Brigadier-General Hetherington hits the ground running

Article / November 3, 2016

By: Ashley Materi, Public Affairs Officer, 3rd Canadian Division / Joint Task Force West

Taking a sip of his caramel-coloured coffee as he walks, Brigadier-General (Brig.-Gen) Simon C. Hetherington takes a short break between meetings and conference calls. Since assuming command of 3rd Canadian Division (3 Cdn Div) and Joint Task Force West (JTFW) this past July, he now oversees everything from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Vancouver Island. This responsibility includes preparing troops for both international and domestic operations, so he takes advantage of the few quiet moments he gets in the day.

Brig.-Gen Hetherington, who has served with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) since 1983, is eager to hit the ground running in his new role. Though the core business of maintaining readiness of the Division’s troops for operations remains the same, he also wants to focus on strengthening the Reserves over the next few years.

Reserve Units

 “Our Reserve units are our links with Canadians,” Brig.-Gen Hetherington says.  “They’re the ones working in their community to do what’s needed of them.” 

This is particularly important during times of domestic crisis, such as the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, and flooding in Saskatchewan and southern Alberta in previous years. Brig.-Gen Hetherington points out that the Reserve units are also included in all international operations as well, including Operation REASSURANCE, currently taking place in central and eastern Europe.

The focus on strengthening the Reserves will also include improving the application process for those interested in joining the Reserve Force, since there are certain procedures that he says are unacceptable.

What we want to be able to do is streamline that process, bring men and women into the Reserves, help them foster a great spirit of connection of the military with their communities, build that pool of talent and dedication to serve their country here and overseas,”   says Brig.-Gen Hetherington.

He says that the high degree of support from Canadians is of utmost importance to the army, and to the Reserve units that are integrated throughout communities across the country. In addition to having civilian jobs or attending school, they also serve a few evenings a week as well as participate in training exercises during the summer. This prepares them to support the regular forces when called upon for operations. This part-time participation aids in reminding Canadians that the organization is made up of friends and family members who go out and put themselves in harm’s way to do what Canada asks them to do. 

“I think Canadians deserve to know what their military is doing for them,” says Brig.-Gen Hetherington. “They’ve been so good to us over the last number of years, we’ve got to keep that up and continue to earn that great respect.”

Military Experience

Brig.-Gen Hetherington has been serving with the CAF for decades. He has operational experience with UN peacekeeping in Cyprus, the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia, as well as three tours in Afghanistan.

He has held various leadership positions around the world, including commanding the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team as well as 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group.

After graduating from the US Army War College in 2014, he served as Deputy Commanding General – Operations for the XVIII Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

After this role, he moved on to command the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, and has also worked as a member of the Canadian Forces Transformation Team.

Ready to Fight Tonight

This experience of having boots on the ground has prepared BGen Hetherington for another undertaking he is currently working on. A goal of his is to increase understanding amongst troops as to what “Ready to Fight Tonight” really means for soldiers.

 “Ready to fight tonight doesn’t mean out the door with your rucksack tonight, but ready with what you’ve got, ready in a bunch of respects, and you are prepared to do a variety of things, because that’s what we’re expected as soldiers to do,”  says Brig.-Gen Hetherington.

He explains that mission readiness covers a spectrum of wellness; including mental, physical, social, spiritual and emotional of preparedness. The CAF offers a variety of programs to aid in this, including access to mental health services, physical fitness plans, social events to bring members together in a relaxed setting, and chaplain facilities. Brig.-Gen Hetherington also mentions the little things that are easily overlooked but just as important, such as remembering to give your significant other the password to your bank account or telling them where the keys to the locker are.

Improve Efficiency

An additional endeavour that Brig.-Gen Hetherington is excited to undergo over the next few years is that of leveraging information technology in order to improve efficiency within 3 Cdn Div. He bemoans being brought thick stacks of papers to look through and sign when the same task can be done via email and with a digital signature. Laughing, he says that he drives his staff crazy when he proposes moving these tasks to the digital realm. He is also open to suggestions that will improve workflow in the division.   “I’ve challenged the team here to find something that we can do better, and say so,” he says.

An active Twitter user (@Simon_Heth), he is enthusiastic about the use of social media platforms as a method of public engagement that can further connect Canadians with their armed forces. Recognizing that Canadians are more plugged in than ever, he says that online platforms are a tool that the CAF can use to its advantage to spread information and improve communication.

Brig.-Gen Hetherington is also a fan of TED Talks. He says that he prefers to watch a video rather than read a book, and mentions a talk he recently watched that caught his attention. Jackson Katz's "Violence Against Women - It's a Men's Issue" resonated with him due to the recent work done with Operation Honour, an effort to eradicate sexual misconduct within the CAF.  BGen Hetherington says that he is proud of the initiative, and that Operation Honour is “not just for the elimination of sexual misconduct, but as an overarching program based on respect.” He acknowledges that the CAF still has headway to make, but that the organization is moving in the right direction.


He is also happy to see CAF participation in operations around the world. He says that the focus of the entire organization during a mission is delivering outcomes, not just going for the sake of going.

 “We know that our government isn’t going to be sending us anywhere where we can’t make a difference and it is really going to be worth the risk for the men and women who deploy,” says Brig.-Gen Hetherington.   “That’s very encouraging.” 

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