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Nation Builder of the Decade: International

By: Michael Valpy - From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Jan. 01, 2010 10:53PM EST


Rick Hillier’s rise through the ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces can be likened to a gale force wind. He’s been an outstanding front-line soldier; he did requisite service in the Ottawa bureaucracy; he picked the right mentors, made great connections with the Americans, got the promotions that mattered – from commanding an armoured brigade in Germany to Fort Hood, Tex., to the great Canadian ice storm, to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan and finally the top job.

As chief of Canada’s defence staff for just three brief years in the decade’s second half, Rick Hillier succeeded in painting Canadians as warriors – warriors at home and warriors to the only people outside the country that many of us think are important: the Americans.

Few individuals in our history have been as single-handedly accomplished at recrafting the nation’s image – particularly to our neighbours – and rewriting its mythology: delivering the lethal blow to the military’s representation as peacekeeping boy scouts (and NATO free-riders) and shaping a new icon of soldiers who leave home to kill and be killed.

General Hillier, on every occasion that’s presented itself, has talked about the new Canadian fighting forces that will go on combat missions to the globe’s failed states, not to peace-keep –we only have 176 troops on United Nations peacekeeping missions – but to fight people that are deemed bad.

He has had no shortage of critics. He has polarized Canadians on his vision of the military’s role. Month by month, a growing majority of Canadians oppose the Afghan mission. Gen. Hillier, who is on a first-name basis with much of the American high command, has been accused of making the Canadian Forces an adjunct of the U.S. military and being a prop for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

But at home, he has reconnected Canadians with their soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen. And abroad, as Queen’s University military historian Allan English says, “Gen. Hillier’s actions as chief of the defence staff have raised the profile of Canada with the U.S. and NATO as a nation that is prepared to commit troops to difficult and costly combat missions.”

The manifestations of that raised profile are not hard to find. Whereas only a few years ago, the U.S. government witheringly dismissed Canada as a military partner, senior U.S. officers turned up at last year’s 2009 annual meeting of Canada’s Conference of Defence Associations to praise Canadian military contributions.

And U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan , paid a very public visit to Ottawa in December, noting in a speech filled with lavish compliments that Canada’s losses in Afghanistan have been proportionately higher than any other allied nation.

“This has earned Canada a great deal of goodwill in Washington, which has no doubt helped improve Canadian-American relations and led to favourable U.S. consideration on some contentious issues between the two countries,” Prof. English said.

Rick Hillier once said Canadians need to pay attention to their army. He’s made that happen.

Hillier Testimonials

“Unstoppable. Immensely persuasive. Steeped in Newfoundlander charm. Magnetic leader. More impressive than any politician in Ottawa. Ask about a soldier named Rick Hillier and the superlatives never cease.”
Lawrence Martin, The Globe and Mail

“I was wowed by General Hillier presentation on leadership. His message hit home like a cannon ball.”
George Comisso, Vice President and Investment Advisor

“Warm, witty and wise, General Rick Hillier is an electric speaker who charges his audience with enthusiasm and is an ideal choice for any conference.”
Peter Nelson, Executive Director, Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association

Hillier Bio

General R.J Hillier (Retired)
Former Chief of the Defence Staff for Canadian Forces –
the Canadian Forces' Highest Rank

Born in Newfoundland and Labrador, General Rick Hillier joined the Canadian Forces as soon as he could. Having enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1973 through the Regular Officer Training Plan program, he graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science Degree. After completing his armour officer classification training, he joined his first regiment, the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise's) in Petawawa, Ontario. Subsequently, he served with, and later commanded, the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Canada and Germany.

Throughout his career, General Hillier has had the privilege and pleasure of commanding troops from the platoon to multi-national formation level within Canada, Europe, Asia and the United States. He has worked as a staff officer in several headquarters, first at the Army level in Montreal and later at the strategic level in Ottawa.

In 1998 General Hillier was appointed as the first Canadian Deputy Commanding General of III Corps, US Army in Fort Hood, Texas. In 2000 he took command of NATO's Stabilization Force's (SFOR) Multinational Division (Southwest) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In May 2003 General Hillier was appointed as Commander of the Army and subsequently, in October 2003, he was selected as the Commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, Afghanistan.

General Hillier was promoted to his present rank and assumed duties as the Chief of the Defence Staff on 4 February 2005.

General Hillier and his wife have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a new grandson. General Hillier enjoys most recreational pursuits but, in particular, runs slowly, plays hockey poorly and golf’s not well at all.

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