Saturday, September 03, 2005

We'll Help Any Way We Can

From the website of the Canadian Department of National Defence these words from General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Canadian Defence Staff.

13h30 - September 1, 2005

Gen. Rick Hillier: Well, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and thank you for being here. We wanted to provide some opportunity to at least let you know from the Canadian Forces' perspective, for whom I speak, where we are in this tragedy.

Let me first say, ladies and gentlemen, that our closest allies and our friends and our neighbours are living in a tragedy beyond anything that we probably would have imagined would visit the shores of this continent. A minute by minute tragedy visited on tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of souls down there and, by an extension of course the nation and the continent. And we want to help and we believe that that's what being friends and allies is about, being ready to help in time of need.

As a personal note I'll say that as General Rick Hillier during my time living in the southern United States in 1998 to 2000 I spent a significant amount of time in Louisiana doing training exercises and events in preparation in Fort Polk just north of New Orleans itself and participated in New Orleans in June of 2000 in the opening of the D-Day Museum. So my family and I watched those pictures from video and see those things in print and the pictures in the newspapers and our thoughts and our prayers go out to all those involved. We want to help you. Our thoughts and our prayers are with you.

Yesterday I spoke with my American counterpart, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dick Myers, and the Commander of U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Tim Keating and I told them this: that whenever there is a need, wherever there is a need be it a niche capability or augmentation to an existing capability they had but to ask and we in the Canadian Forces would have it rolling or sailing or flying southward as quickly as possible to stand side by side with them to bring relief or respite to those who might need it and for however long it would take within our capacity to assist them.

Their message back to me was very clear. Firstly, it was a heartfelt thanks from their part that we had made the offer directly and that they believed this offer was completely sincere. They were appreciative of it completely. Secondly, they responded they are still trying to get full situational awareness of the extent of the tragedy and therefore what the full requirement will be to mitigate it. Secondly, of course -- thirdly they know that the magnitude and the duration of this capacity is immense -- absolutely immense. They know what we are capable of and when the need is determined and when the duration is determined if they have need of things that they cannot provide they will indeed call us.

I've asked our Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Marc Dumais, standing here on my left, to now develop the contingency plans and to put any CF units that may be called upon to deploy in support of a relief effort on standby. In short, we want to be ready to go as soon as any need is identified that we may be able to fill. And we are preparing assets from the air, land and sea in order to move to the area as I requested.

I just had lunch with the American ambassador, Ambassador David Wilkins, and I told him exactly the same thing. He knows we want to help. He knows that we can help and he knows that if there is a need, be it to fill a niche that is not filled or to augment some of the capacity already, we will be there for them. He will take that message, he told me, directly to Washington.

Ladies and gentlemen, I often tell young soldiers deploying to our missions overseas that very few people in their lifetime have the privilege of doing something positively to really affect the lives of thousands of people. And today I would tell them - soldiers, sailors, airmen and women - exactly the same thing. Helping our friends and neighbours is a privilege that we stand by to implement, that we stand by to grab, that we stand by to do.

I know as I speak for the Canadian Forces that I have the entire support of the Government of Canada behind me. I spoke last night with our prime minister and we walked through this issue in detail and I have his complete support to make the offers that I have made to the United States of America. I spoke to the Minister of National Defence this morning and, again, walked through him our preparations and our planning and the offers that we had made and, again, I have his complete support to have made that offer.

We stand ready to assist the Americans if there is any demand, any request to us and we stand ready to do that as soon as they ask. ...

Ladies and gentlemen, we know that the United States of America has enormous capacity flowing towards the southern part of their country from their armed forces and from the great industrial plant that their country has. We know that they probably have most or all of the things that they need. That?s obvious and common sense. But there may be opportunity that things that we have in the Canadian Forces, where it can be used to alleviate suffering, to speed the recovery or to just mitigate the continuing damage. If there is a need, if there is anything identified whatsoever, we are prepared to respond immediately. ...

Question: General Hillier, Roger Smith from CTV. There have been a lot of strong and angry words between Canada and the United States in recent weeks over softwood. The prime minister has been criticized for not speaking out more quickly publicly about the hurricane and offering Canada's condolences. Could Canadians be excused for thinking that this whole offer, public offer of help today is a little bit of PR to try to help improve relations between the two countries?

Gen. Rick Hillier: Roger, let me just tell you from my perspective as the Chief of Defence Staff in the Canadian Forces our offer of help representing I know what our government is supporting and what Canadians want also is absolutely genuine and from the heart.

These are our neighbours. They are our friends and they are our allies. And if they are in need and if we can fill a part of the requirement to mitigate and diminish that need then we're prepared to do so. That is not a public relations piece from us. It is genuine from the heart.

We know, we have confidence if conditions were reversed they would be the first to step up to help us if we needed it and I think that we as neighbours, as friends, as allies, as family on the continent, if you will, North Americans, we're ready to do exactly the same with them and I think that's not only our responsibility, that's probably our passion also.

[Emphasis is mine] Read the whole press conference here.


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