Born in 1955, General Rick Hillier (S149) has defied Canadian military tradition. Few other generals have become known to all Canadians. Indeed, “General Rick” is a household name. He is a singular exception to the Canadian soldier’s tendency to ignore or to have little feelings for senior leaders. The force of his personality, combined with genuine compassion and extraordinary vision, has left an impression upon every Canadian soldier, sailor, airman and air woman. During his tenure as Chief of Defence Staff, General Hillier stirred emotions and hopes like no other before him. The Canadian Forces were galvanized under his leadership. With him they could feel their credibility grow amongst the Canadian people. At the same time, his leadership led to a steady and positive increase in the reputation of Canada and the Canadian Forces internationally.
A proud Newfoundlander, in 1972 General Rick began a military career that would make him an even prouder Canadian. Throughout his years as a young officer he served throughout Canada and in Germany and rose quickly by account of his exceptional ability to learn, his common sense style of leadership, and his unassailable integrity. At critical junctures during the Manitoba floods in 1997 and the Ice Storm in 1998, his performance as a brigade commander impressed senior military commanders and political leaders equally. With their confidence, he received inaugural appointments as Deputy Commanding General of III Armoured Corps of the United States Army, followed by command of Multinational Division (Southwest) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and then three-star command of NATO’s International Stabilization Force in Afghanistan. Thus, even before his appointment to position of Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff in 2005, General Rick had achieved an unmatched reputation in American and European circles. As CDS he set out to transform the entire manner with which Canadians approach international military operations, championing the”3-D” approach to security – defence, diplomacy, and development. This has since been emulated by American and British allies. General Hillier’s ambition in this was anything but personal. Rather it was guided by the sound principle which he summed up as follows: “When a soldier steps on foreign soil in a high-risk environment, every single Canadian should be walking with him or her.”
General Rick’s unselfish placement of the individual Canadian serviceman or woman and the military family above all else, and especially above all bureaucracy, has resulted in unprecedented high morale and popular support, even while enduring the severe stresses of operations in Afghanistan. He has taken this selfless trait into retirement. As champion of the multi-million dollar charity known as the CDS’s Military Family Fund, General Rick has singlehandedly ended bureaucratic distance between the Forces and the families of our Fallen, and the cold practice that saw soldiers invalided out of the military as soon as was conveniently possible. General Rick’s genuine compassion, his extraordinary vision, his ability to involve everyone in common commitment, and his tireless energy have provided a legacy of exemplary leadership that will long endure. It is because of General Rick’s legacy of leadership that every single Forces’ member knows that while he lives, they will never walk alone in foreign fields.
Biography originally published in November 16th, 2009 issue of E-veritas, available here.
Below is an interview with Rick Hillier, in which he speaks to his time as the Chief of Defence Staff, leadership, and the Canadian military.