Cowichan retiree remembers 40 years of keeping the peace
Lt.-Col. Paul Philcox is one of the highest-ranking retired Canadian soldiers in Cowichan.
After reading his resume, one’s tempted to salute Philcox when he strolls in to Duncan’s White Spot for an interview about his 40-year career in the Canadian Army.
“That’s not necessary,” said the affable Philcox, who looks a bit like Canada’s late giant of journalism, Peter Jennings.
But Philcox’s long service stretch, that earned him and 100,000 other Canucks a 1988 Nobel Prize for Peace, also resembles Britain’s legendary Lt.-Col. T.E. Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia — after hitches in the Middle East and, most recently, Afghanistan.
He even visited Lawrence’ former home at Clouds Hill, ruins at Petra, and climbed an Egyptian pyramid.
The difference, minus height and eccentricities, is Philcox survived to tell about his career, and he has 18-karat gold dog tags to prove it.
“All foreign postings I liked because you’re doing your job; any operation is interesting,” said Philcox, 65, who was shot at and rocketed, but never hit.
“I got shot at more in the Middle East; it was almost a daily event.
“But I enjoyed the job in the Middle East. I didn’t particularly like Israel; the people weren’t very nice, they’re aggressive.”
With active service over, he can discuss his work between the UN’s front lines in Israel and Syria, Lebanon (1985-86), to National Defense HQ’s cutting-edge leading the Armed Forces Training Technology Exhibitions (1982-85).
And before six months in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2005 with the International Security and Assistance Force Land Liaison, Philcox helped engineer and name Canada’s Badger tanks (1986-90); led the British Columbia Regiment (1996-99); was 1991 to 2001 aide-de-camp to three Lieutenant Governors of B.C.; and was Vancouver Police Department’s fleet manager (1994-2004) after his first retirement.
He also has the Queen’s Golden and Diamond (July 16) Jubilee commemorative medals.
Not your average grunt on the front.
“I was in the army for a long time,” understates Philcox.
He enlisted in 1966 with the officers’ training corps, then joined the regular force in 1973, later graduating as a lieutenant from Sir George Williams University.
“I joined to travel.”
His best memories are of postings in England, Germany, southern Lebanon and Afghanistan — and helping develop the German-made Badger tank with the Armoured Engineer Vehicle Division.
“The ride in a tank is pretty smooth,” he said of the three-man Krupp Leopard tank adapted for Canadian use to dig, deliver and destroy using a laser-sighted shell that travels five kilometres.
Philcox was in various vehicles in the Middle East.
“In Israel I was with the UN, and they don’t like the UN. It was a mess.”
Squabbling was thick between Jewish and Arab folks, who Philcox tried to befriend.
“I was with the people all the time and had meals in their homes.
“We returned deceased people to their families and helped get electricity and water back on.
“There’s no way peace was going to break out, but on a small scale we accomplished a lot.”
Strides were also made against the Taliban in Afghanistan where Philcox worked for six months out of a cement compound with American forces in Bagram, while Canadians soldiers held Kandahar and Kabul.
He came out of retirement after getting called for Afghan duty as Canadian liaison to the U.S. Task Force.
Since the Taliban hated foreigners, Philcox carried a 9-mm pistol, wore body-armour and toted a rifle.
“If we weren’t there, the Afghanis would be fighting each other.
“They (Taliban) eradicated drugs but banned music and executed women with their form of religious extremism.”
Philcox was disgusted about destruction of ancient monuments and buildings in a country laced with land mines.
“It’s a corrupt regime, and as along as Pakistan’s a safe haven for the Taliban, we’ll never win.”
A highlight was meeting a “very nice” former first-lady Laura Bush as part of ISAF brass in Bagram.
He handed Bush a Canadian flag in Bagram boasting three hospitals treating thousands of Afghanis, plus a prison holding 500-odd POWs.
Bagram was a far cry from dangerous, dirty Kabul that was “like the Mad-Max movie.”
Conversely, protocol back home at picnics, prayers and parades with lieutenant governors David Lam, Garde Gardom and Iona Campagnolo resembled the Bambi film.
“If the lieutenant governor couldn’t make it, I was treated like them.”
All in all, Philcox was treated well throughout his army career before retiring in 2007.
“I’ve done things others never got the opportunity to do,” he said.