Policy. You may have noticed that one of the more significant changes is guaranteed summer employment for the first four years of reserve service. That, from my point of view, greatly incentivizes reserve service. For example, if you’re a university student, you get a break May-June-July-August. Well, if you’re a member in good standing in a Reserve unit, you’ve got guaranteed employment. You can essentially pay your way through school with your reserve service alone.
The other thing that I’m very proud of is all the work that was done in setting up the enhanced Forward Presence mission for our battle group in Latvia. This is essentially breaking new ground. We haven’t had troops permanently assigned to Europe since the end of the Cold War — we pulled out in the early 1990s — so there’s not a lot of memory here about what’s involved in stationing and sustaining troops in Europe. And, starting next year, we will have a national command element in Europe — up to about 30 folks who will be permanently posted to the Riga [Latvia] area with their families. These are three-year postings, in addition to our battle group rotating through on a six-month basis.
So those are but two examples of recent Army achievements. Now these are not things I have accomplished; these are things that the Army as a whole has accomplished, and I’m just privileged to lead.
Esprit de Corps: In regards to Canada’s enhanced Forward Presence, many have questioned whether this is an unnecessary provocation of Russia given that, as a NATO member, Latvia is protected under Article 5 of NATO’s charter, which guarantees collective defence to all member states. In your opinion, does the deterrent factor in this case outweigh the risk of provocation?
LGen Paul Wynnyk: Absolutely. If anybody is provocative, it’s been Russia. I mean, they invaded a sovereign state — they invaded Ukraine. I’m a big believer that deterrence is necessary in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltics. And, once again, the Baltic states are NATO members and requested our presence in their countries — they all have small militaries — so I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do.
Esprit de Corps: The Liberal government recently released a Defence Policy review. What were your initial reactions to the changes and what will this mean for the Army in particular?
LGen Paul Wynnyk: If you look at this policy the way it’s actually structured, people come first. I think this sends a powerful statement in itself. It doesn’t apply just to the Canadian Army; it applies to the Canadian Armed Forces. But it really speaks to, first of all, addressing our most important asset, our most precious asset, which is our personnel. Making sure that we have the institutions in place, the services in place, to support not only our servicemen and servicewomen, but also their families.
A new transition unit will be set up to make sure that, as people transition out of the Canadian Armed Forces that everything is done properly. There will be no waiting for pensions and medical issues including a solid transition of files to Veterans Affairs will be done before servicemen and servicewomen are released. So I think that’s very positive, not only for the Army but for the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.
There are a number of explicit statements about equipment purchases, as we go forward, that we didn’t have in the past. Plus, this Defence Policy has been actually costed for the future. I’ll give you a couple of examples: logistics vehicles, trucks — something that we’ve struggled with a little recently — and ground-based air and munitions defence, which is a capability deficiency that we have in the Canadian Army. All is now above the funding line.
Esprit de Corps: One of the recommendations made in the Defence Policy review is to increase the Reserve Force. Given that the current manning levels in the Reserves are below authorized strength, how do you plan to boost recruitment and retention in the future?
LGen Paul Wynnyk: In the Defence Policy, you’ll see that there’s an explicit statement to increase the size of the regular Canadian Armed Forces by 3,500 and the Reserves by about 1,500. Most of the 3,500 will go into what we call joint enablers — intelligence, cyber — so not necessarily service-specific. And of the 1,500 Reserve positions, approximately 900 will come to the Army Reserves as we go forward.
Yes, we are below manning levels in some critical trades. Two that really come to mind for me are some of our signals trades and mechanics. There’s just, quite frankly, a lot of demand in the civilian world for technological trades, so we need to produce more signalers — those who work with radios, computers, really on that technological edge. We also need more maintainers — those who fix vehicles, weapons and equipment. Once again, these skills are in high demand in the civilian world. But as technology becomes more sophisticated, our vehicles, our weapons become more and more sophisticated as well, which means the training time to get somebody up to the qualified level takes longer and longer.
So, getting back to the maintainers, I think we’ve actually recruited a sufficient number, but we don’t have a sufficient number of trained maintainers right now. It takes almost two, sometimes three years to get them to the level that we require.
Esprit de Corps: There is currently an emphasis on the Canadian Armed Forces being fully interoperable among the branches, and with select allied militaries. Is there a blueprint in place for the Canadian Army to achieve this goal?
LGen Paul Wynnyk: Absolutely. In fact, there are a number of organizations; there’s an organization called ABCA Armies — the American British Canadian Australian and New Zealand Armies’ Program, which also includes the U.S. Marine Corps, where we get together very frequently and discuss interoperability issues, equipment capabilities, and the conduct of exercises where we can develop interoperability and find out where the problems are, and address them as we go forward. And that has been long-standing.
We work with traditional allies there and, as you realize, some of those allies — the U.S. and the U.K. in particular — are part of NATO, so a lot of that interoperability is fungible — it can move backwards and forwards between alliances. So, I would say that we build around our core alliances. And many of the NATO standards are based on some of the work that’s done in ABCA. Interoperability is a key aspect of our profession. Because, as we deploy on operations — historically, even the very first expeditionary operation that Canada did was in 1884 as part of the Nile Expedition and we didn’t do it alone, we worked with the British— every deployment we’ve ever done has been in concert with our allies. Interoperability is fundamental.
Esprit de Corps: Thank you. And now for a few rapid-fire questions:
Who was your greatest influence while growing up? My dad. He was a great dad. He was a Second World War veteran, the commanding officer of my army cadet corps and my high school principal. It was hard to escape him!
Who would you consider to be a hero? It’s not one but many – the spouses and partners who support our men and women in uniform.
What was your first job? I worked in a beer bottle depot, loading beer bottles onto trucks.
What do you consider a ‘guilty pleasure’? Soft ice cream and scotch — but never together.
When was the last time you cried? It was at Christmas because my wife and I were laughing so hard. I can’t remember what it was about.
What is your favourite fast food outlet? A&W. I’m a teen burger guy.
What is your favourite sports team? The Edmonton Eskimos.
Favourite vacation spot? Anywhere near a trout stream in the Rocky Mountains.
Worst memory from basic officer training? I don’t remember basic officer training. That was 35 years ago. [laughs] I love my job. I have loved every aspect of this career. If you asked me for any bad memories, in the military I’d be hard pressed to come up with something.
Best day of your career (so far)? I would say, anytime the Army Sergeant Major and I can get out of the office and spend time with soldiers.