Since the time of the earliest “organized” barbarian hordes, the entertainment offered to warriors has reflected a chance to continue training in a less formal setting, while still relieving the stresses of the workday. In the barbarian setting this might have come down to ritualized duels fought to determine who got the first pick of loot from a vanquished foe, but some element tying battle and recreation has always been present.
As barbarians gave way to organized military forces of the pattern we would understand today, so did the recreation offered to the troops. Informal duels were replaced, in part, with more organized sporting events. Indeed, an examination of the Olympic Games themselves reveals martial beginnings. Traditional Games demonstrate hand-to-hand combat prowess (wrestling), endurance (marathon), speed (sprinting) alongside such distinctly martial skills such as archery or javelin. A Roman Centurion would find much of the Summer Games familiar, even homey… even if he did not recognize some of the techniques employed.
The modern military relies as much on teamwork as on individual prowess and that too is reflected in how entertainment is offered to the troops. In the Canadian Forces, it is common to see teams of service members playing everything from the ubiquitous Hockey, to far lesser known sports such as Ringuete. Base facilities reflect this mixture of building military capability through sports and entertainment, as well they should. Core capabilities of the military are directly aided by those facilities and the sports they host. The military benefits, not just from a health and welfare standpoint, but from a direct contribution to core combat capability with every service member that participates in sports.
The facilities of a modern Canadian Forces Base reflect this. It is common to see a base that has a running track, a pool, curling and ice hockey rinks as well as sports fields to support baseball, football, rugby, soccer or virtually any other sport you can name. Indoor facilities including weight rooms, exercise rooms, basketball facilities and gymnasiums are also common. Even a relatively small Base will have an array of sports opportunities that would not look out of place in a small Canadian city.
Just as the Bronze-Age warrior gave way to the Iron-Age soldier, sports involving the troops changed. Further evolution followed as Industrial-Age armies required greater teamwork, but we are now firmly entrenched in the Information-Age. A new era of militarily significant skills are emerging, skillsets born of the needs of an Information-Age military. Just as previous evolutions in required skills gave rise to new generations of sports, the Information-Age will be no different. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that this has already occurred… with units in combat benefitting from the new skills.
In the Iraq War, both sides in the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) battle used Radio Controlled (R/C) cars. The Islamic Army in Iraq demonstrated the ability to use an R/C car to remotely emplace and detonate an IED . US troops demonstrated a similar capability to check suspicious roadside packages to determine if they were IED’s . Your definition of “toy” changes when it is 50 yards out front of your vehicle checking for explosives. The entire field of UAV’s has its roots in hobby RC aircraft. The earliest Israeli RPV used parts sourced from a local hobby shop. Management and flight testing of the early Lockheed Tuboomer RPV program was by skilled hobby R/C pilots.
How will such changes affect the military of tomorrow?
First, we can rest assured that whenever possible Western military forces will bring their toys with them. The commander who decides to deny the right to bring an R/C vehicle along, knowing it might hunt IED’s is needlessly hazarding his troops. The same goes for a commander who decides that a hobby remotely piloted vehicle has no place with the troops. Some of the available “hobby” RPV’s offer cinema-grade HD video recording capability, and a growing number offer first-person-real-time video downlinks. Smaller units may not always have UGV or UAV support, but it is becoming easier for them to provide it themselves.
Bases will need to reflect this trend as well. Hobby-grade RC cars and trucks have already entered the battlefield, would it not make sense for a Canadian Forces base to host a facility where the requisite skillsets can be practiced? How about a model flying field to develop the skills needed in a small-unit UAV crewmember? Nor is this just about developing skills, it is also about threat assessment. As these “toys” get more powerful, driven by vast consumer demand… how do you understand what threat they pose? The best way is simple familiarity… they boys have been driving or flying that generation for a little while now and know intimately not just what it will do out-of-box, but what it can be made to do with upgrades.
It is easy to write off modern Information-Age “toys” as mere playthings. I imagine armoured knights made similar claims when they considered entering combat against a foe armed with the English Longbow, or when a later generation considered the primacy of cold sword steel when compared to these new “guns.” 100 years from now, will military historians laughingly explain to their students that the average military unit had less UAV/UGV capability than was readily available in the local hobby shop?
 R/C IED