| Aug 23, 2007

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Feature Article - August 23, 2007

Ray Idzenga: career soldier continues to serve

by Jeff Green

On October 9 of this year Major Ray Idzenga will officially retire as a member of the Canadian Military Forces after a 30-year career.

He will then take a couple of weeks off before starting his new career, as a member of the military reserve. “The only real difference will be that I won’t be subject to transfer, unless I choose to transfer.”

Idzenga, like all members of the military, has moved around a lot in the past 30 years, but now that he is settled in a waterfront home near Hartington, he has no intention of moving.


That feeling of home came strongly to him while he was serving thousands of miles away, in Kabul, Afghanistan. “With me being away, there were a lot of things my wife was left to deal with, and that’s where my neighbours and community came in,” he said.

The assignment in Afghanistan was one that Ray Idzenga had been seeking for years; not that he hasn’t been busy, serving in the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics then the Canadian Defence Academy at CFB Kingston, but he had a desire to serve in Afghanistan.

When the call did come to go to Kabul and work in the Joint Intelligence Centre with officers from 37 other nations, Major Idzenga had two days to be ready to go. He was ready in time, but then the two days stretched to two weeks before he could get transport to Afghanistan.

Once he arrived, he realised quickly that contrary to what he had heard, Kabul is not exactly a safe haven from the war. While places like Kandahar Province, where the bulk of the Canadian Forces are serving, are extremely dangerous, the war is still being felt in Kabul.

“The Afghanistan war is really an intelligence-based war. The enemy not set up in a line somewhere; it’s more like guerrilla warfare, and intelligence is crucial.”

Idzenga described three tiers of combatants on the Taliban side. The first tier are the trained, ideological fighters. The second tier are people who work in the fields by day and are fighters by night. These people, Idzenga said, are involved in the war for circumstantial reasons, to gain some sort of advantage for themselves or simply to help feed their families. The third tier are people who are coerced into fighting by the Taliban. In come cases they face threat of harm or death to themselves or their families if they don’t co-operate.

“I find it frustrating that the media over here only reports on Afghanistan when a Canadian soldier is killed, not that we shouldn’t mourn the loss of a soldier, but this kind of reporting has meant that none of the other realities of the mission are covered in the press.

“For example, it costs $3,000 to rebuild a school in Afghanistan. There are many girls in Kabul who are going to school now, thanks to the work we’ve done. Water is a huge issue, and so is power. But without security there can be no real progress; security is part of it.”

Another point that Major Idzenga made was that Canadian soldiers do die in war zones, but other professions are also dangerous. “We lose policemen and firefighters as well,” he said, “it’s tragic, but that is the nature of the job.”

That being said, Ray Idzenga has no particular problem with the position some people take regarding Afghanistan, when they say they support the troops but not the war. “Which missions we undertake are based on political decision.”

Nevertheless, Ray Idzenga is happy about the military capacity of Canada at this time. He went through the Cold War with the military, spending much of the 1980s collecting signals intelligence including a tour on a ship, and spent time in Germany in the early 1990s.

Those were bad times for the Canadian military, when funding and the capacity of the forces were diminished.

“You can’t turn on the military like a tap. It takes time to develop capacity. It takes a lot of training.”

Ray Idzenga intends to continue working for the military for another 5 to 10 years. But he also intends to spend time fixing up his house and the grounds around it.

He is now a home body as well as a military man.

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