Uncle Walt wont even try to fill Hilliers spotlight

CanWest News Service
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Canada's rock star general has been replaced by his sidekick, a quieter leader affectionately known as 'Uncle Walt' to the troops.
Lt.-Gen. Walter Natynczyk, 50, was elevated into the chief of defence staff job recently and will officially replace retiring Gen. Rick Hillier on July 4 during an official military parade.
The glitz of the gig will quickly disappear. Sorry, Rick Mercer, but this guy won't appear on your CBC show. He's also a doubtful for politics broadcasts, Ottawa social galas or national press gallery dinners.
The current high-octane occupant will hand off to someone who seems bent on restoring the job to its regular heartbeat and doing it traditionally, thoroughly and competently.
Just because Natynczyk learned army manoeuvres at Hillier's elbow doesn't mean he's anything like the colourful Newfoundlander who captivated the country. To know alpha wolf Hillier is to appreciate that he would not bond well with another big dog in the pack.
In the government's eyes, this is a good thing. There was a sense the military was getting an inflated streak of independence, in need of someone who understood the chain of command had its origins in the Prime Minister's Office.
But a lower-profile commander hands the Conservatives another challenge. The most valuable role of Hillier, aside from putting the testosterone back in the military, was serving as chief salesman for the difficult deployment in Kandahar.
Natynczyk does not appear to possess the same manipulator skills, which hands that tricky task to Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
And there are alarming hints Natynczyk might be Hillier Lite when it comes to obeying his political masters. At a recent technical meeting on Afghanistan, for example, Natynczyk ordered cameras to leave and meekly noted he was following government orders. Perhaps that was a show of deferential obedience pending his appointment. Let's hope so.
Still, nobody can imagine this long-distance runner and fitness freak shrugging off a dispute with the Prime Minister's Office with Rick Hillier's infamous quip that when he heard about it on a southern holiday, "I was on my third rum and Coke and I really didn't give a damn."
Insiders say the brass are quickly falling into line behind Natynczyk - as they should. This is unblemished appointment, one endorsed as first choice by both Hillier and MacKay before being rubber-stamped by the prime minister, although Harper's curious no-show at the poorly organized announcement had foreheads furrowing.
Being vice-chief of defence staff, Natynczyk had plenty of time to serve as base-touring Hiller's stand-in, so taking over the chief's role will be a seamless matter of switching desks without much of a learning curve.
That Natynczyk played defensive end on his football squad is, some say, a reflection his military mentality - less mission offence, more mission containment.
That arguably makes him a better fit with an Afghanistan deployment under parliamentary orders to become more humanitarian with less combat.
Even so, it will still not be an easy tenure. Frigates, submarines, helicopters and aerial drones were supposedly well on the road to final upgrades or actual delivery by now, but all are hung up in retrofit contract hiccups or bogged down in procurement problems.
There's the still-invisible Canada First defence strategy he's to start implementing over the next 20 years, a blueprint which allegedly exists on paper but was released last month only as a series of short background documents.
And his greatest challenge may come as the clock ticks down on what is generally accepted to be a three-year tenure.
Hillier pushed Canada forward into Kandahar combat by sheer force of personality and political pressure, restoring the military to its former glory with world-class equipment that earned the troops global respect.
In 2011, Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk will have to extract troops from Afghanistan combat in cut-and-run mode.
Doing that without triggering a morale meltdown could be Uncle Walt's toughest assignment.

Don Martin writes for CanWest News Service

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