Lessons to be learned with ‘Respect in the CAF’

By Sergeant James Cowell

Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2018

First, it is important I state where I am coming from as I report on the March roll out of the new “Respect in the Canadian Armed Forces (RITCAF)” course.

I joined the military in 1977 as an infantry soldier, serving with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and Airborne Regiment, in what was a harder and meaner military at the time. Over these past 41 years, I have witnessed many cultural changes, both inside and outside the CAF. When Operation Honour started two years ago, many personnel, like myself, initially had our “backs up” - not denying the operation’s targeted misconduct within the forces, but reacting to the perception Op Honour was aimed at “alpha males;” that we were to blame for all that is wrong in the military by our actions and language. A natural response for many was to defend ourselves; this was further aggravated with the introduction of bystander training, known amongst some of us as “back stabber” training - completely against the long-standing grain of an effective fighting force: one does not “rat out” a brother- or sister-in-arms. Having said all of this, Op Honour was the order of the day and, as highly trained personnel, we would obey.

February 27, I did not go into the classroom at the 14 Wing Greenwood Fitness & Sports Centre to attend the first session of RITCAF with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling. I volunteered for this assignment for many reasons; I am very glad I did.

This new course is offered in collaboration with Op Honour and the Personnel Support Programs (PSP) Health Promotion staff. I sat in the class as a student and reporter, this being known to the HP instructor Lisa White, as well as fellow students.

There are three aspects of the course: the nature and magnitude of sexual misconduct in the CAF, bystander intervention and victim support.

We were paired with another student to find out who they are, where they had heard about the course and why they were attending. We introduced each other to the class with that information and, then, set the day’s “ground rules,” providing a safe and confidential atmosphere to learn and share with one another through the course’s material.

There was no finger pointing or blame, and many participants – including me – found a clearer line between acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour. I found the course relevant and realistic to situations we, as members of the CAF, may find ourselves in.

The outcome was the most important: this old soldier learned something. We require alpha males and females to lead; but their culture has to change so they are able to put themselves in the place of a victim, step in with the support they require and recognize action is not “ratting out” one’s comrade - it is “weeding out” destructive behaviour. The result: a more accepting, diverse and effective unit, organization and CAF as a whole.

This nationally-driven, CAF-wide workshop is designed to foster change in attitudes and behaviours and build a respectful climate and culture. I believe it does so - and very well. I was concerned about where my beloved military was heading. Thanks to this course, I know it is moving forward for the betterment of all. I highly recommend attending this workshop. Respect for one another in the Canadian Armed Forces is what it is all about.