‘People are the most important thing,’ says new Army Commander
September 2, 2019 — Defence Stories
Ottawa, Ontario — Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre had only just taken command of Military Personnel Command (and gone back to first finish up a tour in South Korea) in the summer of 2019 when he got the call to step into the role of Commander Canadian Army on August 20. As he says in the following interview, such sudden changes are a regular part of military life.
His own career has been anything but regular – leading troops in Croatia when a peacekeeping mission abruptly became a combat mission at Medak Pocket, commanding NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan and being named the first non-American Deputy Commander of United Nations Command (UNC) in South Korea in its 69-year history.
Still, LGen Eyre remains focused on the fundamentals: ensuring every soldier is well-trained, tough, and adaptable to an ever-changing world.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q1. What was your reaction to the news that you would be the next Army Commander?
This was very much a surprise because I had already taken command of Military Personnel Command. That speaks to some of the inherent unpredictability of military service and also the need for agility – that is, the ability to rapidly adapt.
As I told the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), this is all about service and I’ll go where I can provide the best service to the Canadian Armed Forces. Commanding Military Personnel Command and the Army are both tremendously important. It is a great privilege to be selected and given all factors this is where the CDS thought I could best serve.
Q2. What are some of your top priorities?
Our overarching priority is to be ready to fight and win now and into the future. We are Canada’s ultimate insurance policy, so when the call comes, we are needed and we have to succeed. People are the most important thing that underpins that readiness. We need our people to be well-trained, tough, and resilient and their families well-supported.
In the operating environment, we’re seeing a host of different challenges ranging from the potential for conflict between great powers to climate change. The rise of populism is putting Western democracies and some of our alliances under threat. Any operation that we can conduct will not be on a sterile battlefield, it will be amongst populations and we absolutely have to be attuned to that.
We see things changing in terms of information operations. What does this mean for us? Where are our gaps and shortfalls and surpluses? And as we take a look at our capabilities and structure, we’ve got to be absolutely seized with the historical reality that we need depth because warfare is inherently inefficient, meaning we have to build to generate replacements and always have a reserve.
Q3. What areas do you feel the Army is currently doing very well in and where would you say it needs to improve?
Internationally we always operate as part of a coalition. And although we may be making a small contribution, it provides operational excellence and that’s where the Army has traditionally done very well.
At the tactical level, our units are well-trained, well-led, and they provide operational excellence on the ground. When we put staff into higher coalition headquarters, they provide that same degree of excellence.
Domestically it’s our responsiveness – our ability to very quickly react to domestic emergencies. It’s being that force of last resort providing sufficient mass on the ground to really make a difference – protect Canadians here at home and psychologically reassure them, yes your Army is here to protect you.
Where do we need to improve? Well, we can never rest on our laurels. I like to say there is no such thing as a fully-trained soldier. The spectrum of all we have to do is so varied you will never have a soldier who is fully-trained for all of the potential tasks that are out there. So we’ve got to keep working at getting better every day.
Q4. What are your thoughts on your predecessor, Lieutenant-General Lanthier?
I’ve known him for a long time and he’s one of the most professional, smartest leaders that I know, and I can think of no issue on which we don’t see eye to eye. He has put in place some great initiatives that will serve the Army well into the future.
One of his greatest legacies, that he started when he was Commander Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre, is Mission: Ready, and we are absolutely on the same page on its importance, so I will continue to push it hard.
Q5. Please describe your experience at United Nations Command. Are there any lessons learned there that might apply now?
Firstly, it was a tremendous honour for me to take on the role during a very historic time. It was a very surreal experience as well. You’ve got the greater Seoul metropolitan area, one of the world’s most developed cities with half the country’s population, under constant threat of North Korean long-range artillery which could rain down tens of thousands of large-calibre rounds in very short order. Just outside my headquarters, there was an operationally deployed Patriot missile battery. And there is a huge risk of miscalculation.
There are a tonne of lessons to pull from this experience. One is the value of maintaining military-to-military relationships with friends, and also with potential adversaries, despite political ups and downs. Even amongst friends, political relationships will be challenged but the military lines of communication have to remain open because there is such a huge potential for miscalculation.
Another lesson is with regard to information warfare. That is the power of social media in influencing national will and national views on issues and it’s happening worldwide. It’s something we in Canada need to be very cognizant of.
Q6. Of all your operational experiences, is there one that has been particularly impactful for you?
Probably the most impactful was in 1993 in Croatia with the United Nations Protection Force in the Medak Pocket commanding the 2 PPCLI [2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] Recce Platoon.
There we experienced a situation that was supposed to be a peacekeeping operation but rapidly deteriorated into open hostilities with us in the middle and actually having to fight.
So the lesson for me is, we always have to be ready for the situation to deteriorate and we always have to be ready to rely on our fundamental soldiering skills. When the chips are down it’s those fundamentals that are going to protect us and allow us to adapt to the situation. We can’t go in complacent and thinking that situation is going to remain peaceful and benign. We have to be ready to react should things go downhill fast.
Q7. What was it that drew you to military service?
For me, this is been a calling from a very early age. I remember as a kid on a farm in Saskatchewan running around with brothers and cousins with sawed-off hockey sticks simulating guns, and then joining Army Cadets at the age of 12.
I haven’t looked back. For me the Canadian Army is an institution that’s shaped who I am and has been a part of me from a very early age.
I am extremely honoured and privileged to command it.
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