Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tracey Tyler, "Hillier eager to beef up Forces," Toronto Star, August 16, 2006.

ST. JOHN'S—With security threats ensnarling Canada like "a ball of snakes" and its operations in Afghanistan likely to take three to five years, the military is coming up with faster ways to get new recruits into uniforms, the country's top soldier says.

Starting Oct. 1, 30 per cent of those signing up for the Canadian Forces will be enrolled within a week, Gen. Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the annual meeting of the Canadian Bar Association yesterday.

As for the rest, half will start basic training within a month, Hillier said. The remainder will be subjected to more intense scrutiny to make sure they have the right psychological temperament for the job, he said.

Previously, recruits would often have to wait months before starting basic training.

Just last month, military ombudsman Yves Côté warned that the Forces were losing "skilled and talented" Canadians to other jobs because of delays and red tape in its recruiting process.

With 2,300 soldiers in Afghanistan and Canada's military admitting to recruiting problems at home, its depleted ranks have attracted more attention than usual in recent months.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to increase the number of regular armed forces members to 75,000 in the next five years, an increase of 20 per cent. A recent Senate committee report said the number needed is actually 90,000.

Hillier told the committee there is a problem with the military's recruiting culture. Adding to the challenge is the stark prospect of death on a long mission in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Parliament voted to extend the operation to February 2009.

Hillier said the mission is worth it. "We as Canadians refuse to accept terrorism and its indiscriminate violence as a way of making changes."

The deaths of nine Canadian soldiers in the past two weeks has been more than tough, Hillier said. "Tough is when you lose one soldier. When you lose the number that we've lost over these 10, 12 days here, that goes beyond that difficulty."

Hillier's comments come on the same day as the funeral for Cpl. Bryce Keller in Sherwood Park, Alta. Keller was killed in a Taliban ambush Aug. 3.

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