BGen Binden and Col Coombs offer us a good run-down of the various studies and other initiatives over many decades to ‘fix’ the Reserve Forces. (“Serving the Nation’s Interests: Creating an Integrated and Agile Canadian Reserve Force”, Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 21, No. 4, Autumn 2021).
It is a laudable goal to try and integrate the CAF into one cohesive force. But is that really feasible? It would assume that all members of the force would have comparable levels of training and experience i.e.; that a sergeant in a Reserve Army battalion is interchangeable with a sergeant in a Regular battalion and that the Reserve member would gain the respect and support of all members with whom they are serving and fighting. The Total Force concept is fine in principle but we need to retain foremost in our minds that it consists of full-time and part-time military members.
We really need to go back to basics when we look at the development of Canada’s Reserve forces. Canadians were citizen soldiers, sailors and airmen/women. We have risen to the occasion when need be: witness the First and Second World Wars and Korea. In both Afghanistan and Iraq Reservists provided useful augmentation to our troops operating in those theatres, all to everyone’s credit.
But the realities continue to challenge us. Our Reservists at junior levels are still mainly students and they show high attrition rates. Few of our Reservists can devote the time to become fully qualified at the level of training and experience expected of Regulars. Those Reservists who can undertake continuous active duty to achieve optimal level of training and experience are probably destined to join the Regular Force, and they should. Admittedly some specialist occupations lend themselves to Reserve part-time service more than others: physicians and lawyers come to mind, perhaps.
Some specific roles can be earmarked for part-time Reservists but full integration at every rank level and role remains illusory. Our mindset in Canada is that of the Reservist as a part-time soldier or sailor and one who represents the CAF in their home community. We are not Switzerland or Israel with soldiers at home with rifles under their beds ready for immediate mobilisation. Admittedly, there seems to be a trend to use our military more for civil emergencies than actual expeditionary operations. Would most Regular Force personnel did not join for that; would Reservists be more content with that role? Bring on Brandon, MB rather than Baghdad, Iraq.
So why do we continue to go through the agony of trying to create something that can never be? Even if our national psyche and circumstances were to change to promote the part-timer as a quasi-fully trained Regular, I have never seen the Government allocate enough funds to allow the Reserve Forces to be fully pareil with the Regular Force in terms of equipment etc. And I doubt that will ever happen.
Our Reserve Force personnel do as good a job as they can given the circumstances and realities that exist. Let us allow them to be the part-time citizen sailors, soldiers and air people that they were envisaged to be!
David B Collins, CD