Today is November 11, 2018. Remembrance Day.
I left the military in 2007 with a personal resolution to maintain a level of skill at arms at least equal to that which I maintained as an Canadian Army Reserve Combat Support trade soldier for the time I was in.
That was, is and will always be my main motivation for everything I do in the Calgary firearms community: especially my commitment to the shooting programs I founded and directed since releasing and have no intention now to walk away from: Young Guns Calgary and 3-Gun Calgary.
For me, these programs eased the surprisingly difficult transition from reserve military to full civilian life.
In particular, I am elated whenever a present serving or former military member participates or when there are youth with ambitions to join whose enthusiasm is increased by my programs.
Since releasing, and periodically to this day, there are times I second guess my decision. To be honest, I still haven’t ruled out the possibility of rejoining the reserves later in life.
Maybe if my wife and I can cure our daughters developmental disability, if our marriage and family are strong enough to survive my periodic absence for 2-3 months, and if I’m in suitable physical and mental condition, I might.
I miss the sense of belonging and camaraderie that came from the familiarity of forming up, taking orders, and going out with the men and women I went through the most formative experiences of my young adult life.
I loved every minute of it.
Basic, 3’s, 5’s, Winter Indoc, Ranger Survival training, Military Skills competitions, tactical radio field exercises, range exercises, voice procedure training, Soldier for a Day, weekend call outs to the militia, mess dinners, LSVW maintenance (okay, maybe not that).
But the one occasion I loved the most was Remembrance Day.
The combination of solemn respect for our military heritage and jovial celebration among the ranks were without a doubt the most memorable experiences I had of my 7 years in the Canadian Forces Reserves.
I missed those times so much that for the 11 years since I have been out, I have purposefully abstained from attending the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies my unit participates in in Banff (and actually ALL Remembrance Day ceremonies).
My unit (746 Communication Squadron, now 3 Squadron 41 Signals Regiment) forms up at the Banff Legion, marches up and down Banff Avenue, attends a service at Banff High School, has chili and hot-toddies at the Legion before a second service at the Cenotaph at Bankhead, outside Banff.
I have long feared that I couldn’t bear the sensation of not being in the ranks, paranoid I had a button on my uniform undone, that I might have lint on my beret or that I might start bear marching while ogling Japanese and Aussie tourists out of the corner of my eye.
So I abstained.
I tried to convince myself that it was all worthless and pointless. That everything I believed in while I served was a lie and that there was nothing meaningful about anything I did.
I never served overseas. I never saw combat. I was just a “toon” Class A reservist, showing up Saturday morning, funny to watch.
I don’t have anything on my rack, not even a CD. I don’t even meet the Legion’s criteria to qualify for a “veteran” license plate or DND’s criteria for a “veteran” ID card.
I convinced myself I was just Live-Action Role Playing (LARP’ing) as a soldier. It was all just a joke. A waste of time.
For over a decade, those were the lies I told myself to try to stop myself from missing being in.
But the problem with lies like that is that they have a way of conflicting with reality.
As a reservist there were (many) things I did poorly that I deeply regret. I’ve spent a long time over the years fixating on those personal shortcomings to help justify my decision to release and to try to forget entirely about the military.
However, there are also many other positive experiences and virtues I gained as a reserve soldier that are so deeply entrenched in my character, (and that so many of my present day accomplishments are directly attributable to), that I simply can’t dismiss the military origins of them.
As I have meditated on it, it is dishonouring to my fellow service members who either imbued me with those virtues or modelled them themselves to the point I picked them up through osmosis. It is also irrational for me to simultaneously hold the belief that my military service was meaningless, but that many of the best parts of my character today, I owe to my military service.
That therein, is the reason why this year after over a decades absence, I chose to load my wife and 4 kids in our mini-van, drive through a small snowstorm on the TransCanada highway, and watch the parade march down Banff Avenue.
To remember the time I was a part of something bigger than myself, that forced me be to be better than I could have ever been on my own.
While there are others who have accomplished far more than I ever did or who sacrificed so much more than I ever will, we were all apart of the same service, the same cause, with the same heraldry, customs and history.
We were all called by conscience and conviction to voluntarily wear the uniform, to forfeit the weaknesses of our individuality, and be prepared, if necessary, to commit our lives to the CAUSE of our country, believing that cause was greater than us as individuals.
While I have struggled mightily with the latter part over the years, the more I interact with accomplished and dedicated veterans and active service members, the more I am realizing how much I have in the past mistakenly conflated “mismanagement of” with “cause of” our country.
The most egregious error in that line of thinking is that the former can be changed but that latter is immutable.
The Cause of Canada is to be a strong and free land (“fortis et liber,” not coincidentally the Provincial motto of Alberta). A land with a demonstrable heritage and history to live up to those two terms.
Remembrance Day is where we remember and honour (that is, to show respect, gratitude and appreciation for) that heritage. That heritage is what grants Canada the immutable nature of being “strong and free.” That heritage was only made possible by the sacrifices of Canadians prepared to commit themselves to the cause of Canada.
Canada today would not be what it is were it not for the willingness of Canadians to make those sacrifices, and that is something to respect, be grateful for and to appreciate.
I was an unmarried young man with no children when I was in the military, and now that I am responsible for my wife and 4 children, the significance of how my family heritage overlaps with Canada’s has especially become more clear. With that clarity has come the necessity to honour it.
When Canadian men were being mowed down in the thousands by machine guns, poison gas, and artillery (and in greater proportion, returning the favour to the Germans) during the First World War, living as a disenfranchised second class citizen in Canada was better than living in China. Such was the story of my Chinese great-great Grandfather, one of the first Chinese pioneers to settle in Calgary.
Similarly, the fighting Canadian men who struck fear into the hearts of the men serving the dictatorships in both Europe and Asia during World War 2 earned the respect of my Grandfather, himself a courageous officer in the Filipino Army who waged a bloody guerrilla campaign against the occupying Japanese. Following the war, he immigrated to Edmonton, became one of the first non-white teachers in Western Canada and sponsored my mother to immigrate in the 70’s.
Likewise my father in law, conscripted into the South Vietnamese ARVN during Vietnam War. He escaped certain death with his wife and daughter (my wife) when the North Vietnamese communists invaded the south after the Americans withdrew.
Canada, strong and free, was their place of refuge, and were it not for that, my 4 daughters would not be here today.
All these men so respected Canada’s “strong and free” nature, hard earned through the painful and bloody sacrifice of Canadians past, so as to inspire them to leave behind their ancestral homes to become Canadians themselves.
That is why I now remember and that is what I want my girls to remember.
As a post script to any reservists reading this that I hope can offer this as encouragement.
When I was in we may have had a mild inferiority complex and deified the soldiers among us with overseas tours, especially those with combat experience or with distinguished RegForce careers.
But to any Part Time reserve soldier reading this now, I hope you can understand that for many of your fellow Canadians (myself included), even 1.5 days a week of part time service and 2 months a year of full time contract work is almost unfathomable.
Your service is meaningful, because it is hard enough not everyone can do it.
I definitely can’t (right now).
No matter what, don’t ever think what you are doing is pointless or meaningless, because so long as you have successfully completed Basic Training and serve faithfully and honourably, you have a credential no civilian will ever have:
“To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.”
To all who have, are, or one day will, thank you for your service.
If you are up for it, I’d love to see you on the range someday!