I served as a Reservist in the Canadian Forces from 2001 until 2008. I was a Signals Operator for 7 years and a Signals Officer for about 2 weeks. Most of my military service was part time, all of it domestic.
I meet the definition of a “veteran” according to Veteran’s Affairs, but I hate identifying myself with that term (I prefer “former military,” personally and I’ll elaborate why in a minute).
It was in the military that I developed my enthusiasm for guns and shooting.
The military was the first place I shot 3-Gun (at the only “2004 Interservice 3-Gun Competition” at CFB Edmonton). Pictures of my team competing were henceforth used for recruiting promotional material until I released (I did a lot of Class A recruiting).
Canada pioneered the concept of digital battlefield command, control and communications systems (yes, even before the Americans – I was a Systems Integration Engineer with the company that built it).
In the early 2000’s, as the war in Afghanistan was heating up there were so few trained operators on the new comms system, the army put callouts to every reserve unit across the country to find any trades qualified SigOps they could find (and still came up short).
The shortage was so bad, it was common practice (so I heard) for Sigs to be exempt pre-deployment training, just so they could be shipped off to Afghanistan to support units that needed them.
Many of the Signalers I knew volunteered in the earlier Roto’s of Operation Athena and came back with tales of being thrust into combat roles with no suitable weapons training.
There were guys breaching with Combat Engineers, only being handed an shotgun (which they had no prior experience with) the morning of.
There was a Master Corporal I did Basic with who, by privilege of rank, was ordered to teach a platoon of recent-PAT medics how to operate a Browning, having himself never even fired one. He spent a lot of his tour outside the wire, manning the C6 turret of a LAVIII with a cocked and locked Browning in his Tacvest. According to him, there was a spot at very close range where the C6 couldn’t reach, but a suicide bomber could. Hence the need for the Browning.
One individual never really came back after his tour. I don’t know what happened, but their PTSD left a crippled shell where prior to, there was a passionate, zealous soldier and decent human being.
It was the tail end of the Chretien-Martin Liberal era and with the budget cuts and politically correct sensitivity nonsense, somehow there was money for Sexual Harassment and Racism Prevention training, but not for Combat Support Troops sent to Kandahar to be loaded onto gunfighter courses.
That motivated me to undertake an off duty training regimen to develop my own proficiency with the weapons my buddies were being deployed to a warzone with no prior training, and to share that knowledge with them.
So I set out, got my PAL, bought my first shotgun (a Norinco 870 clone) and my first two pistols (a Norinco Woodsman clone and a Glock 17 – Browning’s in my price range were a bit hard to come by back then).
I took several members of my unit shooting on several occasions.
I was still a 22 year old, dumb jackass and one time we shot up a bunch of old appliances at the Homestead Public Range – although my Troop Commander was insistent we clean up after ourselves.
About two years later, in 2008, I was constructively dismissed from the military.
My service record indicates it was voluntary and honorable.
It actually was a giant cluster fuck of me being jackass, buddy-fuckery by unit members I should have known better to have mismanaged my relationships with, and a culture of hyper-political correctness where the unsubstantiated accusations from a malevolent coworker with no evidence were enough to trigger a massive police investigation (and SWAT team raid).
I won’t go more into the details, except for the fact that I was very, VERY sour about the circumstances of my release.
Before I received my commission I had a lot of aspirations and ambitions about my career as an Officer. But for many years after, I felt deeply bitter about it ending the way it did.
Not only so, but I had a very fond attachment to many of the soldiers in my unit and the loss of the relationships I had with them was deeply traumatic for me.
I joined when I was 17, and many of them were the key individuals who deeply impacted me through my transition from teenager to young adult. After I released, I was cutoff from all of them.
Many I haven’t spoken to since.
The relationships and experiences I had during my 7 in years made me into the man I am today. I am the father, husband, engineer, and yes, MILSIM LARPING gunnut that I am today because of my part time service in the Reserves.
So why do I hate identifying as a “veteran?”
(Unless it’s easier to communicate that fact to qualify for a veteran’s discount… I am ethnically Chinese, after all).
I think, in part, it’s because in the hierarchy of veterans – I’m pretty low on the totem pole.
I was a Class A Combat Support trade soldier who spent a lot of time in the bush, in high schools, and on the parade square, but never on an overseas operation. The closest I got was after a 3 week callout for a pre-deployment field ex for 1CMBG (Roto 2). I signed up to go, but after my parents begged me not to, pulled out.
(I think shortly after, they changed the regs saying if you as a reservist signed up, you HAD to go).
There are 4 times in my life I’ve seen my father cry. Twice when my grandparents (on his side) died, one time I won’t mention, and the one time I told him I signed up for a tour with the military in Afghanistan.
My Dad is the toughest man I know and the man I respect more than anyone.
To see him break down in tears was more than I could handle and I couldn’t refuse when he simply said to me: “Please. Don’t go.”
I think the “real” veterans, worthy of the respect that comes with that term are those who actually served in overseas operation, especially for those who had those awkward moments with their family and loved ones who desperately did not want them to go.
Those who sacrificed more than their teens and early-20’s, and who felt such a profound loyalty to their country, they were willing to risk their lives in it’s service.
That last part in particular is what leads to my apprehension about identifying with the “V” word. I honestly don’t know (and may never know) if I was willing to give my life in service to “my country.”
My service was deeply meaningful to me on a personal level, but knowing the stigma that comes with being a “veteran” in Canada (in particular, that deserving veterans are systematically and in a bi-partisan fashion, treated like garbage by the Canadian government) – where there’s not a buck to be saved and only my personal honor on the line, I prefer to identify as “former military.”
That all said, I have found through my involvement in the Calgary gun community (which helped fill the void of my abrupt and unexpected release) much of the same camaraderie as during my service.
In particular, shooting with “real” vets, active military members, or kids who genuinely want to join has helped me immeasurably move on.
I’m past the darkness and bitterness over the calamity of my release.
Not only so, but the vets and active service military members I’ve met both on the range or talking about being on the range, have an infectious sense of patriotism towards Canada that has had me in recent days reevaluate values and opinions I have formulated since releasing.
In particular, resentment (or more like butt-hurt) over my release lead me to support the political movement for Alberta secession from Canada. While I still hold that for economic reasons, Alberta would absolutely be better off triggering a break up of Canada, doing so would mean throwing away the significant Canadian traditions and history (including and especially those military) that every member of the Canadian Forces is the standard bearer for upon having successfully been indoctrinated into the military – I once among them.
(I think this is why Veteran’s Affairs considers any member who completed basic a veteran.)
As Chinese and motivated by money as I am, there’s no price that can be paid to buy that back the honour and heritage that is intrinsic to Canada’s military history.
Canada’s military history (and in fact, the entirety of it’s history) is actually truly remarkable and Canada’s veterans (I feel myself excluded) are the visible manifestation of that. That’s not something to just be thrown away for the sake of economics (even though economics make a deeply compelling argument).
Regardless, for me, next season (2019) I’m going to be far more active in the Calgary and Southern Alberta 3-Gun scene.
In particular, because I enjoy and appreciate being in the presence of the veterans, active service, and former military members I meet on the range who also take an interest in the sport (I think many for the same reason I have).
As it is November 2018, soon it will be Remembrance Day, please do take some time to Remember Canada’s Military History, not just in those who died serving in Canada’s military, but for the reasons why, overwhelmingly, they volunteered to serve knowing that was a very possible outcome of their service.
Please don’t thank me for my service, I genuinely don’t feel it merits gratitude, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I know there are others far more deserving.
But if you know anyone else who has performed honorable military service, please take some time this season to express gratitude for their spirit of selflessness and commitment a cause greater than themselves.
A spirit that by my observation is woefully lacking in our world today and that a greater prevalence of would solve many of the worlds biggest problems.
Not only so, but as imperfect and as poorly legislated and managed as Canada may presently be, take some time to reflect on the intrinsic aspects of the CAUSE of Canada that, to this day inspires that noble spirit in generations of young Canadians to serve.
That’s something that I have been and will be thinking a lot about.
To the better men and women than me who have served: Thank you for your service.