Mercedes Stephenson, W5
Published Saturday, April 5, 2014 9:00AM EDT
"SHOOT, MOVE, COMMUNICATE, THINK"
Lieutenant Colonel Hank Szelecz was an operator and chief instructor with Canada's Joint Task Force 2 before taking command of CSOR. Below is a transcript of his first ever television interview discussing Special Operations with CTV's Mercedes Stephenson.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THE ARMY AND THEN SPECIAL FORCES?
I'm a very active person and there is a certain love of adversity that defines any special forces operator. I like shiny objects, I like to be challenged. So since a very young age, I was always attracted to the army. And so far 25 years later I haven't regretted a single thing. When I got that first taste in the infantry, I gravitated towards reconnaissance platoon. So I commanded reconnaissance platoon as part of a rifle battalion. So the next logical step with me for that love of a physical and cognitive challenge was Special Operation Forces.
A LOT OF YOUNG MEN AND YOUNG WOMEN WANT TO JOIN SPECIAL FORCES. WHAT GOES INTO THAT SELECTION PROCESS? OBVIOUSLY NOT EVERYBODY WHO WANTS TO JOIN IS SELECTED.
Within the military we're very much a performance oriented culture. And it's always that fear of failure that prevents a lot of guys from just, you know, taking that chance and stepping forth. So I always tell the guys, that is the biggest criteria for success, just taking that step forward and applying.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR UNIQUE SKILLS?
When we talk about the Special Forces individual and the training that goes into the individual to be able to do all these things, from humanitarian assistance to intense battle, we really boil it down to four essential elements: shoot, move, communicate and think.
Because first and foremost we want cognitive operators. And if we have selected the right people with the personal attributes, that love of adversity, that adaptiveness, that innovativeness, they will be able to adapt to any situation that the Government of Canada wants us to be involved in.
And in the end, a Special Forces Operator isn't someone special. And really all that an operator is, is someone who knows the basics and he's mastered the basics. So he knows them extremely well. And he has those personal attributes, that innovativeness, that adaptiveness, that he can apply those basics to any situation no matter what the adversity.
All through repetition and training, we build up those skills, so you don't succumb to the physiological pressures of stress.
IS THERE A CERTAIN PERSONALITY TYPE THAT GETS SELECTED?
You've got Type A personalities who are hugely invested in their jobs and they just want to knock it out of the park
WHY ARE CANADA'S SPECIAL FORCES IN AFRICA?
First and foremost, everything that Canadian Special Operations has done is driven by the Government of Canada's interests. And the policy framework that allows us to work in those regions is the capacity building program under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development. And really all we're doing is assisting Foreign Affairs in delivering the capacity building programs in those regions.
ARE YOU EVER CONCERNED THAT YOU COULD FIND YOURSELF FIGHTING PEOPLE YOU'VE TRAINED?
Absolutely. Ah you know, it's like in any relationship, especially at the start. A relationship, as you know, is built on trust and you don't get that every day. So as we work and partner with different nations, especially in initial stages of a relationship, we're always cognizant of what we're doing in terms of capacity building.
And that's why the foundation of any program of instruction or the foundation of any military to military interaction or training always goes back to the basic tenets of respect for human rights, use of force in the laws of armed conflict. And that's something that continually is reinforced through all our capacity building programs.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FAMILY
I have a wife and I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. And the 3-year-old is a little dude there. He's definitely going to be an SOF operator right? So my daughter, she's got the other side. She's keen, she's smart, she's intelligent, and also a little bit of a diva.
We always say that the Special Forces business is a bit of a family business. And I'll speak here from a commander's perspective, because my wife is like any other wife in the Canadian Armed Forces. She bears a lot of the stress back home when I'm deployed. And she can handle it because the men and women in the regiment are very strong-willed people and they tend to have spouses that are very strong-willed spouses, girlfriends, significant others, very strong-willed as well. So everyone gathers their own -- has that ability to compartmentalize, has that ability to sort of create a steady state if you will, build a routine in absence of the other. And then of course when you catapult back into your home, it becomes a disturbance. It dislocates that rhythm.
That whole cycle in the Special Operations community is often disruptive. A lot of what we do, because of the nature of our high readiness, can happen very quickly. So there isn't that opportunity to psychologically build. All members of the regiment being a high readiness regiment, have to have their families at high readiness in order to react to being deployed on a moment's notice.
But personally from my perspective, it's very difficult, but you find ways around it.
YOU'VE BEEN ENGAGED ALL OVER THE WORLD. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THAT CANADIANS ARE REALLY GETTING TO KNOW CSOR. IT'S STILL VERY SECRETIVE WHAT WE'RE ABLE TO FIND OUT. WHY ALL THAT SECRECY?
Well I mean the term secretive sounds so nefarious right? In reality what we're talking about is operational security, right? And there's two aspects to that. There's you know, classification of information and then there's the sensitivity of operations.
So it protects the people that we put in those positions, much like at local police forces. Those people involved in undercover criminal investigations, you know, their identities are obviously protected. And the reason they do that is not to keep it out of the public domain. It's to protect them and their families. So there's that aspect of operational security.
And there is a small component of protecting of course national interest. But really the operational security that we have all comes down to really force protection and protection of the information, right. So there certainly is no nefarious intent behind it.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES, DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE OF CSOR?
I hope that we continue to deliver what the Government of Canada has asked us to do. When I say delivered I always say that in our community not only do we under-promise but over-deliver. And I just hope that we keep doing that.
WHY DID YOU AGREE TO SPEAK WITH US TODAY?
Well, to be honest, when I look at Exercise Flintlock and I look at all the things that we are doing here -- the capacity building, the partnerships and cooperations. We're building a better place. We're promoting regional security. And I think Canadians will be proud of that.
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