ON TARGET: THE DEMISE OF SOLDIERING IN CANADA?
When the Government of Canada decided to do away with the penny about a decade ago, it also did away with the phrase “Putting in my two cents” as a means of expressing one’s opinion, leaving the nickel as the next available alternative. Hence, I have decided to start a new regular (or at least somewhat regular) opinion piece that I am calling “My Five Cents Worth…”.
I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while now, and so I thought that I might take a page from Scott Taylor’s book and try something a little different, as he has done lately with his On Target videos now on YouTube and articles in Esprit de Corps. Since I seem to have an opinion on most of what Scott has to say, I figured that I would use this new space to add my voice to the fray.
I will begin then, with the July 11th article, “The Demise of Soldiering in Canada?”, because the subject matter has succeeded in angrying up the blood of a good many veterans, and a LOT of them have something to say about it.
Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes!
It all started on July 5th, when the Government of Canada unveiled the “Changes to the Canadian Forces Dress Instructions” which had the subheading “Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Changes to the Canadian Forces Dress Instructions” Upon reading the document I was left wondering if ANYBODY had even asked ANY of these questions a single time.
Now, I should put some things into context here before I go any further. I’m what you might call “old school”, though not as old school as Taylor. I entered CF reserve basic training in 1987, five years after he joined the regular force, and more or less at the beginning of the “human rights” era of the Canadian Forces. I seem to remember that at least once a day one of our instructors would go on about how we now had “human rights” and as such, they were prohibited from doling out to us the punishments we so richly deserved. I had heard stories from old-timers who told of beatings with swagger sticks or the occasional smack to the teeth as a means of enforcing unit discipline and cohesion. Suppose we were lucky enough to be dodging that bullet.
It would still mean having to comply with the regs on dress and deportment, and both male and female soldiers would have to abide by the orders that were set out with regards to the length of our hair and how much facial hair we were allowed to have. Sure, there were some obvious safety reasons for many of these, but we also understood that these regulations were put in place as a means of ensuring that we would obey the orders that we were given, as we were given them. Obeying an order could mean the difference between living or dying in a combat situation.
One of the most important things that I think it helped to instil in us was a sense of team. Something that was constantly being pounded into our heads, metaphorically speaking, was that this was not the place to have individuals, and there was absolutely ZERO room for individuals in my platoon or the other two that were in our company. Jerry Gilligan was a platoon warrant in the company, and I’m fairly certain that his ticker would explode in the middle of the parade square upon seeing the sight of an entire company full of nothing but individuals. He would have completely lost his shit and probably turned around and walked out, never to return. I know I’d probably be doing that.
An iconic movie helped build team cohesion
About a week before the course began, Stanley Kubrick’s summer blockbuster “Full Metal Jacket” made its theatre debut. For the instructors and officers who were there to turn us into soldiers, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Not only would it be bringing out the gung-ho in a bunch of young men with testosterone to spare, but it would also prove to be an excellent team builder, as recruits from different platoons in the company would get to bond at the movie theatre.
It’s all in the Details
There’s a section right at the end that is called “Details”, which is apparently the section that contains the aforementioned frequently asked questions.
Will recruits need to shave their head on (sic) basic training?
No, the updated hair policy applies to all CAF members from recruitment to retirement.
So the answer is no, recruits will not have to shave their heads DURING basic training. Okay so someone didn’t run this through Grammarly first apparently.
Is there a maximum length for hair?
No, there are no restrictions on the length of hair. However, during parade and ceremony long hair must be tied when extending below the top/ridge of the shoulder or that extends below the service dress collar for ceremonial occasion. It must not prevent the proper wear of headdress and must not impede the visibility of the member’s face. Safety and operational requirements shall be met.
Clear as mud.
What types of braids are considered acceptable?
Any style braid(s) may be worn, as long as it remains in line with safety and operational requirements. Hair must be tied to ensure the headdress can be worn properly and the face is visible. A bun, braids, or ponytail are examples of appropriate ways to tie the hair.
Okay, so back when I was in reserve basic in ’87, I had a Master Corporal who would jump all over my ass if my hair was a millimetre longer than he liked it. I can just picture Ed Capulong’s head about exploding in today’s Canadian Forces.
Are tattoos on the face permitted? And what is considered the face?
The face is the front part of the head that extends from the forehead to the chin and from the anterior part of one ear to the other. Tattoos are permitted on the face as long as they conform to the regulations outlined in Section 2 – Appearance. “Tattoos that the member knows, or ought to know, are associated with criminal activities (e.g. criminal gangs), tattoos that promote and/or express, on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination as defined in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), the following: hatred, violence, discrimination, or harassment: and tattoos that a CAF member knows, or ought to know, promote and/or express: racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, or sexual explicit material” are not permitted.
Did anyone else read this and right away picture “Harry, the Guy With A Snake On His Face” on a parade square?
Can CAF members with eye lash extensions be ordered to have them removed?
Yes, if they affect operational duties, as in the case of wearing night-vision goggles (NVGs).
Would this happen often?
Are CAF members permitted to have long fingernails in uniform?
Yes, long fingernails are permitted so long as they do not impede the member’s ability to perform their duties. An example of this is being unable to do weapons drills due to long fingernails. Safety and operational requirements must always be met.
Why no follow-up question with regards to the colour of said nails? Would it have to coordinate with the uniform of the day? Do they even make “Goose-shit Green” nail polish?
Are CAF members required to wear gloves at all times while wearing a toque?
No, gloves do not need to be worn when the toque is worn or vice versa. The toque is authorized as alternative winter headdress and can be worn with all orders of dress.
Okay, what? We’re seriously paying money for someone to come up with this?
Changing values dictate changing styles
Throughout history, the Canadian military has indeed reflected the values of society at large.
When viewed through the prism of 2022 hindsight, those values do not always stand the test of time.Scott Taylor – The Demise of Soldiering in Canada
As Taylor sees it, our society’s changing values are at the heart of this decision, and he isn’t wrong on this point. He provides as an example the challenges faced by Black Canadians who wanted to volunteer to fight during the War of 1914-18. As a means of accommodating these men, they were placed in the segregated No. 2 Construction Battalion and were only ever tasked with performing menial labour under the watch of white officers. This would warrant an official apology to the descendants of these men nearly one hundred years later. I wonder who Little Potato sent to cry in his place for that one?
More than just about values
I myself see it a little bit differently. Yes, the shift in societal values over the last generation has led to the need for employers in every sector to change with the times, and some have resorted to changing the workplace culture in order to be able to attract new employees. The military has followed along with other employers in this regard.
However, what if there are things about the workplace culture that simply can’t be fixed using cosmetic means? What young person in Canada would seriously give any kind of consideration to a career in the Canadian Armed Forces given the untold scandals involving sexual assault and abuse, or soldiers being sent out on deployments without the proper equipment, or veterans being unable to count on a system that should be there to look after them in their time of need.
Unless and until the Canadian Forces can manage to get its collective shit together, and very quickly, it will continue to see ever dwindling recruitment numbers. The brain trust within DND Headquarters in Ottawa hasn’t seemed to learn that you can put lipstick, and nail polish on a pig, and maybe braid its hair, but…well you know.
And now you’ve heard my five cents worth about that.