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Who is worth more? & Canadians fool themselves about modern peacekeeping

Soldiers versus teachers: who is worth more?

Viewpoint by Robert Smol

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Canadians fool themselves about modern peacekeeping

The 1950s ideal of non-violent missions for our soldiers flies in the face of current reality

Published by Eugene Lang in TheStar.com

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Soldiers versus teachers: who is worth more?

Viewpoint by Robert Smol

Published in CBC News

There is no doubt that the many years I spent in uniform were often ones of hard work and challenge. Yet at no time did I ever feel that I was being underpaid for my services.

This was not everyone’s point of view of course. During the 1990s, a series of highly publicized articles on military personnel using food banks fuelled a widely held belief that our military is grossly underpaid.
Canadian military personnel silhoutted against a setting sun at Trenton, Ont., in September 2008.

That feeling, frankly, was shared by many of my regular military colleagues. Which made me curious at the time why so many of these people, who took their release from the Canadian Forces with the assumption of better paying jobs and benefits on the outside, ended up re-enlisting.

Some of those who returned have privately admitted to me what I, as a reserve officer already knew: our men and women in uniform are well compensated.

Still, in spite of further generous pay increases, the stigma remains today that serving one’s country is a financial disability.

At my school, I have informally counselled students about the benefits (and drawbacks) of joining the military. But the feedback inevitably comes back from the parents that “there is no money in being a soldier.”

The evidence however suggests otherwise.

No grunts in this man’s army

Based on the most recent pay scales, a new recruit, usually someone barely out of his teens and with nothing more than a high school education, begins basic training at an annual salary of $31,020, not including benefits.

With further training, the private will then go on to a salary of $37,932, with subsequent incremental pay raises that top out at $45,552. Once promoted to corporal, they can earn anywhere from $52,140 to $57,336.

Yet it is at this level that the Forces begin to acknowledge “specialist skills” that the young man or woman may have acquired either during training or from their previous jobs and education.

If qualified as a specialist, a corporal’s pay can range anywhere from $58,380 to $69,084.

Should a master corporal then be promoted to sergeant, the pay could rise as high as $73,716 based on experience and the skill set. Those who go on to more senior non-commissioned ranks such as warrant officer, master warrant officer and chief warrant officer can make anywhere up to $94,764.

These are worthy sums in anyone’s army.

Officer class

Officers, of course, make even more. Second lieutenants begin at $49,632 with lieutenants earning up to $85,572, depending on seniority.

Captains earn up to $90,636. A lieutenant colonel begins at $107,472, and our generals and admirals can earn as much as $234,996 in base salary alone.

Furthermore, right from the time of basic training, an enlisted member is entitled to one month paid vacation, which increases to five weeks after five years of service and six weeks after 28.

But these pay levels and paid leave are only part of the full compensation.

Depending on where they are and what they are doing, members of the Canadian Forces are entitled to a long list of allowances in addition to their basic and specialist pay.

Many of these additional allowances compensate serving personnel for working directly in their fields and fall under the names of land-duty allowance, casual sea-duty allowance, and casual aircrew allowance among others.

Back at home they will receive additional leave and allowances if they have to relocate to another base. Should someone be asked to serve in a high-priced real estate location such as Toronto, an additional housing allowance could be provided over and above everything else.

Compare to teachers

Yet those who still believe that the military is underpaid typically retort with the comment that many people in civilian life make bigger salaries than that.

I don’t doubt that perhaps some teen just out of high school, with no real work experience or plans to go on to university, can potentially find a permanent civilian job with a full pension and generous benefits that pays significantly more than $30,000 to start. But just how common is this?

For the sake of comparison, let’s consider a Canadian soldier’s pay against the salaries of teachers who many seem to believe are grossly overpaid.

At my Toronto-area school board, the lowest salary paid to a beginning teacher – and that is someone with at least one university degree and a teacher’s diploma – is $36,952, which is almost $1,000 shy of a (level two) private’s pay, following the completion of training.

Those teachers in the highest pay category at my board, the ones who have at least 11 years of experience and, typically, multiple degrees and professional qualifications, earn $86,584. That puts them on par with an experienced chief warrant officer or a senior army captain.

Granted, teachers have more vacation time. A private or corporal with under five years experience has half the vacation time of a teacher in Ontario. Even after 28 years service, a member of the Canadian Forces only receives six weeks formal leave.

Salary and leave aside, we can’t dispute the fact that those who happen to be serving in war zones are confronting a degree of danger that practically no one outside of the military (or police) has to face on a daily basis.

However, having served for many years myself, I can safely say that anyone who puts on a Canadian military uniform thinking that they will not, or should not, have to face an oncoming bullet or bomb one day should never be in uniform in the first place.

So, do I think our military deserve this level of compensation and benefits? Absolutely!

More than ever we need people who are motivated leaders, professional and well trained. As any businessman will tell you, this type of employee costs money.

In no way should we feel sorry for the way we financially compensate our men and women in uniform.

Born and raised in Montreal, Robert Smol holds degrees from McGill and Queen’s universities as well as from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., where he obtained a master of arts in war studies.

At 17, he enrolled in the army reserves as a private in the infantry and served both full- and part-time for over 20 years until his retirement as a captain in the Intelligence Branch. Since 1992, he has been mostly teaching elementary and high school students in the Toronto area. As a freelance journalist, Smol has written extensively on military policy, as well as on veteran and education matters, for the Hill Times and Embassy Magazine in Ottawa. He also contributes to the Toronto Star and Sun, among others.

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Canadians fool themselves about modern peacekeeping

Opinion – The 1950s ideal of non-violent missions for our soldiers flies in the face of current reality

Published by Eugene Lang in TheStar.com

Canada’s involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions has mythical status in this country. Our rich history in peacekeeping “a concept invented in the 1950s by Canadian diplomats, notably Lester B. Pearson” should be the cornerstone of Canada’s foreign policy today, according to many Canadians.
Unfortunately, the allure of non-violent peacekeeping does not correspond to the realities of today’s UN missions.

UN operations are routinely characterized as a reflection of Canada’s values and consistent with our appropriate role in the world. They are portrayed as non-violent, and are contrasted favourably with combat-oriented operations, such as the NATO mission in Afghanistan, of which Canada is an integral part. The fact that Canada’s participation in UN blue-helmeted missions is virtually non-existent today is often bemoaned.
Peacekeeping reminds us of an important post-war Canadian role in international affairs symbolized by our innovative involvement in Suez in the 1950s, and in Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s. Peacekeeping also helps with Canada’s self-definition by setting us apart from the Americans. For many Canadians, a foreign policy anchored in peacekeeping equates with a defensive military, one that rarely if ever is engaged in violence, combat or war.

But today’s peacekeeping operations do not resemble those of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Those earlier missions were comprised of forces interposed between previously warring states or groups that had achieved some measure of peace that could be kept. By contrast, today’s UN missions are typically in the midst of regional or civil wars, insurgencies or genocide.

The largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world today is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force has been expanded from an initial 5,000 troops to 17,000 today. It is a complex mission operating in a violent and unstable environment, involving a multitude of factions and states. Scores of UN peacekeepers have been killed since the operation began in 1999. Today the Congo is falling apart. This mission is anything but peaceful and non-violent.

We hear a lot in Canada about the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Some 200,000 civilians have been killed in Darfur since 2003 at the hands of a Sudanese government allied militia known as the Janjaweed. The Bush administration called the Darfur crisis genocide. The atrocities have continued virtually unabated, notwithstanding the presence of a significant African Union force, which has now morphed into this much larger combined AU-UN operation. Darfur is a war zone: there is little peace to keep.

In 2005, then prime minister Paul Martin wanted to deploy the Canadian Forces to Darfur if the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing a mission. Canada’s military leadership assessed the situation on the ground at that time and advised the prime minister that it could be more dangerous for Canadian troops in Darfur than in Kandahar.

Those who argue for Canadian involvement in blue-helmeted missions on the grounds that they involve little violence and are basically exercises in military diplomacy also forget the experiences in the Balkans (where the Canadian Forces were deployed in significant numbers for nearly 15 years) and Rwanda during the 1990s.
The Dutch led a UN peacekeeping operation in Srebrenica in 1995 that witnessed the killing of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys by the army of the Republik of Srpska. Ask the Dutch if they think modern peacekeeping is non-violent.

Likewise the Belgians, who had 10 soldiers slaughtered in one day in 1994 in the ill-fated UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, which was led by Canadian general Roméo Dallaire. When all was said and done at least half a million Rwandan civilians were massacred in that conflict. Both of these UN missions took place in the middle of civil and regional wars where there was nothing resembling a peace to keep.

Today there is increasing talk, including from Condoleezza Rice, of sending UN peacekeepers to Somalia. The Canadian Forces know something of that country, having been deployed there as part of a UN effort in the early 1990s. That mission was withdrawn a few years later after the UN and the Americans suffered significant casualties at the hands of Somali militias. Today, according to the UN, Somalia is the world’s worst humanitarian emergency: a country rife with factional violence, and in conflict with its neighbours. It is on the verge of total anarchy once again.

Canadians are rightfully proud of our peacekeeping history. In a world full of war, peacekeeping conveys an image of Canada using its military in ways other than fighting. It is an image that many Canadians cling to and even cherish. Canadians do not like the idea of our military killing people in wars. We do like the idea of Canada keeping the peace. Unfortunately, the allure of non-violent peacekeeping that is embedded in the collective Canadian consciousness is an illusion in the 21st century.

None of this is to say that Canada should rule out contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. But we should do so with our eyes wide open. Some suggest that if we stick to peacekeeping, we don’t need to spend a lot of money equipping and training the Canadian Forces to fight : that we can have a military on the cheap because peacekeeping is not terribly onerous. The recent history of UN peacekeeping suggests nothing could be further from the truth.

Eugene Lang, former chief of staff to two ministers of national defence, is co-author (with Janice Gross Stein) of the bestselling and award-winning book The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar (Viking Canada, 2007).

2 Comments

  • Walter Gamblin

    January 20, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    My response to the first article is luke-warm, at best. The figures quoted are the absolute maximums that can be attained at the ranks identified and are not the best reflection of either the majority or averages associated with those ranks. As well, although the author tries to imply that he is supportive of the compensation and benefits received by his “brothers in arms” during the final lines of the article, everything up to that point reads as very backhanded and from a seemingly “I am feeling very slighted as a teacher” vantage point. Not only did I gain that “whiny” sense from the author at one point I found he intentionally slighted our CWOs and senior captains who possess a wealth of experience in their profession of arms when he compared them to an 11 year teacher with a whole bunch of education. Is he implying that by proxy of having a bunch of degrees the teacher should be paid more than a soldier? I did not find this article very supportive of the current serving members of the CF.

    The second article was outstanding. Well written, sufficiently put into perspective, and true to actually communicating a perspective in a clear and concise manner. Addressing the romance of the blue beret of the 70s and 80s with the hard lessons learned during the 90s and what we are experiencing now is a message that needs to resonate with Canadians, regardless of political affiliation or opinion on Canadian foreign policy. I believe that engaging in war fighting operations is not predicated on the National desire to be at war, but more so the realities of the current global security environment. Contributing and committing ourselves to do what is viewed as required by our allies to stabilize the more tumultuous regions of our planet is what we, as a responsible Nation and a leader among allies, need to do to remain credible and contribute to a better tomorrow. The unfortunate Canadian deficiency in Kandahar today is not our security role/contribution, but our lack of assistance provided by other government departments to improve the Afghan social infrastructure and allow the Afghanis to stand on their own. Without improving the quality of life of the average Afghani through this sort of investment we will never be successful in assisting the Afghan government in counting the insurgency.

  • Rebecca Joyce

    January 21, 2009 at 8:29 am

    This looks like a great read. I really enjoyed The Stone Carvers and the fact that the author received an honourary degree from RMC. Is it possible to have a booklist of more books like this?