CAF Transition: Unraveling the mysteries
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Par M 1 Troy Stickley
Programme de leadership avancé (PLA)
Introducing the Issue
Every member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will face or undergo transition of some sort or another throughout their career. Courses, rank progressions, deployments, training, and eventual retirement/contract fulfillment, all can be in context of transitioning through a career. And each member will experience transition differently.
However, transition becomes even more relevant when it pertains to Medical Employment Limitations (MELs) – that is, when a member is ill or injured, be it mentally or physically or even a combination of both. That same member may only require a safe and stable environment in order to recover and reintegrate back to full duties. So where can they go? What services or supports are available? What about the families? What can a unit do for the member? What happens if injuries violate Universality of Service (UoS)? Many questions like these exist, and many CAF Members do not know where to find the answers.
Institutionally, how can a Unit Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2)/Master Warrant Officer (MWO) more effectively lead education of their units and advise their command on CAF Transition Group (CAF TG) services?
To answer that question, the aim of this report is to investigate, research and offer realistic recommendations using the “Systems Thinking” Model (Bentley, 2008, p.223) and “Critical Thinking Concepts” (Paul & Elder, 2008, p.2), with a view to better understanding where the miscommunication or misinformation lie.
On April 2019, Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group (CAF TG) was officially put into service (CANFORGEN 209/18). This new formation is a direct renaming and replacement of the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) originally formed in 2009 (CANFORGEN 104/08) to provide general assistance to CAF personnel and families, as well as support for those facing death and injury especially during and since the Afghanistan missions. Before that, Directorate Casualty Support Management (DCSM), was the unit that managed everything from deaths, casualties, injuries, and support to ill and injured members, but it was severely understaffed and ill-prepared to support the volume of files that came.
Traditionally, there was a common belief that if a member were sent to JPSU (now CAF TG), their careers would be over, as units would send ill and injured members there as a “dumping ground.” Sadly, that incorrect thought process still exists today. Additionally, since the establishment of the CAF TG, much of that miscommunication and misinformation still exists. Many units are plainly ill-informed or have misconceptions of what a Transition Centre (TC) offers not just for the member and their family, but to the unit itself. And therein lies the problem.
The name “Transition” does not automatically mean a member will be released from the Forces. The CAF TG as a whole focuses on recovery and retention of our skilled, experienced and very well-trained members as a priority and will support a member and their families through the entire process including subsequent release if warranted against the “Universality of Service (UoS)” (DAOD 5023-0).
As a Platoon Commander (Pl Comd) working at Transition Centre Vancouver for past four years, I have come across far too many personnel and Units who have little to no understanding of the purpose of the Transition Group and of what exactly the Transition Centres (TC) offer. Additionally, this systemic problem exists not just in new recruits but often through top levels of Chains of Commands (CoC).
The lack of this knowledge has been identified in numerous outreach visits by TC Vancouver, and also captured in a questionnaire sent to all TCs cross country (see Appendix A - Questionnaire), which give a clear indication there is more work to be done (see Appendix B- Sample of Responses).
Mapping the Environment
A visual representation depicting the issue at hand is shown in the Mind Map (see Appendix C- Mapping the Environment).
The core issue (Blue) at centre is the mysteries surrounding the CAF TG and why a disconnect seems to be prevalent among CAF Members of all ranks and positions.
From there, I have identified the systems (Green) that directly contribute to CAF Transition Group, such as Policies and Resources. The associated sub-systems (Light Green) list what is core to each system and contribute to system effectiveness. The dark Black line denotes the inter-connectivity of the systems and the associated sub-systems, as without that interconnectivity, they will not support the overall intent and purpose of the TG.
Moving to the Affecting Factors (Red), after discussions with several peers and among Transition Centres (TC) across the country, it has been quickly discovered in the Sub Factors (Light Red), there is an “Old School” Culture that still exists. The solid black line again shows inter-connectivity between the two sub-systems. These are not limited to the ones listed, but there is still a stigma surrounding what used to be called Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) with false beliefs that it is where careers die (evidenced in Appendix B-Sample responses).
The systems in Red are where most of the research has gone, discovering the roots, perceptions, and potential solutions for CPO2/MWO of any unit to link into the Transition Centres to aid their members.
In grey, are “Wildcards and Unknowns.” Every situation is subject to different timelines, which directly affects any member in the Transition process. The timelines associated to the medical process/assessment, recommendations, Permanent or Temporary category and eventual decisions are extremely fluid and cannot be accurately estimated. These also interconnect to the Resources sub-system, as the Services and partner groups also require varying timelines to assist individual members and their families.
The other wild card variables, such as the one listed below Institution, are readily available from units and even individual members to challenge and confirm knowledge of what Transition means, what is offered and how can it help. What units have been briefed, does outreach work, are unit Chiefs/MWO’s engaged in the process and is mentoring required?
Given that the formation of CAF TG is recent (mid 2019), if there is one concept directly related to the professional issue of how to combat misinformation regarding Transition Group processes and services, it is that of communication.
Communication may be defined as “when information of some sort is transferred between the person who is sending the message and the person, or persons, on the receiving end of that message” (MacIntyre & Charbonneau, 2008, p.114). And more importantly, “Although this sounds like a simple process, there are many opportunities for the message to become derailed” (MacIntyre & Charbonneau, 2008, p.115). As communication pertains to the CAF TG, even though official and factual information are readily available, the multiple sources of this information mean that original intent of the message can become muddied, skewed, and ultimately lost in translation.
Four attributes best idealize effective communication: the source (credible, trustworthy), the message (relevant and targeted), the audience (ability to understand/decode the message) and the channel (appropriate delivery method). (MacIntyre & Charbonneau, 2008, p.116-119). Currently, three of these attributes are directly impacting the CAF TG (the message, audience, and the channel), and can be quite clearly identified in the personal responses of the questionnaire (see Appendix B- Sample of Responses).
Further, one could argue a Unit CPO2/MWO is generally responsible to communicate command intent to subordinates, as highlighted in Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Conceptual Foundations, Chapter 4, Responsibilities of CF Leaders : “In support of internal integration objectives, senior leaders communicate their strategic intent and provide authoritative guidance …” and “…effectiveness in assuring member well-being and commitment calls for senior leaders to assume the role of personnel champion” (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 51). However, as reported in Appendix B, information about the CAF TG suffers externally from being sabotaged by preconceived notions, rumours, cultural stigmas and “old school” biases, which can be mutually reinforcing. And this is precisely where a unit CPO2/MWO can best be effective to educate and empower their unit. “Experienced leaders who have achieved technical and professional mastery and a mature self-confidence are, at the very least, expected to question if not challenge the status quo, to demonstrate initiative, and generally to make things happen.” (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 52). So, if the CAF TG services are not known, not heard of, misunderstood or the conveying channel is ineffective, a CPO2/MWO could recognize this and take action accordingly to embolden their unit in such a way that misinformation or rumours are handily dispelled.
Interestingly, an inadvertent example of miscommunication can be seen in Canadian Government’s Defence Policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged, and their direction to “[Reinvent] the CAF TG” (Department of National Defence, 2017, p. 30): “This policy reinvents the way we approach transition. It ensures that members receive the professional, customized, and personalized support they need as they transition to post-military life.” This line in itself appears to state that transition only means releasing a member, vice its actual mandate to attempt retention first. Thus, fuelling misconception.
“Mentoring is defined by a professional relationship in which a more experienced person (a mentor) voluntarily shares knowledge, insights, and wisdom with a less experienced person (a mentee) who wishes to benefit from that exchange.” (Lagace-Roy, 2008, p. 378)
In this aspect, a CPO2/MWO would have a multitude of experience, background expertise and knowledge spanning perhaps decades of service. As a senior leader, they have an inherent duty to pass on their collective experiences to all so that the institution may grow. Mentoring cannot be confused with coaching, which parallels towards disciplinary goals to correct a behaviour: “...a process in which a coach directs the learning and instruction with the intention to correct inappropriate behaviour, improve performance...” (Lagace-Roy, 2008, p. 382). So, coaching would not apply here, as discipline is not relevant towards transition.
Depending on the individual needs of a subordinate or collective of the unit itself, the CPO2/MWO is in a unique position to mentor on what Transition means, what the services could offer and how potentially to get a member back to full duties. This mentoring can also apply up the Chain of Command so that Unit Commanding Officers have the most-up-to date and relevant information tailored to each individual case. As Lagace-Roy reminds us, “the benefits from a mentoring relationship can be easily identified at three distinct levels: the mentee, the mentor, and the organization (when a formal program is in place)” (Lagace-Roy, 2008, p. 383-384). Whereas mentorship injects the mentee with organizational knowledge, the mentor (CPO2/MWO) contributes to corporate memory and collaboration and organizationally, leads the way to transfer knowledge to all.
In short, if institutional leaders such as CPO2/MWO are properly engaged, informed, and invested in a member’s recovery or transition, then their mentoring would greatly enhance that care and attention.
Member Well-Being and Commitment
“At the institutional level of leadership, effectiveness in assuring member well-being and commitment calls for senior leaders to assume the role of personnel champion.” (DND, 2005, p. 51).
Changing the institutional collective knowledge and understanding of the CAF TG is no small undertaking. As currently there are little to no official analytics to show where the disconnect is occurring CAF-wide, the questionnaire in Appendix A was used to informally canvass all TCs.
What was discovered (Appendix B) is that the cultural affecting factors, identified in mapping the environment (Appendix C), continue to fan the flames of stigmas, perceptions/misconceptions, and lack of understanding of the CAF TG. Some TCs reported that personnel have fears and uncertainty towards the name “Transition.” The mission of the CAF TG is not coming across clearly, and many members who would certainly benefit from Transition Services are finding out about them late. This is even more prevalent for Reservists, where entirely different criteria are used to evaluate whether a member is eligible for attaching to a TC.
This communication problem directly affects Member Well-Being In particular, as institutional leaders, “it is our responsibility to accommodate personal needs in careers, maintain strong QOL and member support systems by honouring the social contract” (DND, 2005, p. 48, table 4-1). These social contracts contribute to developing and maintaining trust by treating members fairly and subjectively, responding to their concerns. “Effective leaders direct, motivate, and enable others to perform, but they also develop and improve individual, group, and organizational capabilities that contribute to performance” (DND, 2005, p. 50).
To this end, a CPO2/MWO must take responsibility to gain, understand and champion relevant information of the CAF TG that could aid a member with support and the knowledge they need to succeed in their individual transition. A CPO2/MWO may not have all the answers or even a full grasp of how Transition Centres can aid a member, but they should have sufficient knowledge to not only support a member’s well-being, but also give their CoC a clear understanding of the “what ifs”, the “what nexts” and associated consequences and/or benefits of wishing to post a member to the CAF TG.
Path to Recommendations
In thoroughly reviewing the Questionnaire (Appendix A) and subsequent responses (Appendix B), there is clear evidence that a majority of CAF members are not aware of what the CAF TG can and does offer. The gaps in communication and lack of mentorship mean that we are not fully honouring our social contract with subordinates, which should be to ensure their well-being. Though it is not exactly the “fault” of senior leaders that they are not fully aware of the CAF TG, the problem is entirely fixable.
Recommendation 1 – Start a full, CAF-wide awareness campaign. Use the mass email system to push out a simple but effective message such as, “Transition, what does it mean to you?” Then in point form, list the major “selling points,” especially with respect to the eventual rollout of the Military Career TransitionFootnote 1 (MCT) and the “My Transition App.,” The email itself should not be time consuming or frustratingly difficult to read, but rather intended as a conversation starter, directing members to a TC for more info.
Intended impact: Brings immediate attention to the CAF TG key points, gets units and personnel talking and elevates individual awareness.
Recommendation 2 – Outreach, Outreach, Outreach! If the message is not reaching members, then present it to them directly. This could be in the form of PD days (having a TC and partners like VAC, SISIP, MFRC give info briefs), or invite units directly to visit, especially CPO2/MWOs. TCs are a wealth of info and resources, so it should be easy for members to contact them.
Intended impact: Personalized and tailored approach to each unit, giving excellent opportunities to answer questions from junior to senior rank.
Recommendation 3 – Incorporate formal CAF TG training/awareness into every Leadership course. Training could include how to initiate a posting, requirements, Return to Duty (RTD )Coordinator Training, for a half or full day of training.
Intended impact: If incorporated into all leadership course levels, this serves as awareness and basic knowledge for all leaders in how to support a subordinate in career transition or as a refresher with policy updates that keeps the knowledge fresh.
Recommendation 4 – Robust RTD/RTW Coordinator training (train-the-trainer style) with CPO2/MWO oversight. CPO2/MWOs should be made integral to this role to ensure unit member’s care is observed and command requirements are met.
Intended impact: RTD/RTW Coordinators should be the first stop for anyone receiving more than 30-day MELs. Having better trained Coordinators that are accountable to a CPO2/MWO, can increase recovery and help members to feel part of the unit throughout the process.
JPSU is fully in the rear-view and CAF TG is the present and future. Despite being operational for over 3 years now, the CAF TG mission has not been heard or understood by most CAF members. As highly experienced institutional leaders, CPO2/MWOs have a vital role to play in changing current CAF views and stigmas of what Transition means, and how it can affect each member and their families. And the time to start is now.
Bentley, B (2008), “Systems Thinking”, in Horn, B. & Walker, R.W. (Ed.), The Military Leadership Handbook. (pp. 223-225)
Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group “The Guide” My Transition Guide- Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life, 2020, Version 2, https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/corporate/reports-publications/my-transition-guide.html
CANFORGEN 209/18 - CMP 104/18 101703Z DEC 18 -CANADIAN ARMED FORCES TRANSITION GROUP
CANFORGEN 104/08 CDS 013/08 051327Z JUN 08 - STAND-UP OF UNITS FOR THE CARE OF INJURED AND ILL CANADIAN FORCES PERSONNEL
DAOD 5023-0 Universality of Service, Issued: 19 May 06, Modified: 31 Aug 18 (DGMP)
DAOD 5023-1 Minimum Operational Standards Related to Universality of Service, Issued: 19 May 06, Modified: 31 Aug 18 (DGMP)
Department of National Defence. (2005), Chapter 4 – Responsibilities of CF Leaders, in Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Conceptual Foundations. (pp. 45-56), Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy and Canadian Forces Leadership Institute.
Department of National Defence. (2017). Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada's Defence Policy, Ottawa: Department of National Defence. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2017/mdn-dnd/D2-386-2017-eng.pdf
Lagacé-Roy, D. (2008), “Mentoring”, in Horn, B. & Walker, R.W, The Military Leadership Handbook. (pp. 378-390)
MacIntyre, A. & Charbonneau, D. (2008), “Communication”, in Horn, B. & Walker, R.W. (Ed.), The Military Leadership Handbook. (pp.114-128), Toronto: Dundurn Press.
Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2008), The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools. Foundation for Critical Thinking Press
In early May 2022, the following questionnaire was sent out to determine where potential gaps in communication or perceptions may lay. This survey was sent to all Transition Centres across the country that included senior and junior ranks plus Transition Services staff.
Research Questionnaire: CAF TRANSITION GROUP
Purpose: To identify where communication/ awareness of CAFTG services and functions are lacking, plus what stigmas or misinformation still exist.
- What is your personal perception of how well the CAF TG is known vice the old “JPSU” construct?
- Have questions related to, and/or what exactly is offered by CAF TG, ever been asked of you? (Importantly, have your answers surprised personnel asking the questions, due to unawareness?)
- How prevalent have some of the old stigmas towards JPSU been heard or demonstrated? (ie: JPSU- where careers go to die?)
- Has anyone questioned you and/or raised issues regarding the “Transition” naming convention, sounding weighted towards release, vice recovery being the goal for a Supported Member?
- What does your TC do to educate or communicate what the TG offers, or posting SOP’s? Has it been effective?
- Where do you feel the biggest gap in knowledge regarding the CAF TG lays? (ie: Lower Ranks, CoC’s, RTW coordinators, etc)
- Any personal suggestions to better communicate the intent and mission of the CAF TG?
Survey Questionnaire responses
Out of more than 30 sent out, 19 were returned with some as a joint returns from Transition Centres.
Important Note: These are only a sample of the responses from the questionnaire. Ranks are indicated but names and locations are not included for privacy concerns.
- “The brand of CAF TG appears to be somewhat known throughout the CAF by the beginning phases of leadership (MS/MCpl), but most junior ranks are oblivious this organization exists.” (Sgt, personal response, May 22)
- “Before I started with CAF TG, I had heard of JPSU and have heard just that. This was previously known as a place where the unwanted staff of units were put to become somebody else’s problem.” (Sgt, personal response, May 22)
- “... biggest gap in knowledge is between the lower ranks as this is the audience who contacts me in asking how to get posted to the TC.” (WO/Sgt, personal response, May 22)
- “Many mbrs still refer to TC’s as JPSU’s. I feel that more outreach is required” (WO, personal response, May 22)
- “Yes, many mbrs are unaware of the purpose of a TC. Every intake I spend time explaining the services that are offered.” (WO, personal response, May 22)
- “Before I started with CAF TG, I had heard of JPSU and have heard just that. This was previously known as a place where the unwanted staff of units were put to become somebody else’s problem.” (Sgt, personal response, May 22)
- “I have daily questions of what is offered. Most people are surprised as to how late they are thinking of this and feel rushed to get the info.” (CPO1, personal response, May 22)
- “There is still a lot of misconception out there. I am finding as leadership changes over so does the knowledge. A lot of command teams are not really sure how the CAF TG operates.” (WO & Sgt, personal response, May 22)
- “....there needs to be some formal training incorporated into the leadership courses.” (WO, personal response May 22)
- “ Lower Ranks – not being aware or not enough info sessions for that level. Senior Ranks – until they need to know they avoid.” (Civilian Svcs staff, personal response, May 22)
- “Yes, we actually had that discussion a few weeks ago. The word transition can be misleading as our main goal is recovery, reintegration, and retention. The old name hit the mark a bit better but I think we are doing a good job overall of sharing our mission/aim.” (Capt, personal response, May 22)
- “I would say it’s at all levels but mainly the lower ranks. I know the WCWO will have our team come and attend events to provide info specifically for each level (Jr NCMs, Warrants, and Officers).” (Capt, personal response, May22)
- “ When talking to friends, co-workers or members from other units that are or thinking about releasing I always suggest giving our Svcs Manager a call and quite frequently their response is ‘well I’m not posted to the TC so….’. They don’t realize that these services are available to any member in the AOR.” (Capt/ WO, personal response, May 22)
- “...Without a doubt it is the impact Units feel that Remedial Measures (RM) or disciplinary issues have on approval of a 2794. This is not nor should it be a barrier to a posting; what is important is that Units are transparent when completing/submitting a 2794...” (WO, personal response, May 22)
Glossary of Acronyms
AR/MEL - Administrative Review/ Medical Employment Limitations
CANFORGEN - Canadian Forces General Message
DMCA - Director Military Careers Administration
DCSM - Director Casualty Support Management
CFRTW - Canadian Forces Return to Work Program
DMED POL - Director Medical Policy
FLO - Family Liaison Officer
JPSU - Joint Personnel Support Unit
MFRC - Military Family Resource Centre
MILPERSCOM - Military Personnel Command
PCAT - Permanent Category
RFC - Reserve Force Compensation
SISIP FS - Service Income Security Insurance Plan Financial Services
TCAT - Temporary Category
VAC - Veterans Affairs Canada
VRPSM - Vocational Rehabilitation Program for Serving Members
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