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Little recognition for short military service within Canadian borders

This is an updating and compilation of three past articles covering basically the same topic.

January 2017

There is debate among some former Canadian service members over the issue of an additional service medal to recognize service personnel who don’t serve long enough to earn the current Canadian Forces Decoration (CD), which is awarded after 12 years of service.  The issue becomes a big sore point for those who never served on an overseas mission that would qualify then for an operational medal, or a UN or NATO medal.  I have heard from many veterans on my web site who say they have nothing to show for their service at functions such as Remembrance Day services.

Like Great Britain, Canada shares the tradition of not overdoing it with military medals.  Everyone sees those high-ranking American military officers on the news and in movies with so many ribbons on their dress jacket that they rival some tin-pot dictator of a third-world country for medals.  However, this has not gone unnoticed by Americans themselves.

Dr. James Joyner, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and Army officer veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, has coined the term “medal fatigue” to describe the over-issuing of medals.  Dr. Joyner advocates “a substantial culling of the current inventory of medals and ribbons…” issued to members of all service branches.

Although I agree that the Canadian Forces shouldn’t be handing out medals like Hallowe’en candy, I do believe that something beyond the current CD medal is warranted for in-country service.

One option could be a “Home Defence Service Medal” or an updated version of the WWII era “Volunteer Service Medal”, with a 3 year minimum service requirement (3 years being the usual “initial engagement” for Regular Force members). This would recognize the fact that some service members never get the opportunity to serve overseas, despite serving for multiple years, or for those who did serve overseas but not long enough to qualify for any medal related to that mission.

For reservists specifically, there are the additional issues of being able to get the required time off from your civilian job and being one of the lucky ones selected by your unit to go on a mission as there generally are limited billets.  Not all reservists who want to serve overseas are selected to go.

Additionally, prior to the early 1990s, the prevailing attitude among Regular Force members was that reservists were stealing jobs away from the regulars.  This attitude also prevented many reservists who would have willingly served overseas.

I believe a “Home Defence / Volunteer Service Medal” would also address the issue that we do need people serving on the home-front.  Even in the darkest days of World War II (or any war), when all able bodied men were needed on the front lines, we still needed military personnel back home serving as instructors at training schools, manning coastal defence facilities, doing signals intelligence work and guarding prisoners-of-war and power generation stations.  The Veterans Guard were tasked to perform some of these jobs, but most had to be done by their younger active-service counterparts.  It’s no different today.

I can understand that some may feel that by giving a service medal such as a CVSM after only 1-3 years will turn us into a military where every private has a medal “just for showing up”, or it will become a “I passed basic training, but haven’t done much else” medal. I disagree with that, but as a compromise, perhaps the CFVM could be given out at the same time as the CD or when the person leaves the military, whichever comes first.

New Zealand began issuing a “Defence Service Medal” to their military in April 2011, with eligibility going back to 1945.

NDP MP Carol Hughes tabled a private member’s bill in favour of a “Defence of Canada Medal” in 2014 to honour those who served during the Cold War years.  The bill died on the order table when Parliament was dissolved in August 2015 and has not yet been re-introduced.

Another medal that has been overlooked is one to recognize the Cold War, the longest continuing military operation in western military history. Generally recognized as having lasted from 2 September 1945 until 26 December 1991, militaries around the world were kept on a high state of alert for any impending attacks. It was a large-scale military campaign that prevented a third world war, most likely a nuclear one at that, through deterrence and worldwide strategic military deployments.

The Korean War is regarded by many as the first battle of the Cold War.  In Europe, the Soviets had a battle plan drawn up that would have directly engaged NATO forces. This plan would have included a diversionary attack the bulk of NATO forces in north Germany, while the main bulk of the forces would cross from Austria, into Switzerland and eventually onto Paris.

Other campaigns such as the Vietnam War, The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis were conflicts within the Cold War. Operations such so as Quemoy-Matsu, Korea 1966-74, Berlin 1961-62 and humanitarian rescue missions such as the Congo (1964), all took place during the Cold War.

In the United States and Canada, the strategic defence of North America and Europe called for vigilance and devotion to duty. Military personnel always had to be on guard against surprise attack; one that fortunately never came. Even peacekeepers throughout the world were required to stay combat ready.

A Cold War medal could also address the issue of in-country service, as even reservists were required to maintain readiness in the event of a nuclear attack.

Bottom line, I believe a medal to recognize short-service in-country service is warranted.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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