Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘Canada

Things On My Mind Before I Go

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The day is getting so close now that I’m trying to review in my head all the things I need to get done, and it’s complicated. I wanted to get my tax return sorted out for the year before I left, and I managed to do that last night. I made a typo in my tax software that made me think I was getting back a pretty sizable return, but when I was going over everything I discovered the mistake. It turns out I owe this year – though nothing overwhelming. One of the tricks being a Reservist is that I have to try to get it so that the tax withheld on my army pay is enough to actually cover what I owe. I’ve gotten better at this over time, but it’s not perfect. I think I’ll just use a small RRSP loan to cover off the balance, and pay it off when I get over there, which shouldn’t be an issue.

I have the option to defer filing until after my tour, but I’m not going to do that for one simple reason: the nature of my civilian job is such that it’s much easier to file electronically, rather than assemble a massive tax package – being paid by commissions means you have a lot of deductions to submit receipts etc for. If I defer, I’ll miss the window on NetFile, and that’s more hassle than it’s worth. I have almost  everything I need now anyhow – just waiting on one last T4 slip to make sure I have all the numbers right, and I’m good to go.

The family dynamic is what’s really interesting, challenging. I have been in the army 11 years, all of them as a reservist. That means I’ve been away from home a fair bit, but usually in very short spurts – a weekend here, a week there, the odd longer stint doing courses and so on. The longest so far was about 14 weeks while I was on one my officer training courses at the Infantry School. Being three hours from my parents and able to talk to my wife whenever I felt like it more or less made that pretty simple. When I went back in January, I wasn’t home for three weeks, and that’s a first in a while, since 2008 actually. In the first stage of workup I was home every weekend as it’s a relatively short drive and I could always find someone to bring me here.

That seems like forever ago, incidentally – this whole process seems like it has been a whole lot longer than it actually has.

This is going to be different, and it won’t be easy I suspect. From when I leave to get on the plane in a few days, it’ll be something like seven months before I see my wife again, when we meet during my leave. That actually makes me think my dates might have to change, since they don’t match up with our projected RIP dates – must look into that… We haven’t yet decided where we’re going, we’ve discussed Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic (and a Eurail Pass), Morocco (well, I have), Russia, so many ideas. I’ll see her for a couple of weeks, and then head back for the last little stretch beforee it’s time to come home.

There’s an interesting effect though, I’ve noticed. Being home actually creates disruption for now – she’s so used to the idea of me being gone that my being here disrupts the routines, the structures she’s gotten in place to be ready for the next little while. It’s not just me that’s got a lot to contend with – in fact, it’s families that do a lot more. I’ve always admired military families, I’ve always heard from senior leaders how important they are to the team’s effort, how vital they are to the CF being able to do anything, but it’s going from abstraction to reality.

They don’t do it alone, fortunately.

Unlike the last time I had my name in for a tour, we have something of a luxury in that we live in a military town. Halifax is the home port of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, so there’s lots of people in uniform here, and a great Military Family Resource Centre, which provides all sorts of services to our families. My wife was out to a briefing on how everything works, everything from why you always answer the phone when call display comes up “Government of Canada” (bad news is never delivered by phone), to what actually does happen in the event of casualties. I remember during my infantry officer course that it was important to include in your plan and your orders what the medevac plan is, how you’ll deal with casualties, because those you lead need to know that there is a plan. So they got the same briefing we did, what the medical resources are there, what happens when the worst happens, and all that.

One of my peers – actually two of them – also took it upon themselves to make sure that my wife has people to call if she needs anything. We refer to the Army as being family, and it really is. We look out for each other, we look out for everyone’s family. It’s not something they have to tell us to do, it just happens. I’m glad to know that is the case. I know that if I’m not around and something does happen she’s got people to call on. That said, the marvels of modern technology mean that I’m going to be able to stay in touch pretty well – I don’t think we’ll be that out of touch. Between Skype, Facebook, satellite phones, my biggest worry is having something to talk about most of the time.

This is going to lead right into what I wanted to talk about. I hear so many people going on about “supporting the troops”. It’s become a political statement in some cases, a means of separating one group from another in debates, all sorts of things. I see all sorts of people with those little yellow ribbon stickers on cars, or making the statements, or whatever. But what does that actually mean? So you bought a ribbon from Wal-Mart and stuck it on your car. You’re supporting the business that makes them, in most case, but does that actually do anything for soldiers? Probably not. So, if you want to really “support the troops” more than making an increasingly empty statement, I’ve got some suggestions. I added some links to organizations you can donate to that make tangible efforts to improve the lives of military families and soldiers. I’m going to keep adding other organizations that do good in the world that hopefully will help us build a world where eventually soldiers are almost unnecessary. Our boss on this tour has charged us with the responsibility to work ourselves out of a job – if only to be handed another one – but imagine if that was what could be done for our communities on a grand scale?

I don’t want to sound ranty, but it’s important stuff. Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 has a motto that encapsulates it well: Facta non verba. Deeds, not words. Actions, not stickers. There’s nothing wrong with those stickers, by the way, if you buy them from an organization like CFPSA, where the proceeds go directly to programs for soldiers and their families. If I can impress anything upon anyone reading this though, it’s just go do something. Someone asked what she could do to support me, and I just said go do something that makes her community better. You can donate to organizations that do good work, but if that’s not something you can do, time is often as valuable, or more so. One of the things the unit I used to belong to did every year was help pack Christmas hampers for the local Salvation Army. All the donated money in the world doesn’t do that manual labour required, but we went out, worked hard for a few hours, and contributed to a lot of people in our community having a more enjoyable holiday. I got more of a sense of personal satisfaction out of that few hours of work than I have ever gotten from getting any gifts or anything else.

It’s something I have to get better at myself, even. It’s something I don’t think I can ever let myself think I’ve done well enough. In fact, it’s something I’m going to try to focus more on when I get home. If I’ve taken away anything from my friends who’ve deployed before me, it’s that you come back with a renewed appreciation for just how good things are here – how lucky we were to have been born in (or ended up in) a country like Canada. But it is the way it is because people put in effort to make it this way, and often it’s selfless effort, with no hope or thought of reward or personal gain. Everyone can do better, so if you want to do something to support me or anyone else in uniform, I’ve just told you a myriad of ways. Deeds. Not Words.

Written by Nick

February 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm