Canada’s most popular military leader since the Second World War tells his own story about our soldiers at war. In the summer of 2008, General Rick Hillier resigned his command as Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces. You could almost hear the sigh of relief in Ottawa as Canada’s most popular, and most controversial, leader since the Second World War left a role in which he’d been as frank-speaking, as unpredictable, and as resolutely apolitical as any military leader this country has ever seen.
Born and raised in Newfoundland, Hillier joined the military as a young man and quickly climbed the ranks. He played a significant role in domestic challenges, such as the 1998 ice story that paralyzed much of eastern Ontario and Quebec, and he quickly became a player on the international scene, commanding an American corps in Texas and a multinational NATO task force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But it was his role as General Rick Hillier, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, that defined him as a Canadian public figure. In Afghanistan, Canada faced its first combat losses since the Korean War and every casualty suddenly became front-page news. A country formerly ambivalent or even angry about its role in the conflict suddenly became gripped by the drama playing out not only in the war zone of a country half-way around the world, but in the unfriendly conference rooms in the country’s capital as Hillier pulled no punches, demanding more funding and more troops and more appreciation for the women and men fighting a war on foreign soil.