Death Of A Regiment
David W. Thompson
In March of 1995 the final parade of the Canadian Airborne Regiment occurred in Petawawa, Ontario. Fittingly enough the weather conceded a beautiful, sunny day and a reprieve in the cold, allowing the unit to jump on mass in a farewell gesture. In a very short period of time, Defense Minister David Collenette, and the Canadian Government decided that the unit should be disbanded. The decision was applauded by the Canadian media and many civilians across the country, but it failed to produce any true effects. To put it very simply, the Canadian Government overreacted and failed the Canadian military by reducing this unit to ashes.
The Canadian Airborne Regiment can trace itís roots back to World War II. The Paratroopers of the Second World War were created to fill a role in forcing down the Nazi oppressors, along with their counterparts in England, France, Australia and the United States. In itís infancy the unitís early actions were the typically difficult missions reserved for Canadians, and resulted in the capture of 4000 German soldiers and the killing of 1000 others. In 1968 itís early descendants were formed into the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Itís objectives; to be a rapid response unit in the defense of Canada, and to support the peace keeping efforts of the United Nations.
The Regiment had a number of difficulties in the early 1990ís. The trouble stemmed from the fact that the unit, an intensely proud, rapid response, elite force was being used for missions it was not designed for. In effect the Canadian Military system was using police officers to put out fires, this lead to lowered morale and a very charged up unit waiting to bust loose to perform the missions it was designed for.
Secondly, # 2 Commando, formed primarily from the Princess Patriciaís Canadian Light Infantry, was linked with a number of Aryan Nation groups, and a number of the Troopers were infected with that mentality. From # 2 Commando spawned a group from within known as "the Rebels", a definite challenge to the authority of the officers of the unit. These members were abusive and often used force to get their point across, but none of the officers responded to this problem and it simply got worse. This situation could have been handled swiftly by the officers of the unit by simply sending the offending members back to their parent units, but nothing as drastic as this occurred, because in Canada if something like this had occurred the Government and the media would overreact causing even worse problems.
In March of 1993 problems within the unit became apparent during itís peace keeping mission in Somalia. Nine members were Court Marshaled following the death of a sixteen year old Somalian, Shidane Arone. The Troopers in question were mainly from # 2 Commando, many of which, had earlier breached army regulations, by brandishing their weapons and flying a Rebel flag during a video taped tour by another Trooper. None of them were disciplined for their actions.
One of those charged was Lieutenant Colonel Carol Mathieu, the Regimentís Commander who gave the order to shoot intruders in the Canadian camp. He was acquitted. Major Anthony Seward gave the order to "abuse" any prisoners captured. He was reprimanded. Captain Michael Sox who passed on that order was acquitted. Of the others facing charges; Master Corporal Clayton Matchee, was declared unfit to face charges after a failed suicide attempt, and Private Elvin Brown was sentenced to five years in prison. All the others were either acquitted, or are appealing lesser charges.
Although two of the lesser ranked Troopers took most of the blame for the events in Somalia it should be noted that Arone was tortured and killed within earshot of the officers command post, yet none of the officers were convicted, or responded once again. In a very sick and oblique way these men were simply following orders given to them, orders which all military personnel are supposed to follow without question. Again the officers of the Airborne Regiment failed their men, and were unwilling to stand up to what they had created.
The dilemma in Somalia could have been averted by removing this crack unit from Somalia after the "peace making" element of the operation was completed and the guard duty and construction jobs could have been left to units more suited to them, Military Police and Combat Engineers respectively. Although the events in Somalia were definitely unnecessary and incomprehensible, they were hardly cause to completely wipeout one of Canadaís finest Regiments. If this event occurred with members of the OPP would the Government step in and disband them, I think not. I charge the Canadian Government and Canadian Military system for failing the Airborne Regiment through improper use and for not maintaining the discipline to prevent these consequences.
Months later the Somalian episode had been somewhat forgotten and Lt. Col. Mathieu was replaced with a no nonsense, disciplinarian Lt. Col. Peter Kenward. Kenward was on his way to restoring the reputation and discipline of the Regiment when a two year old tape of hazing rituals appears and destroys his work. The culprits this time were # 1 Commando, members of the Royal 22nd Regiment, also known as the Van Dooís. Many observers believed that the hazing looked more like an initiation into a motorcycle gang, than into a military regiment. Again the Van Dooís and the PPCLI were both linked to various motorcycle gangs.
Although disgusting and repulsive the hazing rituals help build team morale and Esprit de Corps, and no real harm came from it. A CFL veteran (MacLeanís Magazine, January 30, 1995,"Bonding and Brutality) admits that "the harder the hazing, the closer the group tends to be." An elite unit of soldiers should be close enough to spend hours or days huddled together in hiding or trust every single member of that unit with his back. In the British Royal Marines the hazing includes a two day, 100 mile cross country skiing \ survival exercise that ends with an all out fight to gain admittance to waiting helicopters. In the United States, the Navyís SEALs are known for bar fights and brawls meant to build team camaraderie. Richard Marcinko, former commander of SEAL Team Six demanded that his team be close enough that they would drink each otherís urine if it came down to survival. Although that is an extreme it should be noted that none of the men under him died in numerous combat missions.
Psychologist James Ogloff (MacLeanís, as above) reports that "hazing is easy to prevent once a person in authority forbids them." But no one in authority did, so they continued. The major difficulty as viewed by the media with the video of the hazing events were the racist overtones, yet none of the black soldier in the Airborne Regiment were aware of any problems (Pegasus Down, Video). The hazing video surfaced in late January of 1995, by March, Canadaís finest unit steeped with history and pride, was no more.
David Collenette, and the Government of Canada quickly decided to put an end to the problems of the Airborne Regiment by disbanding them. In doing so the 650 members of the unit were forced back to their parent units, the PPCLI, the Van Dooís and the Royal Canadian Regiment, therefore solving their problems. Except that the racists and Aryan Nation linked soldiers are simply returning home with no real consequence, and with none of the problems solved. The only thing that the Government did was show the Canadian troops that they were not prepared to support them, and that they are not prepared to deal with any problems.
Through out this essay you have read about the problems of # 1 Commandoís hazing rituals, and # 2 Commandoís racist members, but something is curiously missing, # 3 Commando. Approximately 215 troops who were apparently lumped in with the rest and made to suffer. The Government failed to consider this group as the basis for the continued existence of the Airborne Regiment. They also failed to realize that with the Regiment still intact it could weed out the bad elements and prove that they could deal with internal problems, rather than simply sweeping them under the carpet. The Canadian Military system should look at the way the British and US deal with their elite forces; the British Special Air Service, perhaps the best anti-terrorist unit in the world is totally hand picked, and it is an honour to serve. The US SEALís allow volunteers but it still comes down to hand picked troops, the best of the best.
The Canadian Government and itís military system are guilty of negligence and of the destruction of Canadaís finest unit through a reckless decision. The clock cannot be turned back and the history involved with the Canadian Airborne Regiment has been destroyed, along with it the morale of the Canadian military. Ten years ago, during a training course I met a brawny 6í4", 240 pound man named Chris Sergeant. He was a martial arts expert, strong, smart and an excellent teacher. Mr. Sergeant was a Lieutenant, in the Canadian Airborne Regiment, and I remember the type of person he tried to help us all become. I know that in my mind and my heart I would rather follow the example he set forward for me, than an example set out by our politicians. Lieutenant Sergeant where ever you end up; "Cheers."
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