Remarks by the Chief of the Defence Staff on the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Medak Pocket
September 10, 2023 - Ottawa, Ontario
Good morning, all.
It is great to see so many familiar faces.
It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since we stood together in the Medak Pocket.
It seems like yesterday – and I, like many of you, am often brought back to that formative experience etched into our psyches.
None of us will ever forget the assault on the senses brought on by bearing witness to ethnic cleansing. The images of destruction and burning houses. The smell of smoke and death, the sounds of small arms and impacting artillery.
It was cause for us to realize that civilization is but a thin veneer, easily torn away.
We all remember the facts of the events:
- An offensive assault by Croatian forces into the Serbian-held salient known as Medak Pocket.
- The brokered agreement for a ceasefire and the establishment of a buffer zone.
- The role of our unit, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, under the command of LCol Jim Calvin, to implement the agreement.
- The fighting that occurred as Croatian Forces opposed our movement into the pocket.
- The results of ethnic cleansing we documented, and in some cases stopped before it could be further spread.
- And the success of the operation in restoring some credibility to the beleaguered UNPROFOR mission.
Our troops dug in and fought back in, up to that point, the largest-scale engagement since the Korean War.
- They showed that training, leadership, and professionalism are critical.
- In doing so, 2PPCLI added to the CAF’s legacy of operational excellence, so hard-earned over generations.
This tour in 1993 was not without cost.
During the operation, one of our comrades, Capt Jim Decoste, died in a vehicle accident.
Another, Cpl John Béchard, died earlier in the mission.
Four were wounded in action during the battle.
Many more returned home with wounds that are invisible to the eye but deeply etched on the soul – wounds some carry with them to this day.
We owe it to them, and all who came after them to embrace the lessons of Medak, which are extremely important now as we face an increasingly dangerous world.
- We must be ready for the security situation to rapidly deteriorate. In other words, we must be ready to fight.
- Related to the above, training and having the right capabilities are essential to set our troops up for success. These take time and must be pursued with a sense of urgency.
- Finally, the will to do the right thing in the face of brutality, the determination to succeed – the “fighting spirit,” if you will – trumps all. This is the human element that is central to all we do.
The Battle of the Medak Pocket is an important yet often understated event in our military history.
I, for one, am proud to be here commemorating it.
Lest we forget.
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