Liberal MP Rob Oliphant is his party's veterans' affairs critic, and recently spent time at the air force base in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, as part of a programme to show MPs what the air force does. I spoke to Oliphant earlier today about his experience there.
Q: Tell me about your orientation on that air force base.
A: I had four days at the Greenwood Air Force base, called 14 Wing. It was fantastic. It was an immersion into the life of aircrew, and we experienced a flight simulator. There was a tour of the base, and how it works, kind of a history of Canada’s air force – those kinds of orientations, what it is to join, how recruitment happens, how basic training happens, and what a career path looks like for someone in the air force. It’s Maritime Command, which is a search-and-rescue force largely, and it’s one of three air force search-and-rescue operations. We were up in a Cormorant helicopter, and into a Hercules airplane, and then into an Aurora, which does search and rescue work. It’s a big, fixed-wing thing, and you get the thrill of being dumped off a helicopter and being hoisted up, and seeing how they actually do a rescue. That was on a test, but actually when we were in the Aurora, we got called out on a real search and rescue, looking for two kayakers off the north-east coast of Cape Breton. Eventually someone else found them safe – they had taken their boats off and gone off, and when they were expected back, they didn’t communicate very well with the group they were with, but we saw what process they go through to try and find somebody.
I’m impressed with the professionalism of the aircrew. The intelligence, thoughtfulness – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were some of the three best days I’ve ever head. I picked the air force because my dad was in the air force in World War II – I could have picked the navy or the army. They have a little programme every summer for a handful of MPs, and you pick which force you want to be in. I picked air force mainly because my dad was in that in World War II, and I was able to write him notes every night about what we’d done that day, and he quite enjoyed it. I also thought that we have really missed the boat with respect to veterans in the last thirty years. We tend to take them on tours of cemeteries in Holland, Italy or France. We should be taking them to living, acting air force, army and navy installations. We should show them what goes on now. My dad would have loved that. It would have been a much better way to honour his service to the country. We missed something.
Q: That also would be a good way of passing down wisdom through the generations.
A: More on kind of an ethic. Obviously the technology of stuff is pretty amazingly different, and the way stuff happens. Also, these guys go into this as a career, whereas my dad’s generation went into it as a wartime effort, so there are pretty different expectations about what’s going to happen. But it was great. Of course the Forces are selling something – they’re attempting to bring you onside to their concerns in a subtle way. I left feeling very strongly that we need stronger search-and-rescue operations, and I left feeling that I was not convinced we needed to spend billions of dollars on new fighter jets. Even though they didn’t say one way of the other, they were very professional; I kept thinking what are we doing? Why are we spending our money on that when really need our military to be doing are these other things. It was a great experience. I’m going to sign up for the navy next year, I’m sure.