By Scott Taylor
Over the past couple of weeks news has continued to leak out of the Department of National Defence about a party aboard a military flight that spiralled horribly out of control. First it was the announcement of a sexual assault charge against former NHL hockey player Dave (Tiger) Williams, which led to a torrent of tales depicting drunken debauchery aboard an RCAF Airbus last December.
Two participants reputedly urinated themselves while a rock band played an impromptu concert in the aisles. Military eyewitnesses aboard the flight in question told media that some of the VIP civilian passengers had boarded the plane in a state of extreme intoxication; one individual bringing his own 40 ounce bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label Scotch.
Videos posted to Facebook show Toronto based rockers, the Carpet Frogs belting out songs through speakers set up inside the cabin of the plane while a dozen or so intoxicated onlookers dance clumsily to the beat.
Faced with this mountain of evidence, DND at first tried to downplay the ‘incident’ by reminding reporters that commercial airlines serve alcohol on long international flights. Of course everyone who has ever flown overseas knows that you cannot board a plane drunk, you cannot consume your own 40oz bottle of Scotch, and you cannot set up a guitar amp and strobe lights in the aisle of the plane.
By Friday February 23, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance issued a statement regarding the incident, wherein he temporarily suspended these VIP morale boosting flights. He noted that in future, if resumed, such junkets would be booze free.
However, later that same day Vance tried to defend the party plane antics. He told reporters that such VIP trips were a boost to the morale of our brave frontline soldiers.
Addressing some of the specific antics of that incident, Vance claimed: “The band playing in the back of the plane, that’s some team building for people who have never met soldiers before and are going into maybe a dangerous place. It’s not Mardi Gras. It’s not a party. It’s a mission.” Wow.
Unfortunately none of the reporters in that particular scrum had the bottle to question Vance further on this issue.
So, in there interest of setting the record straight, allow me to punch a few holes in Vance’s assertion. First of all, on this particular flight the party bunch was flying to Athens, Greece, where they were to perform aboard the HMCS Charlottetown. They were not flying into a hot landing zone in Vietnam.
The second leg of the trip was to Riga, Latvia, which, although our troops are deployed there to prevent Russian aggression, has not heard a shot fired since World War II ended in 1945.
As for not previously having met soldiers, the Carpet Frogs have done at least three of these junkets before – two of them to Kandahar.
Tiger Williams and NHL Calgary Flames manager Brian Burke were aboard for their fourteenth such foray to raise morale.
It may not have been Mardi Gras, but Vance is way out of line trying to portray this as a ‘mission’. When troops fly in and out of actual combat missions aboard military aircraft they are not allowed to drink, let alone get drunk, urinate themselves and conduct rock concerts.
As for boosting morale, I’m sure that Canadian soldiers deployed are always happy to see visitors from home. However, given that the Carpet Frogs play cover songs from the 1960’s and 70’s one has to wonder how twenty-something year old sailors and soldiers even relate to them. These were the tunes that their grandparents listened to on vinyl records.
Tiger Williams last-played in the NHL in 1988, or in other words five years before the average year service member was even born.
If the Canadian Armed Forces really wants to boost morale, they will send over entertainers from the same generation as the frontline troops, not the old rockers and hockey players of the generals’ era.
For the record, Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Alain Parent and Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer Kevin West were both aboard the party plane, and neither stepped in to stop the shenanigans. That can’t be good for morale.