Attrition: Canada Recruits Couch Potatoes

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November 1, 2006: Canada continues to have problems recruiting enough troops. Last Summer, some bureaucratic delays in the recruiting system were eliminated, but that wasn't enough. So now, physical fitness standards for applicants have been greatly reduced. Currently, about a third of otherwise qualified applicants cannot get into the armed forces because they cannot do the required 19 push-ups, 19 sit-ups, hand strength test and 2.4 kilometer timed run. Now, most of these applicants would be accepted, but turned over to a special training unit that would get them to the minimum standard, or wash them out, before allowing regular recruit training to start. The Canadians will also ease up on some of the background check requirements, and recruit more aggressively in minority communities. These moves won't reduce the quality of troops, but will cost the military more for additional training and recruiting efforts.

Despite aggressive recruiting over the last four years (which brought in 20,000 new troops), there was a net gain of only 700 in the force of 56,000. Canada is trying to increase its military manpower by 13,000. Compared to the United States (which has ten times the population), Canada has only about half as many troops, per capita, currently on active duty. Yet the United States, despite being at war, is able to keep their force up to strength.

The Canadian problem is political, and cultural, as well as bureaucratic. While the Canadian armed forces earned a reputation as tough and effective soldiers during the two World Wars and Korea, the country became less enthusiastic about supporting their military during the last few decades. This has reached the point where the troops feel resented and unwanted. Budgets were cut so much that Canada is a generation or more behind the United States in many categories of weapons and equipment.

Canadian soldiers have gotten a lot of work on peacekeeping missions, and saw combat in the 1991 Gulf War and in the 2001 Afghanistan campaign, where they distinguished themselves. Canadian infantry are currently fighting in Afghanistan as part of the NATO force. But for all that, the troops do not feel respected or appreciated in their own country, and this appears to be reflected in the recruiting numbers. Canada wants to increase military manpower by nearly a quarter, but more new ideas, policies and attitudes will be needed to carry that out. Conscription is not an option, as Canada has never used it in peacetime, and implemented it only with difficulty in wartime.

 


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