Pacific Region update - March 2016

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Article / March 23, 2016

The National Defence Public Affairs Office (NDPAO) – Pacific is responsible for providing outreach programs and activities for British Columbia.

NDPAO – Pacific delivers outreach services that include roundtable discussions, presentations, guest lectures, informal meetings and familiarization trips.

Event Highlights

Scroll through the Image Gallery located on the right-hand side of the page to view a few highlights of activities that occurred in the Pacific Region over the last few weeks.

DART commander briefs B.C. stakeholders, emergency management personnel

By Capt Jeff Manney

Landing in Kathmandu little more than a day after a catastrophic 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal last April, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Izatt found a nation in shock.

“If you’ve ever had a car accident, think about how you felt, about how your heart raced, about how numb you were to what was going on around you,” the leader of the Canadian Armed Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, told audiences this past February during a speaking tour of Victoria and Vancouver. 

“Now multiply that—by a lot. That’s what it’s like to be in a natural disaster,” he continued. “That’s what it was like in Nepal. The people in leadership roles are in shock. The people they know are not functioning or they’re gone.”

An estimated 8,000 people died in the April 25, 2015 earthquake. Another eight million were affected in some way. Due to the scope of the crisis, Canada deployed the DART, a team of approximately 200 soldiers, sailors, aviators and civilian advisors assembled from across the country. Their job is to fill the gap between initial rescue efforts and the long-term recovery efforts of non-governmental organizations and aid agencies.

The DART story is a compelling one, especially in British Columbia. Natural Resources Canada puts the chances of an earthquake that will cause significant damage striking the province in the next 50 years at one in three.

More than 200 firefighters, police, emergency management and Red Cross staff in both Victoria and Vancouver attended LCol Izatt’s talks, as did over 100 political science students at the University of British Columbia and Trinity Western University. 

LCol Izatt told them of the difficulty moving around a disaster zone, especially one that’s in the foothills of the Himalayas. Sandwiched between India to the south and China to the north, Nepal is no easy place to get to. He needed two weeks to fully assemble his team, just in time for them to experience the region’s second devastating earthquake.

“We were on a road when a ripple in the ground about a metre high passed under us,” LCol Izatt recalled.  “We watched it move away, leveling buildings as it went. Then there was complete silence.  All we could smell afterwards was burnt rock.”

LCol Izatt’s team was lucky – no soldiers died in the quake. But their efforts to restore the confidence of Nepalis in their own infrastructure had to start over. 

With 144 tremors, and that second quake, the task took some convincing, LCol Izatt recalls.  Many buildings remained empty, including a private, 13-story state-of-the-art hospital whose staff carried out operations in the parking lot. 

As the capital slowly began to fill with aid organizations, LCol Izatt moved the team into the harder hit countryside. DART medics helped the injured and passed along their skills to the Nepalese military.  Soldiers toiled with pick-axes to clear well-heads, allowing access to drinking water. Using light equipment more akin to “glorified farming” than roadwork, DART engineers opened up and maintained the main road to China. They eventually linked up with Chinese teams bringing heavy equipment south.

One key to that success was legal support from the team’s military lawyer. The rubble of what was once a house lay blocking the road leading to a key bridge. Its owners sat nearby, unwilling to move and let engineers clear away the debris. Everything they owned was in pieces, but those pieces would at least let them start over.

With the help of Nepali-speaking Canadian Forces soldiers, the lawyer drew up a document protecting the owners’ property. That one piece of paper ended up moving more rock than any backhoe – it went on to serve as a template for similar situations around the country.

For LCol Izatt, the legal innovation was a triumph, no less important to restoring normalcy than any other of the team’s herculean efforts. “We bring a very wide skill-set, all of it aimed at getting people and governments out of shock,” he said. “Our job is done when they can get on with rebuilding their lives.”  

Minister of National Defence remembers an iconic Canadian

By Capt Jeff Manney

Canada’s Minister of National Defence stopped in Vancouver last month to remember a departed friend and the man behind the Canadian Flag.

The Honourable Harjit Sajjan delivered the keynote speech at the Canadian Club’s Vancouver chapter February 15. He recalled the life of Patrick Reid, an Irish immigrant, British war hero and Canadian civil servant appointed by Prime Minister Lester Pearson in 1964 to come up with a replacement to the Canada Red Ensign.

“He was courageous, daring and wild,” Sajjan told his listeners, among them Reid’s son-in-law and fellow Canadian icon Rick Hansen, “but he also had a great love for Canada.”

Reid died December 5, 2015 in Richmond, B.C. at the age of 91. He was the Honourary Colonel for the British Columbia Regiment, (BCR) which Sajjan led as a Reservist from 2011 to 2014. 

Reid’s appointment with the BCR celebrated his tremendous service for Canada. His work with the flag, designed by artist Jacques Saint Cyr, helped put a new face to the Canadian identity. He went on to become the commissioner general of Expo 86, Canada’s Consul General in San Francisco and chaired the Vancouver Stock Exchange, the Vancouver Port Corporation and the Rick Hansen Man in Motion Society. But Honourary Colonel Reid was no stranger to a uniform.

“For those of you who have heard the tag-line of me as the bad-ass minister…when you read his history you’ll see he was the true bad-ass,” said Sajjan.

The Minister recalled Reid’s actions in the Second World War fighting for the North Irish Horse, an armoured unit operating in Italy. The man who would one day usher in a flag known around the world as a symbol of its nation’s solicitude and forbearance was, well, a bad ass. 

Aware that the accompanying infantry wasn’t moving fast enough, “he would get out of the safety of his tank and kick them to get moving towards the objective,” said an incredulous Sajjan. Reid was seriously injured on one of these ‘excursions’, and his courage earned him the Military Cross for Bravery.

But it was his generosity, his leadership and his guidance that Sajjan said he will remember the most. 

“There are people in all of our lives that touch us,” he said. “But then there’s always a few people, you can count them on one hand, that when you meet them for the first time you always get a sense of inspiration that you can do more. I might be the Minister of National Defence but if it wasn’t for mentors like Patrick I wouldn’t be here today.”

Military’s top psychiatrist shares mental health lessons

By Capt Jeff Manney

“Is the real winner of this war mental health?”

The question asked of several Vancouver audiences February 17 by the CAF’s senior psychiatrist sounded a little counter-intuitive.

Conflict, especially the modern version—asymmetric, chaotic, endless—seems especially reluctant to deliver winners. But there are positive, if unintended, outcomes to armed struggle – advancements like plastic surgery, antibiotics and trauma care have all emerged from the crucible of war. And if there’s a silver lining to Canada’s 10-year experience in Afghanistan, Colonel Rakesh Jetly is qualified to see it.

The mental health advisor to the military’s Surgeon General, Col Jetly is a 27-year veteran with two tours in Afghanistan to his credit, as well as deployments to Rwanda and the Golan Heights. He’s also an associate professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, Queen's University and the University of Ottawa,

“In a way the war in Afghanistan has helped everyone better understand the stigma of mental illness,” he said. “There’s a growing awareness of the fact that mental illness is real.  It exists. We in the military know how primary it is. We have a Directorate of Mental Health—we don’t have a Directorate of Hypertension or a Directorate of Cholesterol.”

With graduating doctors, occupational therapist students, paramedics, firefighters and critical incident stress managers comprising his various audiences, Col Jetly was addressing those who soon will be or already are on the front lines of mental health. 

Like the military, they are all too familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide, outcomes which have remained in the headlines since Canada’s return from Afghanistan. Col Jetly reminded his listeners that both are dwarfed by depression, which he called the biggest burden by far on health in western society.    

But his message was still a promising one.

“In 2016 this is not a doom and gloom story,” Col Jetly told them. “There are practical, everyday things we can do on a personal, professional and institutional level to build mental resiliency and create a culture that encourages health seeking.”

Col Jetly was referring to the Road to Mental Readiness program, or “R2MR”, which the military developed in response to the many lessons learned from combat in Afghanistan. R2MR is designed to mentally prepare soldiers for the challenges they may encounter, improving short term performance while also ensuring better long-term outcomes.

The program, Col Jetly said, aims to “institutionalize resilience” and is taught throughout a military member’s career. On a personal level, it’s meant to give soldiers skills such as goal setting, visualization, self-talk and focused or ‘tactical’ breathing.

“These skills increase confidence in stressful situations,” Col Jetly said. “The earlier we can provide them the better soldiers are at handling stress, or recognizing when they should seek help.” 

On a more institutional level, R2MR teaches leaders to better understand mental illness so that they can genuinely care for their subordinates. “They are not meant to be therapists,” Col Jetly said, “but rather gatekeepers, able to recognize when someone might need help.’

Studies indicate the program is working. Military members with mental health illness are now more likely to seek care than their civilian counterparts.

Despite the fading stigma of mental illness, Col Jetly cautioned his audiences that more work needs to be done in the field of mental health. Additional research is needed to determine which medications work on which people. New technologies need to be developed to better understand the brain. 

Greater awareness is just the first step, he said. “Getting people into care isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning.” 

West Coast Admiral connects with Consular officials, stakeholders

By Capt Jeff Manney

The highest ranking member of Canada’s military in B.C. paid a visit to Vancouver February 19 to meet key diplomats and stakeholders.

Rear Admiral Gilles Couturier, commander of Joint Task Force (Pacific) and Maritime Forces Pacific, met with the Consuls-General of Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, informing them of Canadian naval operations at home and abroad and discussing interests of mutual concern.

Couturier also met with Honourary Captain(N) Anita Huberman, Chair of the Surrey Board of Trade and with Robert Young, Director General of CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. 

Such meetings are routine and are aimed at maintaining open lines of communication with allies and community leaders. 

Contact Information

Our team members are able to help should you have any questions or would like to request a Canadian Armed Force or Department of National Defence speaker for your organization.

Captain Jeff Manney, Public Affairs Officer

Stay connected to the Canadian Armed Forces in your region via the following links:

39 Canadian Brigade Group


19 Wing Comox


Maritime Forces Pacific


3rd Canadian Division

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