BY GILBERT TAYLOR
With the world confronting an ever-more menacing COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have been forced to face many new realities.
What were once suggestions by governments have become laws.
Staying home is now a way of life.
Those of us over 70 can be forgiven for thinking we have become part of an endangered subspecies, in peril of being triaged into oblivion.
One issue receiving a lot of attention recently is that of military preparedness to help the country through these trying times.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance says it’s fair to say we are at war with a plague and he has found it prudent to caution members of the public not to be alarmed if they see a greater military presence on our streets and highways.
Heaven forbid we should spot a uniformed officer in plain sight!
In fact, the spectacle of military vehicles carrying uniformed, unarmed troops to Camp Borden, north of Toronto, is a vision of comfort rather than something to be feared.
More than 20% of those soldiers will be part-time reservists. The reality is the regular force can’t do without them.
They are lawyers, shopkeepers, school teachers, barbers, college students and Canadians from many other walks of life who hold down civilian jobs during the week and dedicate their spare time to serving Canada in 128 regiments from coast to coast.
They are the most visible part of our armed forces and put their own lives on hold when fires, floods, ice storms and any manner of natural disaster threatens Canadians.
Officially, it’s called “aid to the civil power” and is triggered when provinces and municipalities call for help.
When Canada is at war, when democracy is threatened, anywhere in the world, Canada’s reservists and volunteers are among the first to risk their lives for all of us.
That’s the way it was in Afghanistan, where reservists made up more than 25% of our military force and were indispensable, working seamlessly beside their full-time counterparts.
Today they are volunteering to do their part in the battle against COVID-19, ready to work 24/7 in humanitarian service to their fellow Canadians.
It’s a longstanding tradition within the reserve community.
Ironically, the reserve force, throughout its storied history, has fought not only in wars abroad and against natural disasters at home, but for its very existence in its own backyard.
It has been such a difficult time for the militia over the past 25 years that a group of supporters, including honorary colonels, of which I am one, retired military members and other influential individuals have felt duty-bound to step up and fight to retain a viable reserve force.
It has often been assailed from all sides by a succession of self-interested upper ranks of the military chain of command, misguided politicians and unknowledgeable bureaucrats.
They might have done away with the army reserve had it not been for these volunteers riding to the rescue beneath the banner of an organization they call Reserves 2000.
In the current COVID-19 emergency, as reservists are being invited to sign on full-time, at least until fall, there seems to be more recognition of their value than ever before.
Let’s hope so and let’s’ hope that when everything gets back to normal, or to whatever we’ll be calling the new normal, the true value of the reserve will be recognized once and for all.
Whatever political party happens to be in power in Ottawa, let’s hope it will do the right thing, the prudent thing, and increase the militia to something near the 45,000 members the army reserve should be at, as well as equip it properly and allow it to run with a reasonable degree of autonomy.
That’s a big, bold ask, even though there’s no question such a move would provide Canada the best bang for its taxation buck for a nation reeling from disastrous human and economic losses in the age of the coronavirus.
Sadly, chances of that happening appear to be close to zero under our current militarily-challenged government.
Still, we live in hope that at some point our leaders will do the right thing.
— Col. Gilbert Taylor, (HCol. retired) is the immediate past president of the Royal Canadian Military Institute and Ontario Branch of the Last Post Fund and a founding member of Reserves 2000