Feature photo: OCdt Owen Gill, MGen (Ret’d) Walter Holmes, OCdt David Fyfe
History Students Learn About Peacekeeping from First-Hand Account
By 27832 OCdt (III) Cardona
This past Friday, as part of an ongoing series of lectures, organized by the History Department, the students of the French and English sections of the history of peacekeeping course were treated to a lecture from MGen (ret’d) Walter Holmes, a lifelong soldier with a wealth of operational experience.
MGen Holmes, an infantry officer by occupation and member of the Royal Canadian Regiment, briefed the students on the history of United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and the Second United Emergency Force (UNEF II), missions on which he was deployed as a staff officer.
He began by describing the history of the conflict in Cyprus, including the UN’s strategic objective and Canada’s role within the broader mission. He then proceeded to do the same with UNEF II. While most of us knew this context coming it, he did clarify a few things and added relevant information from someone who served in both these missions.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his presentation was his discussion on leadership and the experiences of soldiers on the ground. He spoke to problems like boredom, cultural differences and alcohol abuse in both instances. Part of how this was dealt with by leadership was to provide recreation sporting activities to give soldiers the opportunity to bond and relieve stress.
The retired officer then opened the floor up to questions, which ranged from the highlights of his career, to the differences between today’s army and that of old, the accomplishments of the Canadian mission in Cyprus and the importance of General Purpose Military training.
In particular, his perspective of how the military has evolved in the past 50 years was enlightening and illustrated how we’ve changed as a fighting force and a society. Moreover, he also revealed that his best experience in the military was in operational command positions, where he could interact with troops and partake in “traditional soldiering.”
Overall, MGen Holmes’ presentation was a great opportunity for an experienced, career-officer to pass down decades of knowledge and wisdom to the up-and-coming leaders who will be facing similarly difficult challenges after commissioning.