How old is Canada's new top general? He's 54

Chief of the Defence Staff Tom Lawson is 54 and went by the pilot call sign Shadow. Those details were among the information provided by National Defence Thursday, after several requests by CBC News.

Defence department releases biographical information after several requests

Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson takes questions after being announced as Canada's next Chief of Defence Staff on Monday. Further questions to the defence department after this announcement seeking more biographical information about Lawson have not been answered. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

How old is the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Tom Lawson? Now we know. He's 54 and will celebrate his 55th birthday Nov. 2.

Lt.-Gen. Lawson was introduced Monday as the incoming CDS. The military provided a few details about his career, but it omitted his age.

When asked to provide it on the day of the announcement, a Department of National Defence employee said he'd try and find an answer.

By the close of business day Wednesday, there was still no response, despite a series of follow-up phone calls.

But Thursday morning, a DND spokesperson provided the information, and said the delay was due to privacy concerns — the department had to ask Lawson before releasing it.

The military has been clear about highlighting the length of Lawson's career (37 years) and the names of his wife and children (Kelly, and Benjamin, Neil and Jack, respectively.)

Included in the scant biographical information provided to reporters were references to some of Lawson's work abroad.  It was this information that started a series of queries.

Operational experience not detailled

"Lt.-Gen. Lawson is an exceptional, dynamic leader who brings a great deal of domestic, international and operational experience to the table," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Monday.

Lawson has served as a pilot in West Germany during the Cold War, flown around the world and spent the past year working at NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs. His rise through the upper ranks of the military in recent years has been swift.

But a review of the medals and awards on Lawson's uniform indicate he has yet to serve on a war footing in an international operation or in the middle of a war as a peacekeeper.

CBC News asked DND for more information about Lawson's operational experience.

CBC News also asked, what was his call sign, or nickname, as a pilot?

DND was forthcoming with that answer Thursday. Lawson was known as Shadow.

But on the question of his operational experience, the department would only repeat, "Lt.-Gen. Lawson has flown CF-104s and CF-18s out of CFB Baden in Germany."

Why so tight-lipped?

Communications consultant Allan Bonner says he spent 15 years providing advice to the defence department.

In his experience, there are all kinds of reasons an organization like DND might have trouble providing answers.

"There are always reasons why people do things and they could range from the sublime to the ridiculous," Bonner said.

He laid out a series of possible rationales, ranging from security reasons to bureaucratic fights among skittish public affairs officers afraid or unwilling to reveal their new boss' age.

"It could be that the new chief of the defence staff is in terrific shape, very fit, works out on a regular basis, and has even had some cosmetic surgery and his actual age would be a surprise to everyone."

In the movie Top Gun, filmmakers made cinematic use of the air force tradition of giving pilots nicknames, like Goose, Viper, Iceman, Charlie and Maverick.

And, as it turns out, Lawson's nickname Shadow follows in the same vein.

In real life, sometimes pilots acquire nicknames based on shortcomings, mistakes, or physical characteristics.

"As in the movie The Caine Mutiny, it could be Old Yellow Stain, or Air Sick, or it could be any number of things," Bonner said Wednesday.

"I think probably though, the explanation [in Lawson's case] is more garden variety ... the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing."