William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE AIRBORNE

Canadian Airborne Regiment BadgeTony Keene says we never had an operational mission?
He should kneel and say a fervent, and quiet act of contrition
Obviously he never went with us up to Canada’s North
To maintain Canadian sovereignty 900 Jumpers went forth

He didn’t hear the Manhattan’s radio far, far down below
As the tundra dropped Commandos marched forth on the snow
There was no Han Island problems then back in that day
Because we were there and we were AIRBORNE all the damn way!

Actually most of his article subjects are not really too bad
He hits the main points, like our disbandment, was quite sad
He had to bring up the hated Min of Defence Mr. David Collenette
Who holds a deep place of disgust in my heart even yet!

Saint Michael the Arch Angel is our AIRBORNE Patron Saint
In this politically correct environment folks say that is quaint?
A St Michael medal that the Regimental Padre had gave to us
Was placed on my dog tags in the back of that chute recovery bus

Our Regiment’s held in high regard all across the world wide
Even in sad disbandment heads were held high with pride
I belong to a great group called the DZ VI[1]
A group of old guys, who once dropped from the sky

A Jimmy Sigs jumper, Michael “Crash” Comeau, he’s my friend
Mailed me the attached article – so attached to you, it I now send
It’s not too bad of an article and it has a lot of good things to say
God bless all you jumpers – AIRBORNE ALL THE WAY!

THE GOOD, AND THE BAD, AND THE AIRBORNE

Story and Photography by Tony Keene
Barrie Advance – Friday March 28, 2008

Group believes Canada needs paratroopers

Members of the Canadian Airborne Forces Association
From left, John Iversen of Moonstone, Ken Luttrell of Midhurst and Jerry Robertson of Holland Landing, are members of the Canadian Airborne Forces Association
Once each month, a group of about 50 men from across Simcoe County gather at Barrie’s Legion Hall to reminisce, plan good works, and keep alive the spirit of something special they all share… a small Oct of embroidered wings, worn on the left breast.

It’s about retaining the comradeship, which is very important and means an awful lot,” says retired Col. John Iversen, of Moonstone. He is vice-president of the Huronia branch of the Canadian Airborne Forces Association (CAFA), and is a former commanding officer of The Royal Regiment of Canada.

“We don’t want to sit at home. We get up in the morning and want to get things done.” As proof of this, Iversen at age 60, has just graduated as an auxiliary police officer, and has already performed several duties.

The CAFA is open to anyone who is a qualified military paratrooper. It is a social club, a service club, and a lobby group. It raises funds for good causes, cares for sick and injured ex-paratroopers, and stresses the need for the Canadian Forces to retain an airborne capability.

“We work with other groups such as the Legion for the welfare of retired service members, “Iversen says. – We’re concerned with any pension, health or welfare issue.” The group also provides financial support for the women and children’s crisis centres in Barrie, Orillia, Collingwood and Midland, as well as the Salvation Army, and sponsors bus trips for senior citizens. And yet there is a pall over all this, a cloud of shame and disgrace called Somalia. It was in this far-off African country that, in March I993, the image of Canada’s “finest” regiment was forever identified with a beaten and bloodied I6-year-old boy, crying, “Canada! Canada! Canada!” as he was tortured to death by a soldier in Airborne uniform. As well, soldiers killed an unarmed Somali who was running away from them, in direct contravention of the law of armed conflict. The mission, rife with indiscipline and drunkenness, blighted the image of Canadians as humanitarian peacekeepers.

Ken Luttrell, of Midhurst, blames the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Once all this human rights stuff came in, we lost control,” he says. “We couldn’t search the soldiers’ quarters; we had no way to enforce discipline.”

The former regimental sergeant major says the Charter resulted in an outbreak of drug use and had behaviour, which officers and senior non-coms were powerless to deal with. Iversen feels, however, the disbandment of the Airborne in I995 was the result of envy by the senior command, and others not qualified as jumpers.

They were concerned with elitism, but that’s something every regiment has,” he says. “Every unit believes it’s the best in some way.”

The regiment was disbanded in 1995 after a series of disclosures of racism, brutality and misconduct, which also took down as collateral damage the defence minister, David Collenette, and the chief of the defence staff, Gen. Jean Boyle.

The CAFA feels strongly there is still a need for airborne troops in today’s military environment. Huronia branch president Jerry Robertson says the new Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) is proof that “we still need an airborne unit.” The CSOR, sometimes referred to as “Son of Airborne” is set to become fully operational soon. Robertson, who lives in Holland Landing, served in the Regiment as a full-time soldier, as did Luttrell.

Iversen was a reserve, part-time soldier, but nonetheless, qualified for his wings and jumped with the Airborne.

Iversen says a major air crash or other disaster in Canada’s remote north would require the Forces to have the ability to drop a field hospital and staff, and that we would also need such a capability to respond to disaster and chaos anywhere in the world. He says the CAFA is determined to maintain that mission. Many of the search-and-rescue specialists in the air force were once members of the Airborne. As well, Forces personnel from a variety of units and trades graduate as jumpers each year.

“We’re not advocating going back to what was.” Iversen says. ‘We’re advocating the need for a disciplined, trained airborne force.”

The Canadian Airborne Regiment was the brainchild of Gen. Jean Victor Allard, who was chief of the defence staff in 1968. It was, from the outset, a unit without a mission, as combat parachute drops were not part of Canada’s military doctrine. Critics of the new unit described it as “three lies in one.”

It was not truly Canadian, but more American in its philosophy and organization. It was not really airborne because it had no operational parachute role, and never carried out an operational drop in its history. And it was not a regiment in the Canadian sense, in that soldiers were assigned to it on a temporary basis, and it was not organized like a regiment.

As a result, it became a place where commanders could dump their troublemakers for a few years, by which time the commanders would have moved on and the bad apples would be someone else’s problem.

An inquiry in the 1980s found the Airborne had a much higher incidence of assault and other criminal activity than any other unit.

Officers and non-corns who tried to enforce discipline sometimes suffered reprisals, such as having their cars burned. What is not generally known is that the regiment was almost disbanded in I 985, in the aftermath of the machete murder of a civilian by an airborne soldier in a bar brawl.

However, the reverse is also true, in that most members of the unit were among the best and finest the Forces had to offer. They served honourably and professionally on several overseas missions, including a deployment to Cyprus that turned into a shooting war when Turkey invaded the island. Still, non-Airborne soldiers correctly point out the Airborne did nothing that could not have been equally well done by a regular infantry battalion.

It was also the only Canadian unit to have the theme song of a Hollywood movie as its regimental march, the jingoistic opus, The Longest Day.

This connected the Airborne to those Canadians who jumped into France on D – Day, an event seen as heralding the start of the Airborne tradition in this country.

The American connection continues.

Robertson admits that after serving with America’s Special Forces, he believes Canada’s paratroopers “are closer to the Americans than anyone else.”

The CAFA also mirrors this in its ceremonies. Although Canadians traditionally declare loyalty to the Queen, the group also has a religious, patriotic American-style “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag, which is de rigueur at all meetings. “Anyone who doesn’t want to say this,” says Luttrell, “I say there’s the door, make sure it doesn’t hit you in the ass on the way out.”

“I think we set a good example of loyalty to our nation,” says Iversen. “There is a correct way to act as a Canadian. We set the example.”

And these men, now retired from the military but still strong and energetic, seem to believe that. Bright-eyed and fit, they look back on their parachute experience as the highlight of their lives, and they exude a sense that no one else quite meets their level of service, loyalty and patriotism.

After the disbandment of the regiment, parachute capability in the Canadian Forces was dispersed through the creation of “jump companies” in the three regular force battalions, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the Royal Canadian Regiment, and the Royal 22nd Regiment. A reserve unit was also created in the Queen’s Own Rifles in Toronto. As well, qualified paratroopers exist throughout the army, both regular and reserve, individuals who can he called on short notice to form an ad hoc jump unit.

The problems continue.

In 2003, a reserve paratrooper was disciplined after unfurling a Confederate flag, considered by many a symbol of racism, during a drop at Petawawa.

And in 2005, three reserve soldiers were charged with first-degree murder after a homeless man was stomped to death outside Moss Park Armoury in Toronto. Their trial is underway.

But there is none of that present as the old jumpers prepare for their meeting in the Legion Hall. Flags parade behind the head table, and a man climbs atop a chair to affix a small model parachute and soldier to the ceiling.

It will soon be time once again to reminisce, make plans and raise funds for good works.

And to recite the pledge of allegiance.

SOMALIA: What Went Right?

By Tony Keene

It was called Operation Deliverance, and by any disinterested appraisal, it was a resounding success.

Canada’s effort in Somalia in I993 was a navy, army and air force operation, including the supply ship Preserver, the Canadian Airborne Regiment Battle Group and a helicopter squadron. As well as the Airborne, the Battle Group included a squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons armoured unit, and field engineers.

The commander of what was known as Canadian Joint Force Somalia was Col. Serge Labbé. He acknowledged early on a purely military mission would not work.

“One does not endear oneself to a local population by doing cordon and search operations, by establishing roadblocks and seizing weapons… “

And so, throughout the mission, Canadian military personnel worked closely with aid agencies to provide humanitarian relief, rebuild infrastructure and restore public confidence.

At the same time, soldiers provided a safe and secure environment in which this process could continue.

Here are a few examples:

  • The Dragoons, who also cleared the minefield on other side, rebuilt the main bridge on the Chinese Highway, between Belet Huen and Matabaan. The police station, hospital, and the school in Matabaan were rebuilt, and school supplies delivered.
  • Members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment escorted vital relief convoys, which brought sorely needed food to a total of 96 villages. As well, airborne soldiers helped obtain funds from USAID and the Canadian International Development Agency, and established a local work program that employed Somalis to rebuild roads, schools and other buildings. This program greatly stimulated the local economy.
  • Canadian military personnel helped train teachers, provided safe drinking water, and repaired wells and generators throughout their area of responsibility.
  • Doctors and nurses such as Major Russell Brown, Lt.-Commander Headier MacKinnon and Lieut. (Navy) Rebecca Patterson, from HMCS Preserver and the Battle Group medical unit, took the lead in providing medical aid in co-ordination with the international hospital set up in Belet Huen. They also taught and trained Somali doctors and nurses.
  • The Airborne pharmacy section arranged the donation of more than $200, 000 in medical supplies to the international hospital. Hospital beds and other equipment were donated by the Trenton Memorial hospital and flown to Somalia aboard Forces aircraft.
  • Lt.-Commander MacKinnon and her staff from Preserver visited other local hospitals and treated wounds, dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis, syphilis and skin diseases.

All this was made possible by the soldiers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment who kept the area safe while these activities were carried out.

The head of the international hospital, Mary Lightfine, later wrote to Col. Labbé: “You and your troops were always available to us, anticipating our needs and providing support in every way… there is no doubt the community service you have given is far beyond the call of duty and your country will be proud of your efforts.”

Perhaps the highest accolade came from Robert Oakley, the special envoy of the American president, who wrote to Defence Minister Kim Campbell: “The performance of the Canadian Airborne Regiment Battle Group in Somalia… was truly outstanding. Canada has every reason to be extremely pleased and proud of its military forces in Somalia. The United States military and civilian authorities, and Somali people, hold them in highest esteem.”