General Rick Hillier in conversation

Canada’s best-known soldier discusses Tim Hortons, Don Cherry, political squabbles, the home front, and his next mission in this excerpt from a conversation with Canoe Editor-in-Chief David Newland.


Canada’s best-known soldier has written a book, but it’s not a book of bloody battle scenes from Bosnia or Afghanistan.

General Rick Hillier’s “A Soldier First” may conjure up images of firefights and explosions. Actually, the sub-title, “Bullets, bureaucrats and the politics of war” is more to the point – and don’t expect many bullets.

Click here to watch a video clip featuring highlights from a conversation with General Hillier.

This is a memoir of a man who’s spent his lifetime in leadership, sometimes far from the field of battle. Bullets are few and far between, but bureaucracy and politics fill page upon page. Hillier wants Canadians to understand how a risk-averse governmental bureaucracy prevents the Canadian military from doing their jobs on the ground.

The former Chief of Defense Staff, who commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, the Canadian Army and Commander and NATO’s Stabilization Force’s (SFOR) Multinational Division (Southwest) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is on a mission to make our military as effective as possible – and as respected as they deserve to be.

It’s no surprise that Hillier’s work currently includes leadership training for corporate bigwigs. Yet for a man who’s also walked the corridors of military power and hobnobbed with heads of state, Hillier has kept the common touch.

He has nothing but praise for Tim Hortons, the iconic coffee chain who opened a franchise in Kandahar to serve Canada’s men and women in uniform – at their own request.

Likewise, Don Cherry, whose support of our troops has become as much a part of his persona as his loud suits. Does having an occasionally unsophisticated, and always oustpoken commentator like Grapes in your corner get you in trouble? Not in Hillier’s view. He’ll take the support, and gratefully.

For a long book, there’s a lot “A Soldier First” doesn’t say. What was life like for Hillier’s wife, for example? We mainly see her receiving the news of a life-changing move or promotion with good grace. Hillier has a stock phrase to cover that scenario: “I always say if I had to do my life over again, there’s two things I would do for sure: become a soldier, because I love it, and marry that woman.”

As for what to do next – retirement looks anything but relaxing for Hillier, whose next goals include raising money for military families, writing a book on leadership, and spending more time with his grandchildren.

Click the video player below to watch the complete interview with General Hillier.

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