Canada's next top soldier a 'gentleman general'
Winnipeg native replaces Hillier, says a priority is to visit troops abroad
Defence Minister Peter MacKay named Lt.-Gen. Walter Natynczyk as Canada's new chief of defence staff on Friday, describing him as a "gentleman general" who is widely respected within the Armed Forces and around the world.
Speaking at Friday's news conference in Ottawa, Natynczyk said he was honoured by the appointment.
"I'm looking forward to providing the leadership to the men and women of the Canadian Forces, providing the security for Canada and Canadians, and indeed all those families of our military men and women," he said.
MacKay noted that Natynczyk has served with the current chief of defence staff as the second in command.
"This will bring great continuity within the Canadian Forces," MacKay said of Natynczyk taking over for Hillier.
"We have in Gen. Natynczyk someone who has enormous respect internationally, within the Canadian Forces, and someone who I think is going to be an absolutely exceptional chief of defence staff, a gentleman general."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a news release that Natynczyk brings "unparalleled experience" to the post after broad experience at home and abroad.
"Walter Natynczyk is the ideal person to lead the Canadian Forces forward," he said.
Priority to visit Afghanistan
Liberal defence critic Bryon Wilfert said Natynczyk brings a great deal of professionalism and experience, especially working with U.S. forces.
"I think it's the right choice at the right time," Wilfred told CBC's Don Newman Friday. "It's critical that we work as the policy-makers very clearly with him to let him know exactly where we want to see this country go in terms of the forces."
New Democrat MP Paul Dewar said his party was hoping for some input from parliamentarians in the selection process.
But Dewar, whose party has called for the immediate withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan, also said he expects the defence committee to have the opportunity to talk with Natynczyk and get a better sense of his vision for Canada's military.
"It's extremely important that Canadians have an idea where he wants to take the Canadian Forces and, particularly, take the Afghan mission," Dewar told CBC News.
Natynczyk has spent more than 30 years in the military and became vice-chief of defence staff in June 2006.
One of his first priorities will be to visit the troops in Afghanistan in his new capacity.
"I've got to get back over there pretty soon. I was just there in February," he said.
His brief speech focused on the accomplishments of the military's mission in Afghanistan, calling the progress in the past three years "remarkable."
Natynczyk attended Royal Roads Military College in B.C. and Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Quebec, graduating in 1979 with a degree in business administration.
He began his career with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, an armoured outfit, and later rose to command the prestigious regiment.
His career has included a variety of staff and command posts, with considerable time spent abroad. He participated in a number of peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia.
Experience in Iraq
CBC's Tobias Fisher reports that Natynczyk has "close associations with the Americans," having attended the U.S. Army War College and served with the Americans in Iraq on an exchange posting.
Natynczyk said the posting taught him lessons applicable to Afghanistan.
"The tactics and techniques and procedures are exactly the same and the risks are identical."
In his past two years in the vice-chief post, Natynczyk has overseen the transformation of the Canadian Forces, Fisher said.
"He has been responsible for some recent changes in the way the military is structured and the way it operates," he reported from Ottawa.
Military analyst Mercedes Stephenson described Natynczyk as a "personable, affable" and well-liked general who will likely have a "little bit of a softer touch" than the aggressive Hillier.
"I've known a lot of soldiers over the years, a lot of generals and he's the one I've never heard anything negative about and that's hard to do in Ottawa," said Stephenson.
Challenges facing the next chief of defence staff include boosting the low levels of non-commissioned officers, the sergeants and other personnel who lead troops in the field, said Stephenson. Another issue he'll have to deal with is replacing worn-down equipment in Afghanistan.
Hillier, 52, announced his resignation in mid-April after more than three years in the post. The Newfoundland and Labrador native was an advocate for Canada's military intervention in Afghanistan.
The chief of defence staff post does not have a defined length, but the average tenure is three to five years.