Home Canadian Army Strengthening the Forces celebrates turning 30 with a new look!

Strengthening the Forces celebrates turning 30 with a new look!

The Strengthening the Forces (STF) program is celebrating its 30th birthday and to mark this milestone, we are introducing a new look and feel – the STF Brand Refresh. Part of this celebration includes highlighting the journey of health promotion in the CAF from its humble beginnings to the vibrant program it is today.

In the early 1990s, the Director of Health Protection and Promotion, Capt(N) Robert Climie, was ahead of his time in advocating that health service leadership put greater emphasis on promoting health and wellness in the CAF. Despite considerable pushback, Dr. Climie’s unwavering efforts paved the way for the creation of the health promotion program we have today.

In 1992, Major Darrell Menard was posted into the only health promotion position in the CAF. Despite this lack of person power, Dr. Climie’s resolute determination combined with support from Major Menard, LCol Tepper and Francois Legard led to the Chief of Defence Staff providing a declaration of support for the importance of health promotion in the CAF and the formal establishment of the STF program in 1994.

After considerable work, the launch of the STF Program took place on the 12th of May
1995. This was known at the time as Canada’s Health Day. As part of the launch, a
series of targeted posters and a guidebook for military health influencers was released. This guidebook reminded Canadian Forces leaders that health promotion is a leadership issue. To support this significant change in direction, the National Defence Headquarters Policy Directive 2/95, Health Promotion in the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence was released. That foundational policy supported the considerable expansion and improvement in health promotion program offerings of the next couple of decades and is still aligned with recent initiatives such as the Total Health and Wellness Strategy.

Early STF work was concentrated on developing health promotion initiatives in the CAF. Prior to STF, health promotion interventions at the base/wing level were rudimentary and were often delivered as secondary duties by Public Health nurses. While well-intentioned, the quality of services available varied considerably Dimensions of Health
depending on the experience, background, availability, and interest of the people appointed to these positions.

STF became a fierce advocate for an evidence-informed approach to Health Promotion and took over the responsibility for conducting the Health and Lifestyle Information Survey (now the Canadian Armed Forces Health Survey). Having the ability to collect, analyze and report on health data has been critical to better understanding the health promotion requirements of our population.

In 2002, the Canadian Forces Health Services renewal initiative, Rx2000, fundamentally
restructured health services and STF. This modernization effort established the Directorate of Force Health Protection (DFHP) as the CAF’s public health arm. In doing so, DFHP became the new home for the STF program and three other public health sections: Communicable Disease Control; Occupational and Environmental Health; and Epidemiology. STF itself was divided into two components working together to develop and deliver quality health promotion services to the CAF: a DFHP headquarters element consisting of subject matter experts in dietetics, addictions, psychology, sports medicine, social work, and physiotherapy; and a dedicated team of professionals to deliver the STF program on bases and wings.

LCol Greg Cook and Dr. Wayne Lee of the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency (CFPSA) proposed that the Personnel Support Program (PSP) division provide the qualified personnel to deliver STF programs on Bases and Wings. A Service Level Agreement was developed, setting out the roles and responsibilities for STF program development and the delivery of these programs by CFPSA through the newly created PSP Health Promotion Delivery team.

This was an ambitious plan with a substantive centralized team of health promotion subject matter experts. These experts created STF program content to be delivered by a separate team of experts at the base/wing level. Within the structure established by Rx2000, the STF program continues to evolve, striving to improve the operational readiness of the CAF through health promotion. There are now 80 PSP Health Promotion
Delivery staff that offer the STF program at 24 sites across Canada and a headquarters element of nine STF personnel who serve as subject matter experts for CAF leadership and PSP staff. Optimizing capabilities is ongoing with the new addition of a social marketing team to optimize the reach of our communication strategies and a dedicated epidemiology team to help with injury surveillance and quality improvement.

From a single position in 1994 to 89 people in 2024: STF continues to have one guiding principal – improving the health and wellness of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and their families.

Expect STF to continue pushing the envelope as it enters this next decade of service with a brand-new look and feel with the STF Brand Refresh. Be on the lookout as we increase our support to help CAF leadership implement a broader range of interventions aimed at
helping CAF personnel, their families, and their communities to increase control over their health. For example, STF is rolling out the new Essential Nutrition Course and converting part of its popular courses to online ones. New surveys and a new injury surveillance
system are being piloted and linked to new prioritization tools and a menu of best practices in health promotion to help the leadership on bases and wings to create and implement health promotion action plans. Recent topics addressed by STF include maternal nutrition, kindness, self-care, social determinants of health – all topics that were not at the forefront of health promotion 30 years ago! The new STF Brand Refresh is another important initiative that ensures STF continues to have a meaningful impact on the operational readiness of Canada’s military.

Strengthening the Forces is the CAF/DND’s health promotion program providing expert information, guidance, training, tools, and leadership support to improve CAF members’ health and well-being.