|History of Esprit de Corps|
Esprit de Corps staff have travelled the globe covering the exploits of our men and women in uniform in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Cyprus, Somalia, Cambodia, the Western Sahara, and Afghanistan.
As a result of the trust we have built within the rank and file, our coverage of military activities have been widely acclaimed in the mainstream media. For example, in 1996 Esprit de Corps won the Quill Award for its contribution to Canadian communications. When it comes to military reporting from the troops at the frontline to interviews with the top brass (i.e. former CDS Gen. Hillier, pictured) to the goings-on in the ever-changing world of military procurement, Esprit de Corps has led the way since 1988. Click here to see who else reads Esprit de Corps.)
In the premiere issue, Taylor explained the name and the game of his publication: "By focusing on the past and present accomplishments of the Canadian Forces, it is our aim to contribute to the ‘esprit de corps’ that has made the Canadian military one of the finest professional armed forces in the world today."
Esprit de Corps’ second issue included a congratulatory message from then-Defence Minister Bill McKnight "for producing such a fine and worthwhile publication." The magazine, which has seen a dozen defence ministers come and go, would seldom receive such warm regards from the Canadian Forces’ political leadership.
In the summer of 1988 the idea of an inflight magazine for the Canadian Forces' five passenger aircraft was born during a flight to
In the premiere issue, Taylor explained the name and the game of his publication: "By focusing on the past and present accomplishments of the Canadian Forces, it is our aim to Contribute to the 'esprit de corps' that has made Canadian military one of the finest professional armed forces in the world today."
The content was 100 per cent bilingual, as appropriate for the Canadian Forces, and contained more than a few surprises.
Packed into the first issue with article on the EH-101 helicopter, then expected to "soon" replace the Sea King, and a painting by Katherine Taylor of 1916 Battle of Sanctuary Wood, were a travel piece on Kenya and a two-page fashion feature (!) extolling the virtues of a DAKS blazer to trick out one's civilian wardrobe. Cartoons, jokes, word scrambles, air safety procedures and tourism-oriented advertorials all came together to form a general interest magazine for a grateful if captive audience of military personnel.
Esprit de Corps' second issue included a congratulatory message from then-Defence Minister Bill McKnight "for producing such a fine and worthwhile publication." The magazine, which has seen a dozen defence ministers come and go, would seldom receive such warm regards from the Canadian Forces' political leadership.
The adventures continued, as
In May 1991, after eight quarterly issues, the Canadian Forces' inflight publication came in for a landing as a monthly magazine available by subscription and on newsstands across
Editor James Scott came aboard to help with the heavy lifting as Esprit de Corps expanded its offerings of book reviews, military history (including "Uncommon Valour," tales of Canadian soldiers decorated with the Victoria Cross) and a developing penchant for aggressive, opinionated and well-researched journalism.
Scott, in the first issue, warned of the woeful state of funding and military preparedness, writes more prophetically than he could have imagined, "Externally, we may enjoy the privileged position in 1991 of having no enemies, but we cannot know if this will be the case in 2001 or beyond."
In the second issue,
That issue also featured an exclusive interview with Vice-Admiral Charles Thomas, who that April had resigned as vice-chief of defence staff over policy differences with the government. The Department of Defence had taken the unusual step of releasing Thomas' letter of resignation, along with a response from Chief of Defence Staff John de Chastelain attacking Thomas' motives rather than addressing his concerns about the direction of the Canadian Forces.
The government noticed. Not long after publication, Air
The magazine, with the help of Sun Media, also blew the whistle on DND fabrications regarding the death of Cpl. Daniel Gunther, who was hit in the chest with a rocket-propelled grenade 40 minutes into a ceasefire in
Reaction from NDHQ to this expose was swift, as the magazine was once again banned from Canadian Forces flights. This time, the eviction stood. Esprit de Corps had been abruptly granted its full independence.
The brass would grow no more pleased with the magazine's coverage now that it was outside the tent shooting in.
Scott Taylor aggressively challenged yet another cover-up by the Defence Department in his February 1994 Letter from the Publisher. The capture and abuse, including mock executions, of 11 Canadian peacekeepers at the hands of drunken Serb soldiers remained unreported by NDHQ until it was discovered by the New York Times.
Esprit de Corps' editorial policy of "plain talk and bad manners" had, however, earned the magazine some credibility, and the same issue featured a three-page interview with Lieutenant-General Gordon Reay, commander of the army. The July 1994 issue marked Esprit de Corps' strongest editorial statement to date. The cover depicted Trooper Kyle Brown. who had been sentenced to five years in the death of Shidane Arone in
The Somalia story, of course, was far from over, and the May issue, in advance of the Somalia Inquiry, briefed readers with a comprehensive primer on key witnesses likely to be summoned, from former Defence Minister Kim Campbell and key ministerial staffers on down.
As the Canadian Forces dealt with further budget cuts and plummeting morale tone Forces-wide survey found 83 per cent of service members had lost confidence in their leadership), Esprit de Corps itself continued to struggle as advertisers who did business with the Defence Department bowed to financial pressure from the government to pull out of the magazine.
October 1996 saw another memorable cover, a Katherine Taylor painting of then-Chief of Defence Staff Jean Boyle behind bars, along with a quotation from his testimony before the Somalia Inquiry: "I broke the spirit of the law."
Inside, Esprit de Corps addressed media reports that its protracted battles with NDHQ had pushed it to the edge of bankruptcy, and revealed that readers had rallied to its rescue:
"With only eighteen magazines produced and distributed in the past twenty-four months, Esprit de Corps had reached the point (mid-August) where we could no longer meet payroll or minimum monthly overhead expenses. However. once the story of Esprit de Corps' imminent demise broke in the media, our offices were flooded with pledges of support and generous donations. In just over two weeks, nearly $35,000 had been raised and needless to say (as evidenced by this edition) we're back in full production."
(The lunch fare that day was, in fact, a plate of egg salad sandwiches.)
In 1998 and 1999, debates continued over women in combat roles and a proposed Holocaust gallery in the
Thanks to yet another Access to Information request, Esprit de Corps was able in its April 1999 issue to quote from a remarkably favourable internal DND review of Tested Mettle:
"An extremely readable, very entertaining book ... Strategically, this book will be good for the army. It says what soldiers (and senior officers) would like to say about our limited capabilities, the burden of overtasking, and the consequences of the money crunch ... However, since the thesis is 'look how well the peacekeepers do regardless of how poorly-led the army is,' it is not likely to be well accepted by very senior officers and civilian staff."
Meanwhile, new wars called, and
"On the same day that Louise Arbour announced the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic as a war criminal, foreign journalists were taken to a bomb site just south of
The contents of that package remain unknown to this day.
In April 2000, Esprit de Corps revisited the stories of some disgraced senior officers previously exposed in the magazine. The "where are they now" updates were distinguished by a marked lack of consequences for the officers' crimes. Among them was Colonel Reno Vanier, who while under investigation for fraud disappeared for 12 days only to be pulled from the
Throughout 2000, Esprit de Corps followed the vindictive court martial of Sergeant Mike Kipling, who was court-martialled for refusing to take a controversial anthrax vaccine while deployed to the
The May 2000 issue exposed another botched cover-up by the public affairs branch at NDHQ, this time the detention, abuse and interrogation of two Canadian soldiers by the Congolese secret police. From public affairs (which had approximately tripled in size and doubled in budget from the previous two years) there was no report of the incident, and only attempts to minimize and spin it when contacted by Esprit de Corps and then mainstream media following up on the magazine's report.
Another eye-catching cover, headlined "Forces' Combat Bra ... Busted!" commemorated the demise of the Canadian Forces' abortive $2.4 million project to design a combat bra (officially designated Brassiere Template Underwear) for female troops. The eight-person project had finally been abandoned after two years of dubious studies and costly political correctness in favour of giving female soldiers an allowance to purchase their own underwear--incidentally, the very solution that had been in place before the whole bra boondoggle began.
In December 2001, Esprit de Corps called attention to weaknesses in the military justice system, as exemplified by the case of retired Warrant Officer Matt Stopford, who was left permanently blind in one eye and suffering multiple infirmities after being poisoned by his own men in
In the January 2002 issue, Major Bruce Henwood, who had lost both legs beneath the knee when his vehicle hit an anti-tank mine in the former Yugoslavia in 1995, offered his first-hand take on recent improvements and continued shortcomings of the Canadian military n achieving what he called the "three Cs--compassion, compensation and closure"--when dealing with injured soldiers.
Not long after the deployment of 750 Canadian troops to Afghanistan, Esprit de Corps was regrettably reporting on the deaths there of Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, Sergeant Marc Leger and Privates Nathan Smith and Richard Green, mistakenly targeted by an American F-16 pilot's 225-kg bomb during a training exercise.
As the old saying goes, "Friendly fire isn't," and ever since Stonewall Jackson was killed by one of his own troops, the
In the same issue, readers received an update on the possible role of depleted uranium (DU) armour-piercing shells in the Gulf War and health problems for soldiers and widespread birth defects among Iraqi infants:
Esprit de Corps observed the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, in which 516 Canadian soldiers died, with a special commemorative issue in May 2003.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration's" mission accomplished" rhetoric was succinctly rebutted by demoralized soldiers on the ground in "post-war"
As Taylor wrote in the July 2003 issue, "In late May, when I met up with soldiers from the 3rd Division as they patrolled the anarchistic streets of Baghdad, their morale was already in the proverbial toilet. 'This place sucks ... big time!" said Corporal Dave Jackson, a military policeman. 'These people don't want us to stay here, and that's the one thing we agree on.'"
In August, the magazine provided a look ahead at Canada's mission to Kabul, Afghanistan as part of the UN-sanctioned International Security and Assistance Force ISAF), and crunched the numbers to show the strain it would put on the Canadian Forces:
"In terms of manpower, the overstretched army has had one hell of a job finding enough 'effective personnel' to flesh out this new commitment. In addition to the two six-month
Troop levels aside, the government's announcement of the replacement of C-2 Leopard main battle tanks with half the number of wheeled, light-armoured Stryker Mobile Gun Systems (MGS) inspired even less confidence at Esprit de Corps.
The death of Lieutenant Chris Saunders in a fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi raised serious questions about not only the Victoria-class submarines leased from the British, but the Canadian military's entire underwater strategy.
The troubled deployment of Disaster Assistance Response Team to tsunami-stricken
"The central problem is that the team is a force that exists primarily on paper. Although some 200 specialists are assigned to it, all these troops are still on active service on bases across
"The annual budget allocated to DART is a meagre $250,000 and this money is spent mostly on maintaining some pre-positioned equipment and on 15 part-time officers who shuffle the papers and keep the records up to date.
"As it would be too costly and too disruptive for the rest of the military's already overstretched operational and training commitments, no annual exercises are conducted wherein the far-flung members would meet and work alongside their national teammates."
On April 11, 2005 Esprit de Corps relaunched its monthly magazine with a completely redesigned look. With more pages and more colour, the new format helped put the efforts of our soldiers, sailors and airmen back in the forefront. Pictured in front of an impressive display of the 144 covers published to date are staffers (left to right) Julie Simoneau, Diana Rank, Bill Twatio, Katherine Taylor, Scott Taylor, and Donna Tillotson.
March 2005 saw the redesign and rebirth of Esprit de Corps into its current format, even as a sense of renaissance could also be seen in the country's military affairs:
"Even the Liberal government has understood the necessity of reinvesting in the Canadian Forces and plans to put an additional $12.8 billion into reviving it over the next five years,"
"With that in mind, we decided it was time for us to take a fresh look at our own product. Page by page, we have re-designed and reevaluated Esprit de Corps and we hope that you are pleased with the results."
The new Esprit de Corps sported a distinctive new logo, more colour and commentary, and an increased page count, as well as contributor headshots to emphasize the EdeC editorial team and new regular features like the "Hits and Misses" news digest and the "At Ease" humour and trivia section.
Old favorites, like Bill Twatio's book Column "On Review," and Les Peate's take on veterans' issues and views "The Old Guard," continued with a new look Gordon O'Connor, the Conservative defence critic, a retired general officer and future defence minister, contributed a commentary piece for the relaunch edition.
In the September 2005 issue, Scott Taylor reported on his return to
In the same issue, Esprit de Corps' special projects coordinator, Darcy "Ration Man" Knoll, related his own harrowing experiment of 30 days subsisting solely on military rations: "It is the salmon filet, and salsa and mushroom omelettes that still haunt my dreams."
In November 2007, Vincent J. Curtis interviewed Brigadier-General David Fraser, overall ISAF commander during 2006's Operation Medusa, the largest Canadian combat operation since the Korean War, in which over a thousand Taliban insurgents were killed, but some Canadian casualties were blamed on poor command decisions.
Esprit de Corps noted that except for this interview, "No good description of the battle from the command perspective is as yet in the public domain.
"As such, the context for valid criticism is lacking. For readers to be able to judge for themselves the merits of the allegations and to properly evaluate the significance of the Canadian victory, the author, on behalf of Esprit de Corps, arranged for this exclusive interview."
Esprit de Corps' April 2008 edition examined the transformation of the Canadian Forces' command structure with Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, head of the new Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM), and the first part of a third and final interview with media-savvy Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier.
Hillier, nicknamed "The Big Cod" by Esprit de Corps after an exhaustive survey of readers, would retire later that year, on Canada Day, and in the July 2008 issue, the magazine bid farewell to the CDS with a cover portrait painted by Katherine Taylor.
(A renewed relationship with the brass may or may not have been signalled by a picture of General Hillier with Esprit de Corps columnist Mike "Rantman" Nickerson in a headlock in the March 2008 issue.)
"The Good the Bad and the Ugly," a comprehensive, took a multi-issue look at the procurement of new equipment throughout the Canadian Forces after decades of budgetary neglect. As hinted by its title, Esprit de Corps promised "an overview of some big-ticket projects that provide a good glimpse into what's working, what isn't ... and what really isn't." As Esprit de Corps celebrates its 20th anniversary, the bad manners of yesteryear may have mellowed somewhat with age (and improvements in the situation of the Canadian military), but the plain talk continues.