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Heavy-Lift Aircraft Arrive at Trenton

The main thing to know about the CC-117 Globemaster III—Canada’s newest military aircraft—is that it is very large and very powerful. It is thunderously large and powerful, in fact. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Should you find yourself sitting at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan when one of these aircraft takes off you will almost certainly feel your skull vibrate and your hair shimmy as everything around you starts to shake itself loose.

The Boeing C-117 Globemaster, referred to in its Canadian Forces nomenclature as a CC-117, is a strategic, heavy-lift aircraft. It can move up to 77,500 kilograms of equipment and supplies—including tanks, armoured vehicles or enough food to feed a small city—and it can move all this to pretty much any runway in the world. The CC-117 is such a big aircraft that, for example, it has enough lift capacity to carry two entire CC-130 aircraft—the Canadian air force’s tactical transport plane—should you be able to find a way to fit them inside the cargo bay.

The plane is powered by four fully reversible turbofan engines. It can be flown with a minimum aircrew of three, a pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster.

Canada took delivery of its first of four CC-117s in August at a ceremony held at Boeing’s manufacturing facility in Long Beach, Calif. Shortly thereafter Canada’s newest aircraft lifted off to travel to its new home base at 429 Transport Squadron, 8 Wing, based at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont. Along the way it made a brief stop at the Abbotsford, B.C., air show on Aug. 11.

“The test flights are over, our flight crews are trained, the Maple Leaf is painted on the fuselage,” said Department of National Defence Assistant Deputy Minister for materiel Dan Ross, just after the first delivery ceremony. “(This) marks a new stage in Canada’s ability to provide strategic airlift and support of our military, humanitarian operations and, most specifically, to Afghanistan.”

The second CC-117 arrived at 8 Wing Oct. 18. The remaining two aircraft are expected to be delivered in spring 2008.

Its first operational mission was delivery of disaster relief to Jamaica in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean.

“Today’s shipment of such a large quantity of supplies across this long distance would not have been possible without our new CC-117 aircraft,” said Defence Minister Peter MacKay. “I am proud that we now have this capability, and the CF can contribute toward this important relief effort and helping to alleviate the human suffering caused by Hurricane Dean.”

The first flight to Jamaica carried a load of jerry cans, pails and tarpaulins.

“This first 32 tonnes of aid begins a legacy of helping others that will perhaps total hundreds of millions of pounds over the lifetime of the aircraft,” said aircraft commander Major Jean Maisonneuve.

A few days later, the CC-117 delivered its first load of supplies into Afghanistan, landing in the very early morning at the Kandahar airport, less than a month after the aircraft arrived in Canada.

As with any new purchase, however, there are a few growing pains. A recent DND departmental performance report, for example, noted that the Trenton air base didn’t yet have a hangar large enough to store the massive plane.

“Because this project has advanced so fast, permanent support facilities at 8 Wing Trenton will not be ready when the first aircraft arrives,” reads the report. “Infrastructure efforts are continuing and interim facilities are being investigated.”

As a result, Canada’s first couple of CC-117s will more than likely spend the winter sitting in the open on the tarmac.

Previous to the purchase of the CC-117s, the CF was meeting its heavy-lift requirements using rented planes or relying on the United States Air Force for assistance, particularly in the case of moving heavy supplies to Afghanistan.

In purchasing the CC-117 Canada joins the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, who have already purchased the plane.

The estimated total cost for four CC-117s is $1.8 billion, plus an estimated contract value of $1.6 billion for 20 years of service support.

The new Soldier On program, which will cater to rehabilitation needs of disabled Canadian Forces personnel and veterans, is an example of how quickly things can move when an idea’s time has come.

Athlete and marathon fundraiser Sergeant Andrew McLean wanted to turn an ultrarun from Yukon’s Whitehorse to Dawson City last February into a fundraising opportunity for disabled Canadian Forces personnel and veterans. He wanted to know if anything in Canada existed similar to the Wounded Warrior program in the United States.

“I can do some extreme things,” says the search and rescue technician in 424 (T) Squadron at 8 Wing/CFB Trenton. “But I’ve always been aware that a lot of people don’t have that option. They can’t decide to go for a run or play a game of hockey due to a disability, not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have the adaptive sports gear, training or the resources.”

So he turned to the Canadian Paralympic Committee for direction and found they were thinking the same way.

“His timing was impeccable,” said Greg Lagacé, then development manager for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

Their vision is a program that will offer disabled veterans and Canadian Forces personnel a one-stop shopping service that will plug them into programs, equipment, information, education—whatever they need to get on with life and earn a livelihood.

“What we agreed was he would continue to actively fundraise,” says Lagacé, “while we did the behind-the-scenes work with the Department of National Defence to get political support and—more importantly—financial support to make this a reality.”

That work has paid off.

At the inaugural Paralympic Sport Summit in Ottawa in May, then-Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor announced Soldier On, the tentative name of a joint initiative of the paralympic committee and DND. Its intent is to use sport to improve the quality of life of disabled veterans and members of the Forces.

Lagacé has since been hired by DND to develop the program, which will be integrated into the morale and welfare programs of the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency.

At the same time, McLean drummed up enthusiasm for fundraising in bases across the country, so there’s already more than $35,000 in the paralympic committee’s kitty earmarked for adaptive equipment and training opportunities.

“We’re hesitant to go fundraising full-scale,” says Lagacé, “because one of the first questions anybody would ask is who’s it going to and what’s it being used for, and we’re just now defining the ‘what.’”

From the beginning, Lagacé knew Soldier On needed joint collaboration because “there are a lot of parties that have a vested interest in this and more importantly, need to be involved because they are the subject experts.”

The list of players is long indeed, and includes Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Health Canada and internal organizations and individuals within them. The Royal Canadian Legion has also been approached to help the program.

It’s difficult for one person to find a way through the maze of services and Captain Kimberly Fawcett hopes Soldier On will provide a smoother path to recovery for other injured forces personnel than the bumpy one she travelled herself.

Fawcett lost her leg—and her 91⁄2-month-old son Keiran—on a snowy day in February 2006 after she’d pulled over to the side of the road because an accident had blocked the highway ahead. They were hit by a passing vehicle as she was taking Keiran out of his car seat.

A veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2002, Fawcett is a squadron commander at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. Her rehabilitation goals were to regain her level of physical fitness and stay in the Forces. “As a highly operational soldier, you want more than general function,” she says. “You want to get back to being employable, deployable and fit.”

She quickly realized the ‘standard of function’ restored in routine rehabilitation wasn’t going to help her reach those goals. Athletic ability would. So she and her trainer researched and developed a special program designed to teach herself how to run, how to jump and how to climb.

“Losing a leg is a tremendous blow to your self-esteem,” she says. Rehabilitation should return a sense of ability and restore confidence. “When you lose a limb, you build up a fear in your mind and the only way to dispel it is to get out and do different tasks.”

Not only were everyday tasks more difficult, but it was daunting to figure out what she needed to return to active service, where to find equipment to help her function at the level needed in an active command, and which department or agency offered what support.

Although she says she had support from the chain of command, it took some time before the casualty support directorate provided her with a running leg so she could take her annual physical fitness test. Ideally, Soldier On could cut through that red tape, says Lagacé. And perhaps do more.

Maybe it can even persuade more disabled personnel to return to duty.

“About 75 to 80 per cent of injured soldiers intend to take their release” after rehabilitation, says Fawcett. “Only 20 per cent or so wish to be retained.”

The time to ask a soldier to make the decision about returning to active service is not at the beginning of the rehabilitation, she says, but when the soldier has returned to functionality. “Then and only then are they in a position to make an informed choice.”

Two years after the accident, Fawcett is back competing as an athlete and now commands two 80-cadet squadrons. If training calls for pushups at 5:30 a.m., she takes off her prosthetic leg and leads the way. She just isn’t sure whether her charges are offering her support or a challenge when they switch to one-legged pushups, too.

This is an example why it’s important Soldier On “looks at the entire continuum of care,” says Lagacé. Very few Canadians know about all the programs and organizations that exist and deliver services to disabled people in general, let alone serving Canadian Forces personnel and veterans.

“It’s imperative soldiers know what’s there for them from Day One. The reality is they’re in a high risk employment that might lead to injury—so why not include it in basic training?” asks Lagacé.

One of the strengths of Soldier On is the opportunity it presents to change attitudes, says Fawcett. There’s a different rehabilitation standard involved in preparing a soldier to return to the rigours of duty compared to simply teaching someone how to walk on a new prosthetic leg, or manoeuvre a wheelchair around the house, Fawcett and Lagacé agree.

It’s just not good business management, says Lagacé, to let highly trained personnel walk out the door due to injury or disability. Even if a sniper, say, can’t be returned to serve on the front lines, his or her expertise can be used in training and support or some other role.

“It could be that in many ways I’m better than before losing the leg,” says Fawcett, who would like another Afghanistan tour. “I’m stronger,” she says, adding she hopes to qualify as a swimmer in the Paralympic Games.

But not everyone need aim at becoming a competitive athlete or returning to active service, says Lagacé. Soldier On would provide peer support for disabled veterans and serving members, give them an opportunity to socialize and make new friends. And it would show them how to be physically active the rest of their lives, as well as given them skills they can use to be active with their families.

“For us it’s not the focus on disability,” says Lagacé. “We see the ability.”

More on the program can be learned by going to the paralympic committee’s website,, and clicking on the Soldier On section on the bottom right.

“It’s been just over a year,” says McLean, “and a lot of positive stuff has happened.” He has met and supported a number of colleagues and new-found friends with disabilities.

“What it does for you physically is great,” he says, “but what it does for you mentally is 100 times more powerful.”


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