Canadian Forces boss known as unflappable
War on terrorism will put Hénault under intense scrutiny in coming months
By BRIAN LAGHI, The Globe and Mail
Monday, September 24, 2001
OTTAWA -- The man who would lead Canada into the new war on terrorism is Jean Chrétien's type of general.
Cool-headed and cautious, Ray Hénault made his bones ferrying Canadian soldiers by helicopter to world hot spots.
He is also a cautious military manager who, like the prime minister who appointed him, is a "stay-the-course" leader rather than a visionary.
But while Canadian military experts are confident that General Hénault won't get flustered in the coming battle with world terrorists, they believe this is an opportunity for the new Chief of Defence Staff to agitate for badly needed equipment and personnel.
"He's an intelligent, controlled guy. The Canadian people are going to find him a very appealing guy," said a military expert who asked not to have his name published.
"My only observation is that if there ever was an opportunity to make up for some of the slack that has occurred in the past 10 years, this is it."
It has been four months since Gen. Hénault was installed as Canada's top military officer, pledging not to make any dramatic changes.
But after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, the actions of the soft-spoken, 52-year-old will receive the greatest scrutiny over the next few months.
Battered by budget cuts and commanding a military that continues to shrink, Gen. Hénault's main task over the next few months will be how best to deploy the Canadian Forces in a war that has little resemblance to the kinds of conflicts Canadians are used to.
Retired general Bob Morton, who was Gen. Hénault's superior for a few years in the late 1980s, said that perhaps almost no military experts on the continent have a grip on what is likely to unfold.
But Gen. Hénault came of age as a military commander in the decade after the end of the cold war, a major asset in preparing for what is to come. "We have never been in a state where political leaders are talking about being at war without defining with what we are at war," Mr. Morton said.
"But he has had those 10 years as a general officer and a senior guy in what I would consider to be the ideal sequence of assignments in National Defence Headquarters."
For Gen. Hénault, the road to the top of the military establishment began in a small Manitoba farming community of St. Jean Baptiste. His father was a crop-duster in summer and a bush pilot in winter, imparting his love of the skies to his son.
For a time he piloted CF-101 Voodoos, but by 1976 he was flying Twin Huey helicopters.
Eventually, he was appointed project director for the Canadian Forces Light Helicopter Project, and has, along the way, flown helicopters in Europe and Canada, ferrying soldiers to theatres of war.
Mr. Morton says he saw Gen. Hénault was a comer when the latter served under him between 1986-1989. It was Gen. Hénault's quiet style that impressed him.
"Ray Hénault had that kind of quiet personality and confident manner of speaking that would remove the passion and the hair-on-fire concerns about where projects are going," he said.
Another expert calls Gen. Hénault methodical and difficult to fluster. He is not a table-pounder, a characteristic that might have been of use when expressing the need for military cash.
As to what he has to work with, experts believe that the Canadian military can contribute to the effort, but in limited form.
For example, the air force could commit some of the CF-18s used in the Kosovo conflict and perhaps troops from a special-forces group.
One expert said that it is time for military leaders to push for the money to beef up the military, particularly for surveillance.
"There is a technology gap in some of the higher-end, war-fighting requirements," said the expert. The army may also be difficult to bring into the conflict, given the fact that so many Canadian soldiers are involved in peace-keeping.
Although Gen. Hénault would not agree to an interview, his prudence is well-known.
"I would say that I'm going to stay the course," Gen. Hénault said in Ottawa last May. "We have made a number of significant changes that I feel have moved the Canadian Forces forward. I don't see a need, at this point in time, to make any dramatic announcements." He said he believes the Forces are more combat-capable than they were a decade ago.
Critics, however, said that if the battles depend on uniformed strength, Canada has less to contribute than it did 10 years ago. The number of soldiers in the regular forces is below the 60,000 set down in a 1994 defence-policy paper, and Gen. Hénault has acknowledged that the Forces need 7,000 to 9,000 more people to make up for retirements and other departures.
Scott Taylor, editor of the military magazine Esprit De Corps, is less than impressed by Gen. Hénault's guarded approach.
"If a new CEO comes into a bank and says he has no vision, that's not very good for the bank," Mr. Taylor said. "If he's happy with the status quo, then we're in trouble. . . . The place is being run by lawyers and PR guys, but I think you're got to communicate with the men."
To be sure, communications is a focal point for the general.
Soft-spoken and courteous, Gen. Hénault became familiar to Canadians after his performance in front of the cameras during Canada's participation in the Kosovo bombing campaign. As the deputy chief of defence staff, Gen. Hénault was intimately involved in co-ordinating Canada's contribution to the campaign, which involved CF-18s and troops.
Retired general David Jurkowski worked directly under Gen. Hénault at the time of the Kosovo mission.
He said the new chief believes that military leaders must be adept at communicating because the public doesn't want to hear about military involvement from public-relations professionals.
"They want to hear the news from the guy with his hand on the throttle."
Mr. Jurkowski suggests, however, that the public won't see the general as often as they did during the Kosovo crisis.