Chief of the Defence Staff, 12192 General Thomas J. Lawson is given a tour of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship F by her Commanding Officer, Commander 21206 Jason Boyd (left), during Operation ARTEMIS in the Arabian Sea on December 10, 2012. Operation ARTEMIS is the Canadian Forces (CF) participation in maritime security and counter-terrorism operations in the Arabian Sea region as part of multinational Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, one of the three task forces operated by Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). CMF is a 27 nation naval partnership, which exists to promote security, stability and prosperity across approximately 2.5 million square miles of international waters in the Middle East, which encompass some of the worldâ€™s most important shipping lanes. The presence of HMCS REGINA in the Arabian Sea region also gives Canada the flexibility and capability to respond quickly to emerging crises in the region. Credit: Corporal Rick Ayer, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
CDS discusses the way forward for the Canadian Armed Forces
Just a little more than 11 weeks in his new position, 12192 General Tom Lawson was getting accustomed to the hectic pace. Trying to divide your time as needed and follow the tight schedule isn’t always easy when you’re Chief of the Defence Staff.
Gen Lawson looked well established in his new office, surrounded by personal military memorabilia spanning a 37-year career, as he chatted about himself and the way forward for the Canadian Armed Forces. He sees a positive future ahead for current serving members and future recruits.
When asked what his most rewarding job to date has been, Gen Lawson said he could pick any of seven or eight tours. Like many CF members, he has had operational and leadership positions which have been interspersed with traditional staff jobs. While he is able to claim a pretty good initial feel for his present position, Gen Lawson knows there will be some challenges to be tackled and rewards to be savoured in the years to come.
“But it’s starting out extremely well, very interesting and challenging,” he said.
He recalled with a smile his early days of flying a CF-104 over the German countryside and the excellent opportunities he’s had in his leadership roles, but there are two roles that stand out.
“I would say either my job commanding 8 Wing, where I had one wonderful year, or my two years commanding the Royal Military College, which was pure leadership at a place with 1,000 of our finest Canadian youth and hundreds of highly motivated Canadian officers, are the highlights.”
First trip overseas as CDS
Gen Lawson and the CF Chief Warrant Officer, Chief Petty Officer, 1st Class Robert Cléroux, recently returned from Gen Lawson’s first trip overseas as CDS visiting the troops and both are proud to see CF members carrying out their roles with such vigour and drive. Gen Lawson drew energy from seeing the great work being done by the deployed men and women of the CF.
“They [CF members] are standing up the Afghan troops at such a great rate; they are able to move them [Afghans] from basic training into more advanced training, professionally and quickly. They’re so well positioned to do what they do, they are literally working themselves out of jobs,” he said.
The CDS also visited HMCS Regina in the Arabian Sea, his first time on ship since he was an RMC recruit. He got there by flying the ship’s CH-124 Sea King helicopter, although there was some banter about him not coming too close to the ship for his fly by. “And I think that was probably advisable,” he said with a chuckle.
“Spending a day onboard the ship was tremendous,” he said proudly. “Seeing our men and women taking Regina through her paces was an enormously heartening thing.”
Evolving Role of the CF
Gen Lawson explained how he sees the role of the CF protecting Canadians at home evolving.
“I think it is less about evolution in terms of readiness and more about evolution in terms of how we link with like-minded groups in other areas of government and outside of government.”
Canadians can rest assured that the CF will always be there in times of need, and Gen Lawson says that will always remain true. And just as the CF has proven itself in combat aboard, it has also fought fires, floods, and hurricanes here at home, and has assisted with security at the Olympics, G-8 and G20, working closely with the RCMP, Public Safety, other government departments, and non-government departments. “This tie together has developed an interdependence that’s helped us to not only get to know each other — the person at the other end of the phone — before the challenging things happen, but also in a way that has shown how we can help each to the greatest effect – that’s where I think the evolution will continue, our linkage to other like-minded groups.”
Budget cuts at Defence
In this time of budget cuts and belt tightening to help identify efficiencies and find new ways of doing business, the Defence Renewal Team has been hard at work studying the subjects in-depth.
“This team was started before I came in, and I think it’s brilliant,” he said. “We’ve had budget challenges in the past, but now we have to refine how we do things … there is very little fat, and while this is true, the Defence Renewal Team is not looking at whether there is fat, but how we can better refine the ways we do things across the Army, Navy and Air Force.”
Staying on the topic of cuts and reallocating resources to the front line, the term “more tooth, less tail” is being used, but Gen Lawson doesn’t feel this is a good descriptor.
“Having been a fighter pilot … together with my sailor friends, tank drivers, and artillery officers, we are the ‘tooth’ out there, protecting Canadian interests, and it was fun to talk like that before,” he said. “And when you become part of the very support fabric that allows the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces to do the things they do, you see it from the other side, you see the linkages, and it becomes less like an animal with teeth and a tail wagging and more like a team with many players working to the same end.”
Gen Lawson explained how the CF finds the funds to reinvest in a place that puts more capabilities on the ramp and in the field.
“I think the way you do that in the months ahead is by looking at those processes that have worked well to shelter us from risk, and then find ways to accept a bit more risk and do things more efficiently. And that, I think, is going to be the way we meet the mandate of maintaining and delivering on those capabilities required to give the government options when a need arises.”
Defence Priorities and the Canada First Defence Strategy
Defence Priorities and the Canada First Defence Strategy give DND/CF some clear direction and a way ahead as Canadians expect that capacities, capabilities and readiness will be at their highest levels. And even with many budget restrictions, the CF will continue to invest more dollars in these priorities.
“Even through tough budget restraints, we will continue to invest in readiness and training,” General Lawson reaffirmed.
The CFDS was put in place in 2008 and largely gave the CF clear path forward, with a focus on domestic capabilities and the Arctic. While those core missions were never forgotten, they did receive les public attention while the CF was involved in combat operations in Afghanistan.
“So, I don’t think the Defence priorities have changed, but with the end of the combat mission, this will give us more time to focus more clearly on what we were told in 2008.”
New Year’s resolutions
Gen Lawson knew how busy the CDS office would be, but said he is invigorated by the pace.
“I knew my schedule would be packed, and this has taken some getting use to.”
This busy pace has led him to his New Year’s resolution.
“I will continue to enhance my personal fitness so I can lengthen my days,” he said with a laugh.
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