The Genesis of the Army Run: An e-Veritas Special Report

Caption:  Stu Beare (119) and Guy Thibault in the red shirt running behind #121 in a previous Army Run.

The Genesis of the Army Run: An e-Veritas Special Report

By 27832 OCdt (II) Pablo Cardona, 12 Sqn e-Veritas Chief Correspondent

Last weekend, e-Veritas spoke exclusively with the minds behind the Canada Army Run, retired 13337 LGens Stuart Beare and 13551 Guy Thibault; this is their story.

On Sunday September 18, thousands of excited people flooded downtown Ottawa at the ungodly hour of 0700. The eager crowd anxiously awaited the cannon-fire that kicked off the 2016 Canada Army Run, an annual race which promotes the Canadian Armed Forces to everyday Canadians.

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This year, a series of military equipment displays, re-enactments, children’s activities and a pasta dinner preceded the Sunday morning run. Nonetheless, the 5 kilometer, half-marathon and brand new ‘Commander’ Challenge’ (completing both runs) races were the highlight of the weekend.

The Army Run was first conceived in the fall of 2006 at a gathering of North American military leaders in 2006. In October, the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) hosts an annual meeting and exposition which coincides with the Army Ten-Miler, a road race promoting the United States Army to the general public.

Then MGen Stuart Beare, the Commander of Land Force Doctrine and Training System, was among the attendees of the AUSA conference and one of the 16 000 participants in the Army Ten-Miler.

Bearing witness to the spectacular display of military pageantry and enthusiastic flock of civilians engaging with their soldiers inspired the former artillery officer to bring the race home. Thus, the idea of the Canada Army Run was born, but bringing it to life would involve two years of hard work and some lucky breaks in between.

Although the run would prove to be a winning idea in the near future, organizing an event of that scale was not in the purview of the Canadian Army in 2006. Fighting in Afghanistan continued to intensify and from 2002 to 2006, close to three dozen soldiers died, 12 alone from the fighting in Op Medusa.

Division Commanders were primarily concerned with preparing their soldiers for deployment while high command was working to procure the equipment needed to fight the war and develop doctrine to react to the enemy’s unconventional tactics. While the Army was primarily concerned with building peace in a foreign land, support for them at home grew to levels unseen since the Second World War.

As MGen Beare, (who retired at LGen in 2014) recalls, “Canadians were really getting behind their troops, they came out by the thousands to the highway of hero, supported the mission and our CDS [Gen Rick Hillier] was really leading a public push [to promote the CAF].”

Given the plethora of public support for the Army, LGen (Ret’d) Beare decided that the timing was perfect to leverage the Army brand and “give Canadians a chance to sweat with their troops in an event like the Army Ten-Miler.”

Upon returning to Ottawa, the decorated general approached his good friend in Army Command, then Deputy Army Commander MGen Guy Thibault (who retired as LGen and VCDS this summer) with the idea. LGen (Ret’d) Thibault quickly got on board with the idea.

The two of them developed a proposal which they presented to the Army Council, who eventually agreed to support the run, so long as it didn’t place an additional burden on the troops. This would entail finding corporate sponsors and securing non-public funds.

“So we agreed that I would be flying solo and looking for partnerships while [LGen Thibault] would make sure that Ottawa was right on board with us” recalls LGen Beare, who quickly earned the support of Run Ottawa.

LGen Thibault pitched the idea to the Canadian Forces Central Fund to receive a loan to cover start-up costs. The Signals Officer’s proposal was met with some skepticism, chiefly that the run would be unpopular and the six-figure loan would never be paid back.

Many within the chain of command were also skeptical about this BFI (Bright Freaking Idea). Some leadership in the other elements thought that the run favoured the Army over the other branches of services. The name notwithstanding, the race was meant to promote the Military as a whole; it simply leveraged the Army brand, which resonated strongly with civilians.

Ultimately, skepticism and petty elemental rivalry did not prevail. The Army Run fit within the CDS’s goal of connecting Canadians to their Forces and most senior leadership knew that the vision behind this run was bigger than promoting the Army. LGen Thibault managed to secure funds for an initial Army Run while LGen Beare searched for sponsors.

One day, while flying to Edmonton for an exercise, LGen Beare ended up sitting beside John Stanton Jr., the son of the popular founder of the Running Room, John Stanton. That coincidence turned into phone between the two of them and John Sr declaring huge support for the idea of the run.

Since that day the Running Room has been a lead promoter and John and his Running Room people great partners in growing the Run. Their popular Running Room magazine ran a cover story about the first Army Run before it was even run in 2008 – leading to an incredibly larger turn out for the first run than anyone could have hoped for. That partnership lives strong and is thriving today.

Almost two years after LGen Beare completed the Army-Ten-Miler, the First Canada Army Run occurred on 21 September 2008. The initial number of potential participants was estimated to be 1000. Ever optimistic, both Generals expected closer to 3000 participants. Over 7000 people ran in the 2008 Canada Army Run.

“People really wanted to sweat with their soldiers,” said the former VCDS when recalling the success of the first army run, “and the troops feel like they are reaching out to the broader community, it’s a great event.”

To bring the vision to life, Major Chris Horeczy was appointed the Canada Army Run Director. Both retired generals noted that he was primarily responsible for moving the pieces on the ground and making sure that the event unfolded smoothly.

The Canada Army Run has grown by leaps and bounds since it began in 2008. Last year, there were over 25 000 participants and the event raised over $400 000 for Soldier On and the Military Family Fund.

According to LGen Thibault, the Army Run was not initially meant to be a fundraiser, simply self-funded. He explained that as the run grew more popular, their corporate partners encouraged them to leverage that success to help charities. It has also spawned Navy and Air Force variants.

When he learned that the run he created has raised over $1.6 million for Soldier On and the Military Family Fun, LGen Beare was visibly surprised and ecstatic. Upon reflecting on the success of the Army Run, including the increased participation of disabled athletes, he could only summon one word to describe his feelings: “awesome.”

One story that the Army Run founder likes to recount is that of Charlie Plumb and the parachute packer (http://speaker.charlieplumb.com/about-plumb/parachute-story/). In a nutshell, the morale of the story is that the people on the ground, the ‘parachute packers,’ who aren’t after fame or glory, but just want to serve others, are the people who matter most.

Without the ‘parachute packers,’ organizers, volunteers, run directors like Maj Horeczy – not to mention the runners themselves – the Canada Army Run would be nowhere. Once again, the only word that the retired general could use to describe everyone involved in every way shape or form with the run was “awesome.”

The retired VCDS jokingly claims to have heard the parachute packer from his good friend more than 500 times. He remarks that his friend “knows that he’s a parachute packer, he’s been one all his life and [in the CAF], the ultimate leadership institution – it’s all about service –  we all choose to become parachute packers.”

Both founders of the Army Run are graduates of Canada’s Military Colleges. Even before he enrolled in the forces, LGen Beare was an avid basketball player. Military College reinforced his desire to be fit and earning a high PPT (Physical Performance Test) score motivated him further. LGen Thibault says that when he arrived he was a “heavy boy” but he developed his athletic talents in Military College and learned that fitness is key to “feeling good in life.”

Clearly, both of the retired generals are change makers and their desire to better the organization, through the army run and their combined decades of service, is a model that future leaders should follow. Both of them have sage advice for junior leaders who want to make a positive difference.

LGen Thibault says that although the Forces is a vast organization and can be fairly risk-adverse, it will always need creative leaders to implement positive changes. He advises junior leaders to challenge the status quo and fight to makes their good ideas reality.

LGen Beare echoes those sentiments, but adds that before trying to change the institution, young leaders have to establish their credibility. Essentially, before trying to change the world, young leaders must prove that they can do the job assigned to them and do it well.

View all posts by: Pablo Cardona – Here