Canadian general heads home

Hood Herald/David Morris

By Iuliana Petre

Fort Hood Herald

Answer these questions honestly:

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?

Have you ever skied down the slopes at Flagstaff, Ariz.?

Have you ever watched a high school football game’s halftime show?

Why is it, then, that it takes a foreigner to remind us how much we take for granted in our own nation?

Maj. Gen. Peter J. Devlin, the outgoing deputy commander (Canadian), doesn’t take our nation for granted.

In fact, he has been to the Grand Canyon, skied down the slopes at Flagstaff, and while everyone else ran out for refreshments during football games, Devlin got excited about watching the halftime events.

Devlin is the fourth Canadian general to serve as the deputy commander of III Corps.

And of all the Canadian deputy commanders who’ve served on the III Corps’ staff, Devlin’s held the position the longest — three years to be exact.

“A normal tour is two years,” Devlin said, adding that by the end of this summer he will have held the position longer than most because of his recent deployment to Iraq with the III Corps headquarters, where he served alongside Lt. Gen. (promotable) Raymond T. Odierno — something he refers to as the highlight of his service with the U.S. Army.

A near 30-year career

Born and raised in what some consider the “New York City of Canada,” Devlin is a native of Toronto.

The city is diverse, with its waterside location on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto booms with culture that includes theater, sports and shopping.

“Great things happen there,” Devlin said of Toronto, but added that for any interested traveler, Quebec is the most European city in Canada.

“Quebec (will give you) a taste of Europe without going to Europe,” Devlin said, adding that the culture, food and atmosphere are very European.

Devlin joined the Canadian Army at the age of 18, completing a reserve officer training corps-type program through the University of Western Ontario, where he studied economics.

He then joined the Canadian Army and became an infantry platoon leader. Later, he served as a company commander, battalion commander and brigade commander.

In between some of those jobs, he has held some staff positions, too.

“I’m a very lucky fellow,” Devlin said. “I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have spent so much time in the field surrounded by soldiers from platoon to brigade level.”

Devlin also earned Canadian and German jump wings and a mortar qualification in the Canadian Army.

His job as III Corps’ deputy commander is his first time inside an American formation.

“I’ve never soldiered with the U.S. before this,” Devlin said, but added that he worked closely with German soldiers while serving in the Balkans.

In an interview at the III Corps headquarters on Fort Hood several weeks ago, Devlin noted the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Canadian forces.

“Ours is a significantly smaller force,” Devlin said of the Canadian Army, adding that Canada’s entire army is about the size of one of the U.S. Army’s divisions, with about 15,000 soldiers assigned.

More than 3,000 Canadian soldiers are deployed at any given time, with more than 9,000 either redeploying or getting ready to deploy, Devlin said, adding that the main effort is currently in Afghanistan and less in Iraq.

Devlin also cited similarities in equipment.

“We use the Leopard tank, which is like your Abrams tank,” Devlin said, adding that the Leopard is a German tank.

“Our forces are very interoperable,” given the similarities of equipment, ability to communicate on the battlefield and shared experiences, Devlin said.

As far as deployments go, there is a significant difference in how the armies operate.

The Canadian Army deploys soldiers for, on average, seven months, Devlin said, whereas American soldiers have deployed to the Middle East for as long as 15 months.

And although Devlin’s recent deployment to Iraq with III Corps was his sixth to the Middle East, it was by far the longest. The tour length did not deter him from sending a message back to Canada about the tour lengths of the Canadian Army.

Devlin admits that 15 months is a long time, but he adds “the fight (in the Middle East) today is based on the relationship (of coalition forces) with local leaders.”

“We need to build strong, lasting and powerful (community ties),” Devlin said, adding that “in a year you are better able to take advantage of powerful relationships,” which is not something always possible in only seven months — the average length of most coalition forces’ deployments.

“Canada needs to examine their tour length,” Devlin said.

While in Iraq

While serving in Iraq, Devlin focused primarily on three areas: integrating coalition forces into operations throughout Iraq; strengthening ties with international organizations such as the United Nations; and developing essential services for the populace, such as electricity, water, oil.

Additionally, he always reported back to Odierno, keeping the commander informed.

As someone who had oversight on all coalition soldiers in Iraq, Devlin was responsible for ensuring all coalition partners (from more than 25 different countries) were operationally integrated on the battlefield.

“I visited every single coalition unit in Iraq. Professionally, I saw different approaches to similar problems, using different equipment. They all brought something to the battlefield,” Devlin said.

The situation in Iraq provided what Devlin believed to be a great opportunity for the international community to participate in developing the nation.

Devlin spent endless hours highlighting to the United Nations and other agencies, opportunities to develop programs in Iraq.

“I worked hard with the United Nations and non-government organizations who wanted to do good things in Iraq,” Devlin said, adding that he shared information with these organizations by giving them the coalition perspective of how to bring about effective change in Iraq.

Devlin’s third focus was on strengthening industries. He worked with ministries at the national and provincial level.

“Because of our efforts, in 2007, the government of Iraq increased their oil exports, creating a revenue budget for the nation that was 21 percent larger than it’d ever been,” Devlin said.

Other visible changes included, for example, an increase in the number of hours per day that people received electricity.

“There was a 50 percent increase. When we first got to Iraq the people had only about six or seven hours of electricity per day. By the time we left, they were getting 12 to 14 hours per day,” Devlin said. “It was rewarding to be part of the surge. The progress left me feeling optimistic for the people.”

Adapting to America

It wasn’t hard for Devlin to adapt to the U.S. Army.

“Soldiers are the same the world over. They have a rare and special energy and you feed off that,” Devlin said.

But, soldiering wasn’t the only facet of his life.

He and his wife, Judy, and their four kids — John, Laura, Paul and Mark — experienced as much of America as they could. Although most of their experiences were driven by the school activities, the Devlin’s traveled a lot to accommodate for each one of their kids’ school and extracurricular requirements.

“It’s all been part of this amazing experience,” Devlin said, adding that “we’re going to leave with fantastic memories.”

The oldest of Devlin’s four kids, John, left the U.S. to return to Canada after his father’s first year with III Corps. John graduated from Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Temple and left for Canada to attend a Canadian university.

But, the other three remained active at school and with extracurricular activities.

“They’ve experienced things they wouldn’t get to experience north of the border,” Devlin said, referring to sports like football, baseball, volleyball, track and field, and a public speaking and debate club offered through the school.

American schools take a different approach, Devlin said, adding that in Canada, you join a community association to play sports, but in the U.S. there is an emphasis on spirit and extra-curricular experiences.

The educational curriculum is the same, emphasizing the basics like reading, writing and arithmetic, but there is a tremendous level of participation in sporting events, Devlin said.

“Judy is also tremendously involved in volunteer programs and with the family readiness group,” Devlin said.

“The people of the U.S. are my favorite part of being here,” Devlin said, adding that the friendships he’s formed and the memories he’s made are everlasting.

“The Central Texas communities are amazing,” Devlin said, adding that the communities are incredibly supportive of those who wear the uniform.

Canada and the U.S. are two great countries. They are similar, but distinct.

“I’ve missed Canada, but not in a longing way. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything,” Devlin said.

Devlin considers his position as the III Corps deputy commanding general (Canadian) as symbolic.

“This position and relationship is nine years old now and it strengthens the ties between Canada and the U.S., our militaries and our armies,” Devlin said.

And although he is not the only Canadian in the U.S. Army — the 18th Airborne Corps deployed to Iraq with a Canadian as deputy, as well — there is little room for Americans in the Canadian Army.

“The size of our Army cannot offer the same types of opportunities,” Devlin said.

Following his official handover of duties to the incoming Deputy Commanding General (Canadian) Brig. Gen. Peter Atkinson later this month, Devlin will return to Canada to assume responsibility as the Director General of Health Services in the Canadian Army.

Contact Iuliana Petre at or (254) 501-7469.

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