"The Problem of the First Ten Years"

By "Smoothbore"
The Connecting File, Vol. XIII, No. 4, November, 1934
(The regimental journal of The Royal Canadian Regiment)

The first ten years of an officer's service in the Permanent Active Militia of Canada presents the problem of self-education.

A complete picture of what this means demands an honest evaluation of what, is required of such an officer during his military career. What sort of a man does the Permanent Force expect after ten year's service? Wherein lies the problem, How can it be solved?

An officer's military education must give him the technical knowledge to perform his regimental duties exactly, the knowledge to conduct the instruction of the Non-Permanent Active Militia and more important than either, instil that intelligence founded on thoughtful study and established by experience which will bring him to that broader outlook on his instructional work so often labeled as idealistic possibly because the returns it makes are seldom material. He must be able to deal with any and all administrative or tactical problems arising in the handling of his own troops in peace and in war. He must be able to qualify the average member of the Non-Permanent Active Militia for promotion. He must know the inner workings of their battalions by heart and this knowledge is not to be found in any book.

But he is responsible for something more than the mere technical education of the amateur soldier. He must realize that as a professional, he is the interpreter of the foundations of a military policy, of sound solutions to Militia problems, of questions of national and Imperial importance. This may seem too high an estimate of Permanent Force duty. Perhaps it is. On the other hand, who is there to attend these things if the Permanent Force does not? And how can even a professional soldier even execute them properly if he has never thought about them, studied them, made them an interest paramount to any other?

At first inspection, the job of acquiring this knowledge seems quite an easy matter; a case of live and learn and look in a book occasionally. Where then is the problem hinted at in the first two lines above?

The problem lies in the individual rather than in the condition of his service.

A great part of an officer's technical learning will be stuffed gently down his throat with no greater effort on his part than that of swallowing and digesting it. He will find that administration, the handling of his weapons and his men, and the facts of organization will form the subject of special schools of instruction in the first few years of his life. If he adds personal interest founded upon his view-point of duty as a soldier, he will do well at these schools. He will then find greater opportunities thrown his way; Hythe, Netheravon, Porton, Camberly.

But throughout his service he will notice that far more is learned from practice than from theoretical study. This is a well worn maxim. It is apt to become insidious in its effect upon a younger man. He will often quite forget that practice is useless without the theoretical learning behind it. The medical student thumbs his books before he goes into the operating theatre to observe or help his teachers and he thumbs them even more when he returns; two parts thumbing to one of seeing and doing. Significant lesson there and this very lesson predicates our problem which has been stated as an individual one. It is. The individual must realize by himself that a job lies before him in the first few years of his service; the job of becoming not only broad minded, but large minded, not only along technical lines but also upon any and all questions affecting Imperial security. Ideas are demanded upon these lines. It falls to his lot to produce these ideas. The ground work necessary to this end must be put in by himself principally with little help from others in an instructional way and less in the way of encouragement. He must first come to believe that the job is worth doing. Then he will discover that to do it constant study on a wide range of subjects is required. Not a frenzied swat for promotion examinations two months before they begin, nor yet a desultory interest in affairs military and near-military suddenly stirred up by a particular event, but rather a definite programme of work. Even one hour every day devoted to a definite topic and leading to a definite object will attain what he is after. He will soon discover how hard even this can become at times. The problem lies in himself; the knowledge can easily be acquired.

When an attack is necessary, the commander finds two sources from which to draw his plan; the Bath of Common Learning into which he only has to be pushed to get wet, and the Shower of Personal Initiative which he has to construct and turn on himself.