A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘remembrance

Happy Pachino Day

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Today is Pachino Day, the 69th anniversary of the invasion of Sicily. The first Canadian Army unit I joined, as well as The Royal Canadian Regiment I’m deployed with now, were both involved in Operation HUSKY. Without getting into a pedantic history lesson, The D-Day Dodgers as they were known were the first force to really start making inroads into Hitler’s Europe, a year before the D-Day Normandy Landings.

It is customarily celebrated with a feed of spaghetti and the cheapest, most vile Italian red wine that can be found. We had the pasta, no luck on the wine tonight though as usual.

Otherwise there’s not a whole lot of exciting things to write about right now. Relations with our ANA partners have improved greatly, after a tense meeting we’ve gotten back more or less to normal, and they’re getting ready to run their next course which will be the last one we support them directly for – so that’s been most of my workload, making sure they have the stuff they need for the course, arranging facilities and so on, and trying to figure out how to get them prepared to take over everything.

I also spent most of the last week with the dreaded “gastro” –  some awful stomach bug that basically laid me out flat for a few miserable days, but it’s moved along. A couple of us got it after a trip to one of the local restaurants. Unfortunate. But over now, and hopefully that’ll be my only such experience. It happens to pretty much everyone at some point, so I can’t get too worked up over it. Being up all night came in handy when I got some Facebook messages from my former roommate (turned next door neighbour) at 4am who missed his flight back into theatre from leave, having dropped his passport in the airport and being denied borrowing. I managed to make some phone calls to help him sort himself out. Silver linings or something like that. He’s actually the second person who I had to bail out of a jam with their leave – friend of mine from my home unit left town without his visa for his destination, a bunch of calls and text messages finally got someone able to email a scan of it to him, and that was enough to get him on his way.

As I said, not all that much to say, really – life ticks on, there’s plenty of stuff I’d love to bitch and moan about, but this just ain’t the place to do that – and even then, they’re all pretty petty, minor things anyhow. Life’s pretty alright overall.

Written by Nick

July 10, 2012 at 11:29 am

Alive Days

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An inevitability of living and working on close quarters with a relatively small group of people is that conversations get deeper and more involved. On this particular trip it is worse in many cases because there are just three of us on the training team, staying in the same hotel, planning our meals around each other, and so on. We do get along well so it’s not complicated. But the conversations get very deep.

Yesterday afternoon, we sat at a small sausage stand on the Danube, on a patio feasting on little bratwursts and sauerkraut, and we got into discussion about a lot of things, including absent friends. One of my colleagues had told me some of his stories, but never in depth. He wears a black bracelet that has become somewhat common amongst those who’ve lost friends in war. His bears the name of friend who was killed in a rocket attack on a base in Iraq, right in front of the PX. My friend had been invited to come along to the shops – something that’s common enough – and declined. Had he gone, he too would likely have been killed.

Military folks have a term for these: Alive Days. The day that they managed to avoid a grim fate. I neither have nor want an Alive Day – but I find the emergence of them to be something rather awesome. They complement the more solemn idea of remembrance of absent friends by celebrating survival as well.

They are sad days. My colleague recounted the last discussion he had with his KIA friend – about photographs he had received of his kids and his wife’s poor camera work. It laid bare for us just how real it is what we do, during the surreal experience of being in Germany instead of Afghanistan.

Written by Nick

May 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm


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Today, April 25th, is ANZAC Day. It’s the 97th Anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli, where allies landed against ferocious Turkish defence, and took massive casualties. There was a “sort of” Canadian connection, because the Newfoundland Regiment was involved in that campaign as well. For Australians and New Zealanders, the former having major presence on my camp, today is their equivalent of Remembrance Day, and so this morning we formed up to pay tribute to their fallen, but also to all those who went before us as we do on Remembrance Day.

Probably my favourite part of the whole thing is the tribute paid by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to those who fell after the war in 1934 – which if I remember right is actually inscribed on the ANZAC Monument:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and they are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Lest we forget.

Written by Nick

April 25, 2012 at 1:16 am

On Remembrance Day…

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I didn’t get a chance to post anything yesterday, because it was a pretty busy day, and I think a week of not sleeping particularly well caught up to me pretty hard. By about 8pm yesterday I was ready to go to bed, but I somehow managed to stay awake for a couple of episodes of Criminal Minds curled up on the couch with the Missus. If I’d been hammering away at the blog in the time I had with her, well, it wouldn’t be a good use of time, would it.

Halifax, being a military city, has a lot going on on Remembrance Day. I didn’t really know what my unit’s plans were in detail other than what I could remember from last year, so I headed into the Armouries around 9am. I didn’t have my DEU (dress uniform) as the tunic is in the tailor shop having the braiding changed to reflect my new rank, and it wasn’t ready in time. So instead, I wore my combats (the CADPAT camouflage uniforms that we wear in the field and to work most of the time). I didn’t have a parade appointment anyhow, since no one was sure if I was going to be there anyhow. My unit normally parades at the South African War Memorial, which is located at Province House (the provincial legislature), and so we were bused over to the waterfront to form up and march there. Despite heavy rainfall warnings, it was decided that we’d parade outdoors anyhow. It seemed on arrival that all we had to content with was a not terribly unpleasant forceful warm wind, and some drizzle. By the end of the service, however, I can officially say that I’ve paraded in a tropical storm.

Joy went home to change into dry clothes, and I changed out of uniform and headed to the Halifax Alehouse with the rest of the unit for beers, stories, remembrance, etc. We stayed for a few hours as people came and went, we talked to times gone by, and of toasts to absent friends, and so on.

This year we didn’t have a piper on our parade, which wasn’t that bad – I’ve found, as one of my friends mentioned, that I have a hard time listening to the lament traditionally played between the Last Post and the Reveille (Flowers of the Forest), it stirs up things in me.

We spoke the names of our fallen friends, told stories of them, and again, we ensured their immortality. We won’t forget them, and we’ll make sure no one does.

Written by Nick

November 12, 2011 at 11:11 am

Posted in Musings On Army Life

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The Day Job Comes To An End

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Yesterday was my last day of work in my civilian job, my leave of absence officially started. I spent the day cleaning up my office, getting some files organized, and saying a few goodbyes before I headed downtown to return my laptop, printer, and all that stuff. I walked out into a beautiful evening and what my father refers to as “gardening leave”, a few days off before I set off for Gagetown at some point this weekend, and the fun begins.

Today, though, I’m doing a video shoot for the company’s intranet that will be posted next week for Remembrance Day. Last year they did snippets on a bunch of employees with military connections and in the last few months they’ve started using video to feature different employees talking about all sorts of things relevant to the business, or our communities, or whatever. Kind of neat. Among other things they want me to talk about Remembrance Day and what it means to me. That’s an interesting question.

When I was growing up, it was about paying tribute to the fallen in wars long before my time, seeing older vets getting together to remember absent friends, and it was very vague. I understood why we did it, why it was important. I memorized In Flanders Fields even if I didn’t totally understand its message.

My first Remembrance Day in the uniform of Canada’s Army was in 2001. A new war was just beginning and it wasn’t clear what it meant. It was still a vague event, I went with fellow soldiers to tour the Legions and other service clubs, bought drinks for veterans and listened to their stories of WW2 and Korea.

By 2002 Canada had seen its first Afghan casualties and it suddenly had a different meaning. We actually were commemorating our generation. As each year went by, and more  names were added to the list of those fallen in the service of the country, we had more to remember. In 2006, for the first time, it was people I knew personally. By 2009, I was remembering and honouring a pretty close friend.

Each year, we gather at the cenotaph and pay homage to the fallen in broad, general terms. We stand in silence while Flowers of the Forest plays, we think of those lost, and when the parade is dismissed we head off to commiserate a bit over our absent friends. Each we honour in some unique way, each we feel the loss of anew, but we do this because it gives them an immortality that few will ever know.

Written by Nick

November 1, 2011 at 8:55 am

A Harsh Reminder

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It’s been enough that when people who aren’t military hear where I’m headed in a few months I always get asked “But aren’t we pulling out of Afghanistan?” and I have to provide the recap of what’s going on there.

Yesterday morning I read the initial reports on a few incidents including the one in Kabul. Before I set off for my day’s events I heard 13 Americans died in an attack near Kabul. Over brunch with my wife I heard the update that one of them was actually a Canadian.

Canada’s military is very small and playing Six Degrees of Separation is easy. Chances are if you don’t know someone personally, you know someone who does. Getting to a third degree is almost certain if you don’t.

So we all wait with baited breath to hear the name, to find out if it is someone we know, as though it’s somehow better if we don’t. We run down a checklist of who we know over there and wonder when we heard from them last.

And finally, the name comes out. You feel a brief sense of relief that it wasn’t someone you know personally. Then you realize that doesn’t matter, that the loss is still tragic because some part of the family is feeling it that close and we know how that feels, I do for sure. Been there done that.

And so we honour the fallen, thank them for taking the risks they did, and we resolve to carry on.

RIP Master Corporal Bryon Greff. Not in vain.


Written by Nick

October 30, 2011 at 8:16 am