Shaun Francis, National Post | Jan 29, 2013 12:01 AM ET | Last Updated: Jan 28, 2013 5:53 PM ET
Two years ago, I stood among a circle of soldiers at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan and listened to Canada's chief of the defence staff, General Walter Natynczyk, speak to his troops. Early in his career, the General said, before anyone had heard of al-Qaeda, he never would have expected to see Canadian troops in this part of the world.
And it wouldn't end with Afghanistan. Canada would be needed again before too long, the General promised — and probably in another country we rarely think about.
Is that day today? North Africa's flames are threatening to burst into a much bigger conflagration. The Islamist insurgency in Mali, a country twice the size of Afghanistan, threatens to topple that country's secular government. French air and ground troops have intervened, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently extended the loan of a C-17 transport plane. West Africa's dominant power, Nigeria, is sending 1,200 of its troops to Mali, and would appreciate further Canadian support, possibly in the form of helicopters. Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is calling for a global response to the deadly Algerian gas field attack that Islamist terrorists say was a response to events in Mali.
I believe our Canadian Forces will be there to respond, when we need them, in Mali and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the reverse is proving not to be true: The rest of us are not responding to the needs of those who have served in the Canadian Forces.
In the next year, approximately 5,000 people will leave the Forces. All too often, they emerge from military service to face an inhospitable employment situation.
The usual story goes something like this: A captain in his late 20s has spent several tours running combat missions in Afghanistan. The military has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to train this individual. He has managed and motivated a platoon of 30 to 40 men and women through life-threatening situations. He has seen friends die. But when he leaves the service, the best employment he can find is an entry-level position — something like a sales job for hourly pay at a big-box store. He's proven that he's capable of more — but our civilian business managers fail to recognize the management expertise possessed by our military men and women.
Not recognizing that expertise is bad business — and bad for Canada. Hiring a veteran is a substantive way for civilians to give back to men and women who have risked their lives in the service of protecting us from foreign threats.
Thankfully, some are beginning to recognize the hidden source of talent represented by our ex-military. In the U.S., which is farther along on this than we are, Wal-Mart's pledge to hire 100,000 American vets over the next five years is a great idea in spirit — assuming those jobs offer management-track potential.
Too often, a vet who has managed a platoon of 30 to 40 can find no work in civilian life except entry-level positions
In the same spirit, CN Rail chief operating officer Keith Creel, a former American soldier and a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, announced the rail company's initiative to hire 2,000 Canadian veterans in December. And Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney is working with the charity I co-founded, True Patriot Love (TPL) Foundation, on a Veterans Transition Advisory Council, to encourage corporate Canada to better utilize the talent inherent in our servicemen and women.
We can do more, and we will, which is why TPL is today hosting a seminar called, "From Battlefield to Boardroom." It's a day-long Toronto event, at which corporate and military luminaries will make a business case for hiring young veterans. Tim Hodgson, a former Canadian Forces reserve officer and the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Canada, is among the speakers.
Certain to be discussed are other military-to-business success stories. Take Chapters Inc. founder and former CEO Larry Stevenson. He's an alumnus of Harvard Business School who happens to be the product of military training as a Royal Military College grad and a former member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment — and, incidentally, an Honourary Colonel in Toronto's Queen's Own Rifles reserve regiment.
Service in Afghanistan and other operational deployments has produced Canadian veterans who can think on their feet, make critical decisions; and who possess a strong work ethic, loyalty and commitment to teamwork. Corporate Canada needs to step up and help employ these men and women when they leave the service. We need to reassure them that they'll be embraced by the businesses they've protected once they inevitably cycle out of the battlefield.
As the ongoing conflict in North Africa attests, war persists — as must our expressed gratitude to our military men and women.
Shaun Francis is the founder of the True Patriot Love Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the well-being of Canadian military families.
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