Photo credit: Combat Camera 

*** The full article, “E-Soldiers Two,” by Eric Dion, CD, MBA, PhD can be found in the new issue of CDA Institute journal, On Track. The following blog entry highlights the author’s key findings and policy recommendations.


Editorial Note

Opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Forces College, or any other agency of the Government of Canada.


In Strong Secure Engaged (SSE), Canada’s latest Defence Policy (2017), the government laid out a foundation for the eventual renaissance of the Canadian Armed Forces. Indeed, it addresses emerging areas of interest and influence for Canada. And for the first time, it also directly addresses the critical issue of personnel. In fact, military human resources are the core capacities and abilities or e-Capabilities, which ensure the CAF remains operational.


From a strategic perspective, it is worth noting that in Canada spent over $20.6 billion on defence, of which 46 percent was devoted to human resources in 2016 alone. That means that almost half of Canada’s annual military spending goes directly, or indirectly, toward its people. However, most examinations of Canada’s defence policy focus on large capability projects. However, the CAF’s vitality resides in its e-Soldiers.


For the last twelve years, the CAF has tried to transform, recruit and diversify without much success. Although the situation has evolved, the structure, systems and strategy have had little impact on CAF culture because they were not managed in synergy. Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Op HONOUR, have had a significant effect as catalysts of change. But new operational engagements with irregular warfare, CDS Op Orders for People, Careers, Diversity, Unit climate etc., are required to further shape CAF culture and foster synergy dynamics. For example, engaging the CAF in training & mentoring operations will foster synergies, adding value to Canada’s place in the world.


Such a strategic operational focus will fundamentally transform the CAF to face twenty-first century challenges, such as hybrid, unrestricted and asymmetric warfare, in a similar manner that Afghanistan shaped Canada’s military culture for future generations. Thus, strategic impact operations should be seen as opportunities to pursue CAF transformation.


As DND’s 2017 departmental plan notes, “the Defence Team is the backbone of our capability and our greatest asset. The success of any mission is dependent on having healthy, well-trained, and motivated personnel.” Furthermore, “the key to unconventional warfare…is simple. It is the protagonist’s ability to adapt to change and then to mutate into opportunistic threats. Without this ability to adapt, employing the next generation of new opportunities to their advantage, antagonists would likely become obsolete and fall victim to our own capacity to seize the initiative.” In this unstable global environment, “complacency can be lethal for Canada.” It is thus vital to leverage people abilities. Faced with intangible, unconventional, irregular threats, Canada must be smarter and invest accordingly. In Strong Secure Engaged, the capacities part of the equation is well developed, not so for the abilities part, which refers to people and so-called soft skills.


Crucial changes may seem simple but they are constrained by current HR policies, plans, programs and practices and by the very culture they seek to change. People are not only the CAF’s most expensive assets but the most valuable ones. HR issues have little to do with money or time and everything to do with the CAF leadership. Moving forward, deliberately creating and exploiting synergies through collaboration with the public and the private sectors should be paramount to fostering a greater return on Canadian’s investment in defence. It will require an open mind to seize opportunities in both sectors. A smarter constructive and pragmatic perspective can foster greater Synergy.


The CAF wishes to become a learning organization that leverages knowledge but the results have yet to materialize. HR policies are the pegs that hold the entire institution firmly rooted in place, so challenging our assumptions is essential. Through this forum, we aimed to initiate a crucial and timely discussion of our e-Soldiers Two!

The following executive military human resources (HR) management recommendations are made:





  • Promote the adventure and professionalism associated with military service
  • Leverage CAF successes and positive stories for a Canadian audience (Eg. CAF News).
  • Employment should be opened in the department for families and veterans first.
  • Crucial opportunities exist for the CAF in recruiting, training, education, health, services.


Socio-cultural Change

  • e-Soldiers abilities and diversity must be leveraged for successful operational advantages.
  • Develop new contemporary CAF social contract to sustain future force generation.
  • Successful leaders must “think through” to take advantage of social & cultural changes.
  • Competitive assignments can help secure intangibles like commitment and ownership.
  • Military competitiveness, and unit 360o climate, can help create a culture of meritocracy.
  • Team appreciations are more reflective than stale individual performance appraisals.
  • Ethics reflect the fundamental human dimension of warfare; acculturation remains key.



  • One-size-fits-all approaches are no longer valid; everyone is special and a unique soldier.
  • A new regimental system should not be occupational but operationally mission focused.
  • Mission elements should be the basic building blocks and regimen of the CAF structure.
  • Mission elements building and fusing are fundamental to enable military esprit-de-corps.
  • Warrants should be issued commissions with authority for command at tactical level.
  • Officers should be trained and educated for command at the operational and strategic level.
  • Veteran’s Affairs Canada should become an agency of the larger Department of Defence.
  • Broadening the employment scope of the CAF and VAC workforce will become necessary.



  • The essence of CAF Mil-HR management excellence rests in its “strategic openness”.
  • Mil-HR issues have little to do with money or time and everything to do with leadership.
  • The chain-of-command is ultimately responsible and accountable for HR’s management.
  • Leaders’ performance must be assessed through unit climate 360o team appreciations.
  • High impact strategic operations should be seen as key medium to pursue transformation.
  • Engaging with unconventional/irregular warfare will shape next generation of e-Soldiers.



  • Fundamentally adapt CAF Mil-HR system by changing policies, programs and practices.
  • Establish career cycles in-sync with managed readiness frameworks of mission elements.
  • Flexible (re) entry schemes are needed for professionals, specialists, warrants and officers.
  • Adopt a more systemic and holistic human perspective for the management of e-Soldiers.



  • Openness is key to the right balance of quality people in the right quantity for operations.
  • The core principle of Command & Control will slowly evolve to Cultivate & Collaborate.



Eric Dion is a contracted professor, an executive management consultant and military veteran who served 25 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. His research focuses on the strategic management nexus in national security and global defence. See more at:

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