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A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War [Hardcover]

Rick Hillier
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 8 2009

In the summer of 2008, General Rick Hillier retired as Chief of the Defence staff of the Canadian Forces. You could almost hear the sigh of relief in Ottawa as Canada’s most popular, and most controversial, military leader since the second World War left a role in which he’d been as frank, unpredictable and resolutely apolitical as any of his predecessors.

Born and raised in Newfoundland, Hillier joined the military as a young man and quickly climbed the ranks. He played a significant role in such domestic challenges as the ice storm that paralyzed much of eastern Ontario and Quebec in 1998, and quickly became a player on the international scene, commanding an American corps in Texas and a multinational NATO task force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But it was his role as General Rick Hillier, Canada’s Chief of the Defence staff, that defined him as a Canadian icon.

In Afghanistan, Canada faced its first combat losses since the Korean War, with every casualty becoming front page news. A country formerly ambivalent, or even angry, about its role in the conflict suddenly became gripped by the drama unfolding not only in a war zone halfway around the world but in unfriendly conference rooms in Ottawa. There, as everywhere, Hillier pulled no punches, demanding more funding, more troops and more appreciation for the women and men fighting a war on foreign soil. This hard-hitting, honest account of Hillier’s role—told in his own words—will be one of the most important books published in Canada this decade.


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Product Description

From the Back Cover

Canada’s most popular military leader since the Second World War tells his own story about our soldiers at war.

In the summer of 2008, General Rick Hillier resigned his command as Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces. You could almost hear the sigh of relief in Ottawa as Canada’s most popular, and most controversial, leader since the Second World War left a role in which he’d been as frank-speaking, as unpredictable, and as resolutely apolitical as any military leader this country has ever seen.

Born and raised in Newfoundland, Hillier joined the military as a young man and quickly climbed the ranks. He played a significant role in domestic challenges, such as the 1998 ice story that paralyzed much of eastern Ontario and Quebec, and he quickly became a player on the international scene, commanding an American corps in Texas and a multinational NATO task force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But it was his role as General Rick Hillier, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, that defined him as a Canadian public figure. In Afghanistan, Canada faced its first combat losses since the Korean War and every casualty suddenly became front-page news. A country formerly ambivalent or even angry about its role in the conflict suddenly became gripped by the drama playing out not only in the war zone of a country half-way around the world, but in the unfriendly conference rooms in the country’s capital as Hillier pulled no punches, demanding more funding and more troops and more appreciation for the women and men fighting a war on foreign soil.

A Soldier First is a hard-hitting, frank account of Hillier’s role in his own words. The man who never backed down from the Taliban or Canada’s top political leaders tells all in what will be one of the most important books to come out of this country this decade.

About the Author

GENERAL RICK HILLIER enlisted in the Canadian Forces in1973 and in May 2003 was appointed Commander of the Army.In February 2005, he was promoted to Chief of the DefenceStaff; he stepped down in the summer of 2008. The author ofthe #1 bestseller A Soldier First, Hillier resides in Ottawa.


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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tell it like it is/was Nov. 21 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A book everyone should read if they are interested in Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces or Rick Hillier himself. He calls accurate shots on the UN, NATO, the Afghan Government and the bureaucrat-diplomats of the ministry of Foreign Affairs or whatever it calls itself now. This book is probably one of the most outspoken and accurate accounts of what Canadians are doing in Afghanistan. Clearly it is a chance for Canadian soldiers to shine as well as die. But they are all volunteers. Even those who disagree with the Canadian role in Afghanistan will rejoice that Canada has finally produced a good leader only to have him retire - and brave soldiers to match his excellent leadership. It is also heart-warming to see a leader who tells his political masters what is really required. He was all about getting the ordinary people of Canada behind the Forces, and hence the approval; of necessary funds to renew all the relevant arms

But one suspects that this Afghanistan experience is also about a meaningful role for the Canadian Forces after years of so-called "peacekeeping" where nothing happens unless it was agreeable to the Security Council members and the states involved (see also Romeo dÁllaire's story par example). Also, remember when Egypt ordered the UN out of their territory just before they got waxed in the 1967 war. Hillier is rightfully disdainful of the UN and NATO after the end of the Cold War
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great read Feb. 16 2014
By Gerry
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Rick wrote from the heart as well as the head. He told it like it happened and did not hide his feeling. He was a great model for the Canadian Armed Forces and showed great leadership skills. It was a page turner for me and I would recommend it to anyone who has served or intends to serve in the armed forces.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Real Soldiering Jan. 22 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was on the Armoured School Phase III course with Rick. It is interesting to read his thoughts on the military and how training should be conducted, as opposed to the smart asses mess that we went through.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellant made me a more profound complete leader Sept. 18 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been a leader of employees in business for more than 20 years.
Been very successful, but this reading has made me a more complete leader of people
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and understand Nov. 26 2009
Format:Hardcover
This book moves from General Hillier's early life, his motivation for enrolling in the military and then outlines his military career, establishing his credential.

His depiction of the struggles among departments within the Federal Gouvernment, coupled with the ego of personalities was right on.

His interface with three Ministers of National Defence and two Prime Ministers was well depicted.

Finally his outline, description and decisions on the Afghan conflict will provide Canadians withe the reason we should support these efforts. He constantly reminds us that our sons and daughters are dying there.

This book is required reading for all Canadians, even those that oppose the war in Afghanistan.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Friend Nov. 21 2009
Format:Hardcover
I have had the opportunity of having known General Rick Hillier when he was the Commanding Officer of The Royal Canadian Dragoons and I was the President of The Royal Canadian Dragoon Association (old guard). Although not being of the Commissioned Officer status when I served, I do know most of the people of whom he speaks of in his book.

His book cuts through all of the always suspected but not really understand beaurocracy hang-ups of Ottawa and its' many pitfalls to expose the underlying reasons for the myriad of problems endured by the Canadian Forces under previous governments and the power hungry civil servants who even todaty, attempt to thwart any change at any level just so they can maintain their privileged positions "at the trough".

It laid bare his true greatness as a Commander, both tactically, and as a caring, compassionate human being.

A great read, and I would highly recommend it.

Thomas Parr
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Corker of a Story Jan. 16 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Here is an outstanding book on the present state of the Canadian military as seen through the eyes of one of its former leading generals, Rick Hillier. Avoiding the trap of personally attacking former bureaucrats and politicians whom he believes hindered the development of Canada's armed forces in the late 20th century, Hillier, instead, tells his story of his efforts and those of his many colleagues to make it an effective fighting force. His vision, right from when he joined in the early 70s, was one of how to improve the military so that it could better support soldiers in the field and their families at home. What he learned during his many years of service is that he was often working in an organization that was at best timid and risk-averse. When it came time for Ottawa to step out of its Cold War role as peace-keepers and weekend soldiers, those in power decided to retreat rather than advance. It would take a new generation of soldiering and a change in government to reverse that defeatist mentality. What I found really rewarding about this book is Hillier's warm personal side. In his account of things, he sees himself as a leader who easily empathized with the needs of the soldiers under him. As a man of action, Hillier used the influence of his various commands to introduce a new era of modern training and equipment, better living conditions and pay for soldiers, and greater national respect for a force that had been slowly but surely wasting away from neglect. To achieve this last distinction, Hillier and others made sure that the Canadian military was actively engaged in as many national and international crisis as possible given its limited combat capacity. Read more ›
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