Chain of command lets Rockcliffe military community down

By  Colonel Alain Pellerin

One of the outcomes of the recent tragedy that took the lives of two Canadian soldiers and injured three of their comrades just outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, was to witness the closeness of a military community as it quickly came to the support of the grief-stricken families. The military is truly a family. It is essential that military families receive the support and comfort of their community during times of sadness, distress and the death of loved ones. The serving members of Canada's armed forces require the assurance that, while serving their country, their families will be provided a decent quality of life by the federal government. Last spring, with the return of three Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry to Edmonton from Afghanistan, the Minister and the Chief of Defence emphasized the importance they place on the support of military families and on quality-of-life issues.

The Rockliffe military community, made up of some 350 families, believes that these words do not apply to them. For the past two summers, 350 Forces members' families have been without their community swimming pool, which served as the central gathering point for service members and their families to support one another and be aware of each others needs, especially when husbands and spouses were posted outside of Canada for long periods. Just as the Petawawa military community supports the families of Sgt Robert Short and Cpl Robbie Beerenfenger with quality-of-life facilities, the Rockcliffe swimming pool was a vital part of this community's quality-of-life support.

Government officials, from the Minister of National Defence on down, refused to consider Rockcliffe's written request, containing 350 signatures, sent in June 2002, to refurbish the community swimming pool or to build a new pool. In response to the petition, Minister McCallum advised that reconstruction of the pool would cost a minimum of $150,000 to $200,000, and that "an expenditure of this magnitude is simply not warranted." Unwarranted, indeed! It is remarkable to note that a second written request from the Rockcliffe community, this time containing 450 signatures, was sent in August 2002, protesting the Minister's reply and reiterating the importance of this request. The Minister's response was again "no", while he stated for the public record that "the well-being of all military members and their families is vital and the Department of National Defence has taken numerous initiatives based on the recommendations of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs to improve the quality of life for members and their families.”

In February 2003, a Canadian Press article, written by Stephen Thorne, quoted one General Officer at National Defence Headquarters as saying, "Rockcliffe doesn't have the same requirements that a base would normally have. It's administrative in nature." This does not tell the full story. A large number of military members of Rockcliffe (and Uplands, for that matter) are on operational duties outside of Canada, in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan, and many are on a tour of duty for periods longer than six months.

The Canadian Forces members from Rockcliffe can be assigned the same kind of hazardous duty as members from other military bases across Canada. Therefore, the Minister of National Defence and the Chief of Defence must recognize that these families do rate the same standard quality of life as other military families across the nation. Indeed, some $160 million has been invested in the last three years for much-needed fitness and recreation facilities. The Minister and Chief of Defence may well respond that the future of the Rockcliffe military community is uncertain. This answer has been given since Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe closed down in 1986! Does the Minister want to go on record and deny the recent indications that all or part of the Rockcliffe community will remain until 2010-2015?

To deny the Rockcliffe military community basic facilities, such as a community swimming pool common to bases across the country, is patently unfair. There is a moral obligation here that is not being addressed. Minister McCallum would be wise, in this period where the retention of experienced Canadian Forces personnel is a serious issue, to correct his wrong-headed decision to deny the Rockcliffe military community an essential gathering place, and get on with the construction of a community pool.