Not quite the fabled V-E Day kiss, but…

March 21st, 2008
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Dr. J., this site’s welcome contributor Bob Holtby, and Mr. K. are all keenly interested in military history and, in our respective ways, have done quite a bit of reading on it. While Dr. J. continues to obsess about the particular genius of Frederick the Great and pondering just what might have moved the Prussian to shift this or that regiment of foot or artillery to this or that ridge or hilltop, Mr. K. long ago realized he had a weakness for poetically tragic defeats, such as Vietnam, Algeria and Roman Britain.

The ever-practical Holtby, meanwhile, has an affinity for understanding the nature of leadership. Of all its forms, few would argue that military leadership is among the finest and most consequential of the leadership arts. Not many can resist feelings of awe at the ability of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan to transform tens of thousands of soldiers into instruments of their will – even as we recoil at the enormous bloodshed this caused.

On a decidedly non-sanguinary level, Holtby is currently churning through an extensive reading list on military leadership kindly provided to him by Brig. Gen. Peter Kilby (ret’d), who resides in Holtby’s beloved Salmon Arm, B.C. Holtby seeks to tie in military leadership with what he had learned about corporate leadership during his tenure as an instructor at the University of Northern BC.

Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan naturally makes the fascinating leadership approach of General Rick Hillier, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), a frequent topic of their discussions. Hillier is one of those relatively rare officers who has remained a soldier’s soldier even as he’s risen to the pinnacle of the defence establishment – which Mr. K. considers the normal domain of bureaucrats-in-uniform.

Hillier combines the knowledge base required to make sound operational decisions with the mystique of command credibility with a third ingredient – the ability to inspire loyalty, devotion and even the love from those under his command.

As Gen. Kilby writes: “Every once in a while, a leader comes along who is so comfortable in his own persona that he can make gestures that may seem silly but which actually cement his leadership persona in the hearts and minds of those who follow him.”

Gen. Kilby’s comment was inspired by this story told by Master Corporal LeBlanc of the Royal Canadian Regiment, and recently published on

Close to Christmas time last year, the CDS paid a visit to the 1 RCR Wives Club. There were other wives clubs invited too, but it was held in the 1 RCR Drill Hall. My wife, who was at the time my fiancée, attended this visit.

When the visit was just about over, the General was meeting some of the wives, shaking hands, taking photos, that kind of stuff. My future wife had the opportunity to meet “Old Uncle Rick,” and he had some questions for her.

Assuming I was married to a soldier, he asked “What unit is your husband in?” “1 RCR, Sir, Charles company,” my “wife” replied. “Really! I’ll be spending Christmas with Charles company! Do you have a message for him I can deliver?” asked the General. “Oh, yes, just tell him I said hello and that I miss him,” she said.
General Hillier had a better idea: “Here, give me a little peck on the cheek.” Being an excellent follower of orders, [she] leaned in and gave the CDS a little peck on the cheek. “I’ll deliver that to him myself,” he told her. She blushed and said “thank you” and moved on to let others meet the CDS.

Fast forward to Patrol Base Wilson [in Afghanistan]. Charles Company rolled in to PBW, and the CDS met us there. While we’re standing around, munching on American MREs, my Sergeant Major seeks me out.

“I want you standing in the front friggin’ row when the General comes around!” he barked at me. “Yes sir!” I replied, as I too, am an excellent follower of orders.

So, there I am, front row, watching the CDS come around shaking hands and talking to the troops. When he gets to me he shakes my hand, then he sees my name tag.
“Master-Corporal Leblanc! I’ve been looking for you! I have something to deliver … just look into that camera.”
Again, being a good follower of orders, I look into the Dutch combat camera man’s digital camera…General Hillier, still gripping my hand leans in, and plants his lips on my cheek, and the camera man wasted no time snapping that photo! Well, I think I turned a shade of red that no living human being has turned before. Still gripping my hand, the General asked “Did I embarrass you, Master-Corporal?”

“Maybe a little, sir.” My ears felt like they were on fire at this point. So, with the whole company shedding tears of laughter behind me, he gave me a CDS coin and said “The kiss was from your fiancée, Melissa, but the coin is from me, keep up the good work and get home safely to that lovely young lady.”

“Yessir! Thank you, Sir!” and he went on with meeting the rest of the troops.

Sums up Gen. Kilby: “Gen. Hillier will be missed.”

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