OTTAWA -- After an awkward and apologetic start, Rick Hillier is back.

The retired top general of Canada’s military, who guided the combat mission in Afghanistan and ran disaster deployments against floods and fires, now faces the most important mission of his career: getting almost 15 million Ontarians vaccinated against COVID-19 in 250 days or less.

His first shots in confronting an enemy that never appeared in the military school playbook were shaky.

Hillier had to grovellingly regret closing down Ontario vaccination efforts over the Christmas holiday, leaving tens of thousands of frozen doses waiting for arms until Santa left town. The public was severely unimpressed.

And brows furrowed when he pitched Health Canada for a single-dose vaccination blitz over retaining supplies for the second dose, straying into an area where he lacked medical expertise. Some might call that mission creep.

But watching him Wednesday, seated beside Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a briefing to repair the damage of Tuesday’s confounding, confusing, stay-at-home, state-of-emergency order, there were signs Hillier is finding his feet and heading in the right direction.

He’s almost finished a vaccination blitz in isolated communities where medical support doesn’t exist. He insists long-term care staff and residents will have their first of two doses done by Feb. 15. And he challenges the feds to give him 50,000 doses a day now and he’ll have injection capacity to handle it up and running within 96 hours as huge vaccination centres become operational.

When a reporter asked about some hospital staff being vaccinated even though they’re not treating COVID-19 victims, he shrugged it off. “Speed trumps perfection,” he shrugged. “It will not be perfect.”

His organizational confidence and candid answers make Hillier a breath of fresh air in this pandemic, cutting through the reek of bovine-enhanced fertilizer emitted by politicians trying to keep their popularity from freefalling as case counts soar.

This was particularly welcome in a week when Premier Doug Ford unleashed such a muddled mess of restrictions backed by blank spots or loop-holed details which defied deciphering or logic.

Of course, Hillier is correct that vaccination challenges are going to be the most constant feature of this unprecedented mass inoculation effort.

There will be vaccine supply issues, challenged priorities, abuses that cannot be controlled and plenty of resistance to overcome.

But while you can and undoubtedly will hear good, bad and ugly developments from Hillier in the months ahead, he cannot fail.

Sure, the feds will play the blame game. Canada is awash with so many vaccines, they’ll say, the entire country should be inoculated before summer ends. Left unsaid is that the fault for any slow vaccination effort lies with the provinces.

But that’s a future fight and we should all hope Hillier, and those like him in other provinces, end up with the problem of having too many vaccines as they take aim at giving Canadians their shot at a normal life.

Rick Hillier’s at war against time and an invisible enemy spread by stealth through the air and constantly shape-shifting its viral makeup. That makes his military hunt for the Taliban look like a snowball fight by comparison.

But there are common challenges with both missions.

Rick Hillier inherited a “decade of darkness” military suffering from fiscal neglect and built it into a fiercely combative middle military power.

Let’s hope the country’s most recognized general can quickly arm Canadians against an enemy which kills almost as many Canadians in one day as the 159 soldiers who died during our nine-year mission in Afghanistan.

That’s the bottom line.