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Base commander explains 8 Wing’s connection to the world

Base Commander Kiever

Base Commander Colin Kiever

While the PEC Syria sponsored refugee family settles into life in Prince Edward County, the federal government’s plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada and house many of them at military bases, has 8 Wing CFB Trenton Base Commander Col. Colin Keiver concerned.

“We are absolutely looking at options to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada,” Col. Keiver told a gathering of Kiwanis and Rotary members Tuesday, following his Remembrance Week speech and update on activities at the base. “This is a huge undertaking.

He said the air force and the Department of National Defence do not have the means to move 25,000 people between now and the first of January so the process will have to involve other government departments, chartering, perhaps using cruise ships, Air Canada, which has already offered help, and others.

“It’s a monumental undertaking,” he said. “Getting them here is actually the easy part. Where do they go when they get here and how are they absorbed into the communities in this society? That is the really big question that I think we are still struggling with.”

Military bases across the nation could be expected to house some of the refugees as they did in the 1990s when Ottawa brought 5,000 Kosovar refugees to Canada.

“They’ve asked me to examine how many bed spaces I have in Trenton. I have about 1,100-1,200 spaces I could use but it brings a whole host of issues. These are Syrian refugees about to come to Canada in the middle of winter. I have to have a kitchen that serves Halal (food is that which adheres to Islamic law). I have a kitchen that serves Canadian cuisine – poutine and hamburgers.”

To chuckles that the refugees would be delighted with Canadian food, Keiver concurred and noted “where’s there’s challenges, there’s opportunities.”

“I don’t have the answers right now. It is actively being discussed… As a base commander, I’ll be candid. I worry about things like security at this end – at the largest air force base in Canada.

“The simple act of putting 1,100 non-military personnel into the middle of the largest air force base in Canada causes me concern from a security perspective. Even if they’re the best-intentioned people, it causes me concerns. So it’s all those things we’re wrestling with.”

Immigration Minister John McCallum said Tuesday he predicts some refugees will arrive under a temporary protection program, rather than as permanent residents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government on Monday announced a committee of nine cabinet ministers – including Health Minister Jane Philpott and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan – to expedite the initiative to resettle 25,000 Syrians by Jan. 1.

Keiver’s focus of his visit with Rotarians and Kiwanis members was to impart a fresh perspective of their military in honour of Veteran’s Week.

He spoke of “ordinary Canadians who accomplished extraordinary things on air, on the ground and on sea” over the past 100 years since the First World War and right up to the Afghanistan mission that ended last year.

“Lest we forget that more than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014,” he said, reminding his audience 158 soldiers died in the cause of peace there.

“Canada’s efforts did made a difference. It is a better place today than it was prior to 2001,” he said, noting women and girls can actually go to school.

The downside is illnesses and the psychological strain of serving in such a difficult environment that also took a heavy toll – a toll he says he still wrestles with as a base commander. “Some of my people are alive, but they are broken spiritually, and mentally.”

Keiver said work continues fighting floods and forest fires here at home, and with involvement in international efforts – including Operation Impact in Iraq and Syria, Operation Reassurance in central and eastern Europe, finding lost souls in dangerous search and rescue missions and patrolling the high seas.

“I have little doubt Canada will continue to be wanted in the world. We are a nation that stands for the right things and has the right values. We owe to those who aren’t as fortunate as us and will go out there and help look after them.”

Saying “the reality, is you don’t need to wear a uniform to make a difference in somebody else’s life,” he challenged his audience to continue “service above self” and quoted Martin Luther King Jr’s words: “It is always the right time to do the right thing.”

Following his ‘Vetaran’s Week speech’ he outlined the scope of 8 Wing CFB Trenton.

“8 Wing air force base Trenton is the largest military station in the RCAF. It is huge. It is massive… My operating budget represents 25 per cent of the entire Royal Canadian Air Force operating budget. I have a payroll of $110 million; an operating budget of $160 million and $395 million in direct and indirect benefit to the local community. We are are a force to be reckoned with.”

8 Wing CFB Trenton has more than 3,200 regular force; 600 reserves and 800 civilians.

He noted 18 per cent of children in the Hastings Prince Edward school system are military children and was thankful for the school communites that have embraced and accepted them for when he has to deploy their moms and dads all over the world.

The commander stressed he cannot emphasize enough, his appreciation for community support in the region.

“It’s exceptional. It’s a level of support I get as a wing commander that honestly, my peers do not get… At the end of the day, my ability to send my people out the door only really works when the families are ready. And it is that community connection that makes the families ready.”

He also announced 8 Wing plans to do an air show June 25-26 next year and welcomes support from service clubs, oprganizations and local communities.

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