SCOTT TAYLOR

On Target

THERE CERTAINLY has been no shortage of military items in the mainstream news over the past few weeks. One of the most bizarre revelations was that the Canadian military has removed all physical fitness standards from its recruiting policy.

That’s right, folks, regardless of what shape you are in, provided you are less than 57 years of age, the Canadian Forces are prepared to enrol you.

In the past, wannabe recruits had to be able to do at least 17 push-ups and 17 sit-ups if they were males under the age of 35 (just seven push-ups and sit-ups were the standard for females over 35). Now you don’t have to be able to complete a single sit-up before becoming a soldier.

In fact, the army will enlist you and then send you to a "fat farm" for up to 90 days, after which even the most rotund applicants will be expected to be able to start basic training.

The logic behind this elimination of all fitness requirements is that about 20 per cent of candidates had failed their initial tests. Thus, hard-pressed recruiters figured the fat-farm initiative would allow at least half of those previously rejected to become successful soldiers.

While it’s too early in the program to have the statistics to back up this Department of National Defence projection, I’ll wager right now that few — if any — of those tubby enlistees will ever graduate through the training system. If individuals do not have the

self-discipline to get themselves into 17-push-up, 17-sit-up shape before visiting the recruiting office, they’re unlikely to thrive in boot camp. Just how would that work, I wonder? What does the drill instructor yell at them? "Drop and give me, er, none"? "Just lie there till you feel like getting up"?

Furthermore, these fat farms will have to be staffed by military personnel from the already overstretched manpower pool. Instead of helping to flesh out the battle group rotations in Kandahar, experienced soldiers will be playing babysitter to a bunch of

overweight no-hopers.

As for the impact on the Canadian Forces’ morale, who wants to belong to an organization that has absolutely no entry restrictions? Police and firefighters still maintain high levels of physical fitness standards for their recruits, and with that comes a strong sense of professional pride (not to mention a seemingly constant stream of

firefighters posing semi-nude for pin-up calendars).

The chief of defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, while not an underwear model, is still a fitness buff. The man jogs, plays hockey and carries his own paint cans. As a combat arms soldier with extensive experience in Afghanistan, Hillier knows better than most how physically demanding front-line service remains. Let’s hope that the good general

will soon straighten out his senior bureaucrats and reverse this ridiculous policy of recruiting the overweight.

It was also reported last week that the Canadian military spent $3.9 million to establish and operate a Tim Hortons franchise in the Kandahar airfield base for a full year. While some recoiled at the exorbitant expense, many other patriotic Canadians were quick to voice support.

However, when closely examined and put into perspective, the $3.9-million price tag is not so trifling. This figure amounts to about 2,000 tax dollars per soldier deployed to provide them with the opportunity to purchase Tim Hortons coffee (that’s right, they still

have to pay for each double-double with their own money).

In a country where the average annual income is roughly $300, the cost of the Tim Hortons franchise amounts to the combined revenue of 13,000 Afghan citizens. That’s a lot of "hearts and minds," by any calculation. Even in terms of military equipment, that money could have provided our troops with a dozen modern battle tanks. Discussions are underway to acquire used Leopard II tanks from Germany. Canada’s 30-year-old Leopard I tanks are in the process of being deployed to Kandahar, but the Leopard II versions are newer, heavier, and more powerfully armed. More importantly, they’re available as surplus at a fire-sale price of about $300,000 US per unit.

I’m sure if our veteran troops were given the choice between doughnuts and better protection on the battlefield, they would choose the latter.

The fat farm recruits on the other hand . . .

staylor@herald.ca