Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute

Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute

May 15, 2008 08:00 ET

Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute: Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan Face Difficulties Transitioning From Combatant to Combat Veteran States the Findings of New Report

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - May 15, 2008) - The Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute released a report today, Redeployment as a Rite of Passage written by Dr. Anne Irwin.

Anne Irwin is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the CDFAI Chair in Civil-Military Relations at the University of Calgary. She served in the Canadian Forces Reserve for fifteen years, retiring as a Military Police officer with the rank of Major.

Dr. Irwin spent three months in 2006 embedded with the soldiers of Charlie Company of the First Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. This paper is written from an anthropological perspective and examines the rite of passage these soldiers embarked on that took them from active combatant status to combat veteran status. It also examines the flaws in the redeployment process that hinder the reintegration of combat soldiers into Canadian society.

Irwin notes that there are three distinct phases of redeployment but that the major weakness in the entire process occurs in the first: "Because of the way the relief in place was organized, sections were split up, with some members of the section leaving Afghanistan while others continued to conduct patrolling and other operations. The resulting disruption of unit and sub-unit integrity created a great deal of additional stress and discontent. This was the most significant negative factor related to the redeployment."

The second phase, or decompression phase, in which soldiers spend time in Cyprus, has significantly improved the transition process for soldiers returning to Canada but Irwin argues that there are still serious flaws in the system: "There was a surprising lack of recognition on the part of the decompression tour organizers of the importance of the primary group in supporting the returning soldiers' transition from combat to home. Despite the rhetoric in the briefings which spoke of the importance of buddies and the primary group bond, in practice, this bond was not only not recognized, but ruptured by the redeployment process."

Irwin concludes with three suggestions on how to improve the decompression phase so that soldiers are more easily able to make the transition from soldier to veteran: maintaining unit and sub-unit integrity; assigning unit members to the same hotel or to hotels that are close together; and improving the critical incident debriefing sessions.

The complete report, Redeployment as a Rite of Passage, is available online at www.cdfai.org.

CDFAI is a "think tank" pursuing authoritative research and new ideas aimed at ensuring Canada has a respected and influential voice in the international arena.

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