By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
Serving in the Canadian army from an American post is something Brig. Gen. Dean Milner has always wanted. Milner's father, a retired two-star Canadian general, participated in an officer exchange program that brought the family to Fort Knox, Ky., for three years from Kingston, Ontario. It was during that childhood experience he picked up two of his lifelong interests - American football and Civil War history.
Now Milner's received a chance to return to America, serving for the next two to three years as the deputy Canadian commander of Fort Hood and III Corps, and he plans to make the most of his visit.
He already has developed a love for the Lone Star state, he said, during a recent interview in his office at III Corps Headquarters.
"I could be a Texan easily," said Milner, who graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "But I don't know if I'll ever say 'y'all.'"
He arrived at Fort Hood three weeks ago. His wife, Katrin, a former veterinarian's assistant, their German shepherd and a cat, accompanied him. The couple's two children remain in Canada, where they are attending college.
Milner is the sixth Canadian general to fill this position at Fort Hood.
The U.S. Army and Canada began their exchange program in 1976, with the first general arriving to serve on Fort Hood in 1998, according to post documents. Written in the original 1976 memorandum, the purpose of the exchange program is "for the purpose of providing a system of mutual and reciprocal exchange of personnel between the two services to further the bonds of friendship and understanding which exists between the two services by which experience, professional knowledge, ideas, techniques and doctrines of both are shared for maximum mutual benefit."
In his 31-year career as an armor officer, Milner has led troops in Africa, Bosnia and on a United Nations mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where he brought together soldiers from 45 nations. He most recently returned from commanding two American Stryker battalions and a cavalry squadron in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is in a critical time frame right now, because we are starting to draw down and the Afghans need to start doing more things themselves," Milner said. "That was one of my fortes - training with the Afghans and focusing their capabilities and making sure they understand they need to lead things more now."
In Texas, Milner said he is taking time to enjoy the lifestyle - joining a Scotch club, visiting the San Antonio River Walk and taking in a Texas A&M University football game at Kyle Field - even serving as the post's chairman of the golf course.
It's not all fun, though. Milner has several responsibilities handed down by Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood.
"Dean Milner is the next in a successive line of superior Canadian general officers to serve with III Corps, and we couldn't have asked for a better choice," Campbell said. "He's a proven combat leader who brings a wealth of experience and a healthy dose of Canadian culture to Central Texas. I am positive he and Katrin will be a tremendous asset to our soldiers, families, and the Central Texas communities."
Milner will oversee several brigades, force protection, counter roadside bomb training and sustainment. He also plans to work with units training to deploy to Afghanistan. The Canadian army is the second-largest training entity in Afghanistan.
"I think we've learned some excellent lessons through the years in Iraq and Afghanistan and that's why the units are really strong," Milner said. "But you can always tweak things. I will see things and be able to provide advice and direction to commanders that they need to focus more on."
Even with the shift into more a training role in Afghanistan, he said soldiers still need to be prepared for battle.
"It's still a tough complex environment," Milner said. "You saw the attacks against Kabul recently...I call those desperate attacks because they don't have the numbers to fight the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police or (International Security Assistance Forces). So they conduct these brutal attacks and they are killing more civilians than anybody else and it's a real shame and we hope that the people rise up against them."
Most importantly, Milner said he wants to help strengthen the relationship between the two nations' armies during his time at Fort Hood.
"One thing I'd like to emphasize is that Canada has really grown closer to United States since 9/11. Both are partnered in fighting the terrorists together," Milner said. "This is an honor. I'm really proud to serve with the U.S. forces. I think we've developed a great partnership... It's inspiring for me to be here and watch this country in action."
Contact Rose L. Thayer at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463.
Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.