"Where, oh where have all the Tigers gone?"

The following selection of articles and letters come from issues of the Canadian Infantry Journal of the 1970s. First is LCol D.A. Nicholson's opening article wondering "Where have all the Tigers Gone?" Following are the Rejoinder by (then) Captain Kermin McKay, RCD. Finally, there are letters to the editor of the journal from Colonel R.L. Cowling and Colonel J.H. Allan with their succinct opinions. This article has inspired an ongoing debate within the Officer Corps, sometimes nearly dormant, others erupting in strident Happy Hour debate over the causes and effects of careerism, the greatest tiger-killer of all. As the Canadian Officer Corps once again looks deeply into its own soul (or its own navel, depending on the observers prejudices) rereading these articles helps to put one more spin on the situation.

My own "Tiger" article - "Tigers Can't Live in a Box" - again puts forth the problem that there is no place for courage and initiative in a structured hierarchical military society. It was written as an editorial for an (undergound) student newspaper on the first course serial of the Land Force Staff Course (LFSC - Jan-Jun 1998) at the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College (CLFCSC). It was later picked up and printed in the premiere edition of the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin (1998).

Pro Patria

M.M. O'Leary

WORTH REPRINTING ... from The Mobile Command Letter, March 1973


By Lieutenant-Colonel D.A. Nicholson

"Where, oh where have all the Tigers gone?"

"Battles are not won, nor great deeds done, by the organization to man."

Nicholsonian late afternoon reflections

The dubious honour of prompting this diatribe belongs to an anonymous young helicopter pilot with whom I recently shared a few drinks and a fascinating couple of hours one evening while I was visiting one of our larger training bases. This young man, in his second year of service at the ripe old age of 20, spent the entire time outlining for me the plans he had made to cater for his retirement some twenty-eight years hence. He earnestly explain his calculations, including projected promotions, pay increases and investment programs, which would guarantee him the interest on several hundred thousand dollars as a supplement to his pension. It appeared that he had devoted a considerable proportion of his spare time to the management of his financial program. All in all, it was a most impressive display of logical reasoning and planning, and it left me deeply disturbed about the future of the Canadian Armed Forces. There may, I suppose, be those who do not find it incongruous that a young officer, on the threshold of what should be an exciting, challenging career in a fighting force, should be so completely preoccupied with financial arrangements for a distant retirement. If such there be, I suggest that they turn now to some other reading material, for they will never understand my concern.

I found myself trying to picture this young man applying his cold, logical reasoning process to a situation which required him to assume some degree of risk to land his helicopter in a dangerous spot to evacuate an injured or wounded man, or to extricate a hard-pressed infantry patrol. I arrived at the unhappy conclusion that our young man might well deduce that to complete such a mission would be neither logical nor sensible, and that in the interests of flight safety and the successful completion of his longterm retirement plan he should abandon the attempt.

I do not mean to imply any personal criticism of the young man in question. What I do wish to imply is that this young man has chosen the wrong profession and that those who recruited and encouraged him did so under false pretences. Here, at last, I had met the model for that marvelous recruiting advertisement which depicted an immaculate young officer descending, attaché case in hand, from a jet transport, to the accompaniment of a stirring call to arms to the effect that commissioning in the Canadian Armed Forces automatically transforms any young man into an EXECUTIVE. obviously my young friend had succumbed to just such a clarion call and rushed down to his neighborhood recruiting officer to pick up the key to the senior officers' washroom.

It is not my intention to decry the importance of logic and planning ability in military officers. obviously, these are essential qualities. I do, however, question whether a young officer who devotes most of his waking hours to calculating his retirement income possibilities is likely, in the face of the enemy, to rise to his feet and shout, "Follow me", or to inspire others to comply, even if he should in a rare moment of passion consider such a "non-cost-effective" course of action.

What preoccupies me is the suspicion, confirmed by one experience as a member of a promotional board, that the higher-rated officers are the earnest, colourless young men whose chief virtue is technical diligence; who never express boisterous exuberance in the mess; whose manners and social conduct are impeccable; and who always accord their seniors (and their seniors' wives, of course) the proper degree of reverence. There seems to be a concerted effort to prevent the advancement of any young officer who deviates from the nice, neat, grey middle ground. In other words, the road to flattering PERs, and to promotion, seems to be open primarily to those who do not 11 rock the boat". I find it hard to reconcile this approach to officer development with my own experience. It has always seemed to me that those people with the greatest lust for life are the ones most likely to attempt, in defiance of all logic, to achieve the "impossible" goal.

You will no doubt have begun to detect, and I readily admit to, a twinge of nostalgic longing to meet once again a type of young officer who was fairly common just a few short years ago. This was the young man who did occasionally express a certain degree of boisterous enthusiasm for his profession, whose exuberance sometimes led to a heart-to-heart talk in my office and an extra tour as orderly officer, and who, fortified by a few draughts of "happy hour elixir", would corner me in the bar for a forceful lecture on how I should really be running the unit. These same young officers may have required frequent guidance and steering, and occasional restraint but, bless them, they never required prodding. They could always be relied upon to put forth that essential extra effort which so often means the difference between success and disaster in both peace and war. No task was too difficult, and no hardship could deter them. Their senior NCOs looked after them like fathers. Their men loved and respected them and followed them without question. It was comforting to know that such men would be available if the crunch came. I am grateful for having had the privilege of serving with them. I only hope that their enthusiasm, gaiety and sheer zest for living have not since become squelched by the pervasive, bloodless "man in the green flannel suit" syndrome of which I have spoken.

Dismiss these remarks, if you will, as the sentimental musings of a military dinosaur, but at least give some thought to the possible validity of this basic plea. Please, let us accept, cherish and develop, along with the nice, manageable pussycats, at least a few TIGERS. We, and Canada, will someday have need of them, as sure as God made little green managers.

"Colonel D.A. Nicholson is now retired near Kingston, Ontario"

Infantry Journal, Number 15



By: Captain Kermin McKay, RCD

I have seen Col Nick's article "Where Have All the Tiger's Gone" reprinted several times in my career and have heard it discussed at the bar many more times. This article could also be considered a partial reply to an article which was printed in Volume 19 of the Armour Bulletin - "Do the traditional definitions of the Canadian Military Professional apply to the officer of the 1980's".

Like Col Nick, I also have had the occasion to talk to younger officers in the Mess. The type of conversation which continues to amaze me occurred between three candidates on Phase III Armour. Having just started the course, they were concerned that if they didn't get outstanding PER's as a Lt they would fall behind in the promotion race and might not get an IE offer. I never did check to see if any of these aspiring "Rommels" made it to Phase IV. I did start to wonder just what kind of professional ethos the Armour School was projecting on our aspiring "tigers".

As a result, I had a closer look at the "Officer Production Machine" in Gagetown. To quote Col Nick, I wanted to see just what we were doing to prepare the young officer for "An exciting, challenging career in a fighting Force".

I discovered that in fact young officers are the same today as they were ten years ago, or for that matter, 20 years ago. It is the tigers of yesterday who have changed as the years have gone by. During the same period of time I attended a Mess Dinner. The bar talk of the night concentrated upon the activities at previous Mess Dinners, particularly in Germany when my Regiment was commanded by a tiger. As was recounted (at length) by many of those who had been present (then as subaltern officers), the best remembered dinner resulted in two OC's visiting the hospital, (along with two Capt's) and scrapes all over the Brigade Commander's face. Everyone had a great time.

The thought of a repeat of those events was not to be considered as it would now be too damaging to everyone's career. It is the ringmasters who have changed: not the tigers. Many of the previous tigers are no longer prepared to have their officers acting in the manner which corresponds to the stories we (and they) love to speak about late at night. The search for the almighty PER with high marks in charisma and decorum has in many cases taken the fun out of soldiering.

OCDP, in my opinion, helped take alot of the fun, and therefore one reason for staying in the Army, out of the Army. As the green machine tried to make us fit the all-singing, all- dancing, computer profile, we started to see the effects in many cases (once again my own opinion) good solid officers were told that they didn't make the grade to be selected for continued service. As a result, they started spending much more of their time looking after their own interests. Younger officers, seeing the writing on the wall did the same: especially when they saw that it was officers that they most admired that were being released.

Due to a sudden shortage of officers in the Forces, (not foreseen in the computer model), most officers who wish to remain in the Army will now be retained. This change in personnel policy might help put some of the fun back in the Army as removing the pressure to perform in order to make the cut might help some officers be more relaxed (and their superiors more tolerant).

There used to be a time when extra duties were something that most subalterns received for having fun: nobody was hurt and damage was promptly paid for by those that had the fun. Pride can still be seen in the faces of some "grey haired tigers" as they recount how they received their last thirty days. Extra duties today seem to be the equivalent of a death sentence for an aspiring CDS who is all of 21 years old. As a result, many young officers refuse to be led astray and those that do are wore often than not put through an inquisition when their "crimes" become known.

I take issue with Capt Zaporzan's article in the Armour Bullet on military professionalism. If a modern Army allows soldiers to be soldiers we won't have a problem with occupational values, those that wish to soldier will, those that don't can join Air Canada. That is not to say that good wages, benefits, and a good family life are not important: they are as important today as they were 25 years ago. But how does one equate an hourly wage to going on patrol at midnight in the freezing rain on an empty stomach. Job satisfaction is very important. We all remember the good times. How many war stories have you heard over and over again, but are still willing to hear once more. That is what makes the Army the Army: the good times, for as we all know, there are enough of the bad times that we don't wish to remember.

The British Army maintains the spirit of adventure (fun) with a comprehensive adventure training program. British soldiers can find themselves sailing, climbing or hiking all over the world. Solid adventure training is a very cost effective way of placing soldiers in low to high risk situations that test their courage, stamina, and capability to react under stress. In peacetime, this is a most important aspect of leadership training. Soldiers must be led by their junior NCO's and officers, and operate as effective team members. In recent budget cutbacks in FMC, the first casualty was adventure training. At a time when we were trying to build morale, etc, we virtually took away one of the best methods that enterprising officers had to train their soldiers.

Sports is another major way of putting the fun back in the Army. There was a time when contact sports were not only allowed but encouraged. Football, Boxing, Murderball, Hit hockey, etc, allowed the soldier to get rough and tough in peacetime. After all, we are trying to train men to go to war. However, it seems that it is no longer condoned to have soldiers with broken noses: they might get a 5% pension for looking ugly. Sports also cost money and once again is an early candidate for cuts in times of fiscal restraint. The fact that there wasn't a division sports day this RV 87 puts it into perspective.

Alcohol use and misuse is no longer accepted in the extent that it was in the past. In fact, many of the war stories referred to previously involved alcohol to some extent. With the recent policies, it almost seems to be that if it is fun then there is a rule against it. In the modern "Do Gooder" society, the Mess must remain the Mess. It is a problem if the boys are always in the Mess. Is it really that big a problem if some of the boys go to the Mess once and a while and let it all hang out? There was a time when things that were said in the Mess, stayed in the Mess. The tigers are here in today's Army. If we can somehow put the fun back into the Army, show a little tolerance and remember that the junior officers of today joined the army to soldier, not run for election as the "Do Gooder" of the year, the zip might come back into many of those who are intimidated by the word-extras. As the Army expands we are going to need all of the leaders that are being trained now. If we are going to keep them in the Array, they must be challenged as a soldier: not as a member of the green machine. It'll be up to the ring-masters of tomorrow to see if it happens. I just hope that there are still enough orangutans left in the zoo.


Comments From: Colonel R.L. Cowling, Chief of Staff, Headquarters Pacific Militia Area

It was very uplifting to read the Fall 1987 Volume 15 of the Infantry Journal1. My attention was particularly drawn to two articles, Capt McKay's rejoinder to "where have all the tigers gone?" and Capt Cselenyi's article on Field Firing.

As one who was well acquainted with many of the "grey-haired tigers" referred to in Capt McKay's article I can appreciate his feelings for a return to what he considers to be the exciting days of our youth. While, perhaps, one did not strive to get one's name on the "Horse's Ass" Trophy, there was some quiet pride in having been so singled out.

If, as Capt McKay believes, we ringmasters are the stifling influence, then I would urge those who still have the joy of command to exercise it in a judicious manner which allows fun to be had in one of life's really "fun" professions. I saw no lack of tiger-like activities among the young officers under my command in 2 Commando, 3 PPCLI or The Canadian Airborne Regiment, and even some of my staff officers seemed inclined to slip their collars and kick up their heels from time to time. I don't feel that all is lost. Take heart, McKay!

… Congratulations once again on an excellent journal.

Infantry Journal no 16


From: Colonel J.H. Allan

I am commenting on Captain Kermin McKay's, "A Rejoinder To Where Have All The Tigers Gone", in your Fall 1987 issue. The Captain is to be congratulated for seeing through the obfuscations of the green machine and highlighting some vital aspects of soldiering in peace and war:

a. good morale is essential;

b. soldiering can be fun; and

c. if a and b are not being realized the fault lies with the senior officers, not with the juniors.

I served on a Combat Arms Major to Lieutenant-Colonel Promotion Board in the Fall of 1987 and observed the steady rise to the top of the merit lists of all too many who treated soldiering as a civil service sinecure, "fit the all-singing, all-dancing, computer profile", and thought morale was a matter of having a plus balance in their pay guides. "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves." We, the senior officers, of the Army must keep falling on our swords to allow "soldiers to be soldiers" and to support the orangutans against the "civil servants".


And the latest in this inadvertent series of articles is my own "Tigers Can't Live in a Box."