Home Religion Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces
Increasingly Complex Missions
At the same time that changes were occurring within the Chaplain Branch to create efficiencies, include women, and ensure fairness, the years between 1980 and 2000 brought significant changes to the types of missions Canadian military personnel supported. During the first half of the 1980s, military expenditures continued to be highly scrutinized and tightly controlled despite the need to replace obsolete equipment in the face of ongoing UN and NATO commitments, as well as increased American demands and the need to protect Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic and along the world's longest coastline. Ongoing sabre-rattling between the United States and the Soviet Union kept Canada on alert, while engagement in missions termed 'operations other than war' (OOTW)29 meant yet another cultural shift for military personnel. In these operations, further to the relatively recent role of peacekeeping, soldiers might now be engaged in peacemaking and humanitarian aid, as well as rescue and reconstruction efforts. In the mid-1980s, besides service with UN and NATO missions already in place,30 Canadian military personnel participated in a number of high-profile international humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions to Ethiopia, Mexico, Colombia, Armenia, Jamaica, and the small islands of Montserrat and Nevis (Canadian Legal Information Institute 1997). Furthermore, they went to six different international locations for observer and peacekeeping duties.31 In all, the 1980s saw Canadians participate in approximately 14 different non-combat missions around the globe. Then, suddenly during the 1990s, in addition to the Gulf War, Canadians participated in over 30 variously sponsored missions that occurred worldwide and included some of the most traumatic and difficult non-combat operations ever faced by Canadian military personnel. For example, during that period, Canadian soldiers responded to the Balkan and Rwandan genocides, as well as to the fierce tribal warring in Somalia (United Nations Association in Canada 2007). The new operational environment compounded the discomfort, danger, and loneliness typical of military operations by introducing atrocities and human suffering on a scale almost unimaginable to most Canadians. Stress on these missions continued to be extremely high and many people turned to chaplains for counsel and consolation (Benham Rennick 2005a; English 2000, 35).
Along with the hardship experienced on these missions, personnel had increasing involvement with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Red Cross, as well as with local government officials and civilians. In this new environment personnel must be capable of working closely and effectively with other multinational forces to secure and maintain peace, restore order, and bring aid (DND 2005a; Morgan 2003, 373). Chaplains deployed to regions where religion and religious authority were a central aspect of the culture found their religious authority and knowledge helpful in establishing positive local relationships. This new ambassadorial role continues to be especially important when Canadian personnel are working with individuals who are not Canadian Forces members. For example, from July 2003 to January 2004 Chaplain Leslie Dawson served as the senior chaplain to the International Security Assistance
Force serving in Kabul, Afghanistan. Despite being the only woman among them, Dawson was able to establish positive relations with multi-national military chaplains and approximately 40 local mullahs (Harvey 2006, 5). Similarly, during his participation in the Afghanistan mission, Muslim chaplain Suleyman Demiray said, 'My interacting with local Muslim leaders, especially those who were more suspicious of the West . . . was a significant opportunity . . . It was a little bit problematic that I had no beard, and wore [the] Canadian military uniform . . . [but] despite my appearance, they were able to accept me as a Muslim cleric because of my education and knowledge' (Arseniuk 2007).
Another chaplain serving on a disaster relief mission following the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia was able to establish positive relations with local Buddhists because of his religious status. Following a meeting with the senior monk at a local monastery, he was able to get far greater cooperation from civilians than other non-religious members of the team. He said, 'The COs were amazed at all the information I was bringing back . . . but it's because, as a religious person, all the doors are open to you.'
In many non-Western societies, religion often retains important authority and influence (Casanova 1994), and, as these examples suggest, chaplains working with CF troops in these regions are sometimes able to inspire greater cooperation from civilians because of the status ascribed to them as religious leaders.
Along with creating new opportunities for establishing positive relations, military operations other than war face military personnel with new ethical challenges. For example, the Executive Summary of the Report of the Somalia Commission of Inquiry states that, following their mission in Somalia, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded because of 'the shooting of Somali intruders at the Canadian compound in Belet Huen, the beating death of a teenager in the custody of soldiers from 2 Commando of the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR), an apparent suicide attempt by one of these Canadian soldiers, and, after the mission, alleged episodes of withholding or altering key information' (Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia 1997).32
This experience convinced CF leaders that the training and leadership in place at the time had not evolved sufficiently to support personnel on the new types of missions faced by Canadian troops (Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia 1997; Whitworth 2005; Razack 2004; Winslow 1997).33 Further, the fiasco in
Somalia demonstrated a strong need for cultural sensitivity and religious literacy about both the civilian populations and the international troops with whom Canadian soldiers work (Razack 2000; Whitworth 2005). One senior commander explained to me, 'During the 1990s the padres were a very strong ethical base but they were never really called upon by the leadership because of their connection to structured religion and many people no longer turned to structured religion anymore. It was an absolute state of desperation that would push the COs to turn to the padres ... After [Somalia], the padres got very much involved and were able to provide people with another perspective, another angle for looking at problems. At that time, they really did start to be more in your face and present.'
In response to the changing operational environment, the chaplain school added courses in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, ecumenical team building, ethics training, pastoral counselling, and self-care (DND 2003b, 5.1-5.2). In response to the stresses faced by members employed in military operations other than war, the branch mandated that chaplains participate in military training to manage operational stress injuries, and in training in suicide intervention.
In the new postmodern military environment that includes operations other than war, knowledge about religion is often essential both for understanding the conflict and for establishing relations with the locals. Chaplains on these missions are increasingly expected to interpret religious and cultural issues for troops and, because of their religious status, to act as liaisons with local leaders and citizens (Fowler 1996, 258-9; Harvey 2006).
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