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ISAF troops party during down time at Kandahar Air Field. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)
ISAF troops party during down time at Kandahar Air Field. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

No sex, please. We're soldiers Add to ...

It's a no-nookie zone, officially. Having feelings for a fellow soldier at the Canadian base in Kandahar is against the military's fraternization rules, let alone sneaking off with the coveted keys to a light-armoured vehicle and its air-conditioned rear cabin.

But let's face it, these are young, buff men and women working closely together in life-and-death situations. On weekend nights, the Dutch often host a disco on the base - it's alcohol free, but the flirty dancing, says a journalist who's attended, is closer than sanctioned military standards. Scoring the keys to the LAV is an open joke, since the vehicles are one of the few private spots for a rendezvous away from the desert heat. The army store on the base sells western-style lingerie. And there's a reason, suggest journalists stationed in Kandahar, why condoms (ostensibly for soldiers going on leave) are freely available in the waiting room at the doctor's office.

But when a commanding officer allegedly partakes in a similar dalliance, breaking the very rules that he's required to set on the base, there's no looking the other way.

"The people who are at the top simply must follow the rules and must set an example," says Canadian military historian Jack Granatstein. "If they don't then there is no enforcing discipline on others, and maybe more important, things down the ranks. How can I enforce discipline, when Private Jones says to me, yeah but you're screwing so and so."

The fraternization line is alleged to have been crossed by Brigadier-General Daniel Menard, who was relieved of his command at the base on the weekend and sent home, accused of having an intimate relationship with a member of his staff.

The announcement was made on Saturday, only days after Brig.-Gen. Menard returned to Kandahar after a three-week leave. He has two children and is married to a major with the 5th service Battalion, which provides logistics for the military in the Quebec City area.

Canada has strict rules about romantic liaisons between soldiers - more strict than many other countries. The rules are clear: no hugging or hand-holding, and certainly no sex between men and women (or same-sex partners, the regulations stipulate.) Even married soldiers serving on the base are not allowed to fraternize, or show public affection.

But reality is another story - military officials, to a certain extent, appear to accept that hanky-panky happens. Reporters driving around the base at night with military police have described catching couples, who wrongly thought that darkness was sufficient cover for a passionate interlude.

In February, the American military announced that it would stock the morning-after pill at all hospitals, including on its bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two months earlier, the American commander in Iraq tried to enforce the code of contact that made a punishable offence out of getting pregnant - or getting someone pregnant - while deployed in the country. Controversy ensued, and the rule was soon scrapped.

A British military advertising campaign has recently advised female soldiers to bring condoms after a number of pregnancies at bases in Afghanistan. The Daily Mail newspaper cited an ad in the Army's official magazine, Soldier, that cautioned, "on deployment, there'll be 50 blokes to each woman," and urged women to carry condoms or "face something you don't want to hear."

But Dr. Granatstein points out that there are good reasons why the military has regulations against romantic liaisons, even if the brass knows they can't entirely stop them from happening.

"If you don't have this kind of rule in place, then relationships will form - they obviously form anyhow - but you want to try to control them because they can create jealousy, they can cause tensions in the unit, they can be a distraction from the job, which is fighting a war."

Even more questionable, he suggests, is a relationship between a senior officer and a subordinate. While Dr. Granatstein suggests that any commanding officer found guilty of these charges could expect his career to be finished, he says the case should not reflect on the overall competency of a leader of the country's Armed Forces.

"Do we say that there is a serious problem in corporations in Canada if a CEO is having an affair with one of the secretaries?" he asks. "No, we would say that CEO has a problem."

With files from Josh Wingrove and Gloria Galloway

 

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