Anyway, my commitment was only for one day a week after school for a few hours, and the occasional camping weekend. My military career didn't last long, though. Did you know the military requires you to 1) Stand stock still for hours on end 2) Not talk for hours on end 3) Take orders without question, and 4) Do lots of other physically demanding stuff you don't necessarily want to do? Also, did you know that shooting big-ass guns is scary and not particularly a lot of fun when it's freezing out and you can barely hold the rifle?
And if you know anything at all about yours truly, you know that sitting, talking, constantly asking "but why?" and generally being a lazy ass are some of my favourite things to do. So you can understand that a military career just wasn't for me.
Still, I admire people in the forces who do what they do. So in honour of Remembrance Day I'd like to take a moment to talk a bit about the Canadian Armed Forces and what they've contributed to the world. My sister has never been sent to any war zones, thankfully, but she is in contact with people who are and occasionally sends me pictures and stories of people in Afghanistan or elsewhere that bring home to me the human face of any military action. I may have some problems with government policy and may not agree with why we're in a certain country or dispute, but I would never disrespect the people simply doing their jobs, often in terrifying situations.
I know the Canadian Armed Forces are often considered a joke by the rest of the world. Heck, I've laughed at the photoshopped pics of a squirrel with a rocket-launcher on his shoulder and the legend "Canadian Army" underneath it as much as the next guy. But the very real contribution that our people make all over the world cannot be made fun of. All of the geo-political bullshit and arguments aside, I'm quite proud of the fact that thoughts of "Canadian Forces" and "Peacekeeping" are so closely tied together.
My sister sent me something that I wanted to share with my Canadian friends. She was talking with a friend of hers who went to the Netherlands to participate in a march. Here is the bulk of her friends' email:
It's the end of the day and I'm too tired to do anything else so I'll tell you a little about Nijmegen. I didn't even know what it was when I volunteered for it. All I saw in the email from my Sgt is that it was an opportunity to go to Holland for a week so I jumped all over it.
Nijmegen Marches have been going on for over 90 years but it was only after the 2nd world war that it became an official symbol of the liberation of the Dutch by the Canadians during WWII. If you've ever seen the movie "A Bridge too Far", it's a good one to watch because after I did the March, it meant more to me.
Anyway we did a cloverleaf route covering the same mileage that the Canadian soldiers marched to free the Dutch people. We marched 40 kms each day with 40 kgs on our backs. Some of the civilians (Dutch) walked in wooden shoes. It was the most amazing and painful experience of my life. The people over there have never forgotten and the Canadians were honoured each day of the march by onlookers waving the Canadian flag. Like I said, some little children would run up and march beside us. A little boy held my hand for quite a while. I could have picked him up and smooched him because he was so cute. The little boy in the video reminded me of him. Each day ended with a celebration and maybe too much beer in the international beer tent.
The third day of the march is when we visit Grosbeek Cemetery to see the rows and rows of graves where the Canadian Soldiers are buried. It was the most emotional day. A close second to the most emotional, was the 4th and final day of the march. This is when we changed into clean uniforms and were presented our medals a couple kms before the final victory march. This is because the Canadians lead the parade and all the other countries follow. We marched, I believe, 16 soldiers a breast. When you turned around you could see a sea of uniforms behind. I believe there were about 50,000 soldiers from all over the world and another 50,000 civilians that marched.
All the people from Nijmegen and all over come out for the final march and wave the Canadian Flag. Children march with you and people are handing out flowers to us humble soldiers. Veterans are rolled out onto the sidewalks in wheelchairs and hospital beds. People are perched on their roofs and front porches. It was truly the most amazing sight and so emotional because the veterans are crying, which of course made us cry too. I've never seen anything like it and will never forget it. The pain, blisters and sore feet and backs we endured was nothing compared to what the young men went through during the war because even though they marched the same number of miles we did, they also had to see their comrades die before their eyes. Gulp.
That's it. I'd do it again if I had the time. (I still cringe at the thought of the sore feet tho). :)
She sent in her email a video of a little Belgian boy who reminded her of the boy who held her hand. (I hate the cheesy Canadian anthem on this clip, but the "EYES, RIGHT" command is really the whole point of it for me. The sense of humour and respect displayed by the Canadian troops is what makes this video, in my opinion.)
This year my Mom and I visited Vimy in France and I got to see the scope of the Canadian effort there in World War I. My great uncle Kenneth Parkhill Johnston lost his life in the battle and we were able to visit his grave and place flowers there.
I saw the horrific conditions they had to put up with in the tunnels below the battlefield, and the beautiful countryside they tore apart in the process. I also saw the beginnings of a national identity etched in the wall of one of the tunnels - a simple maple leaf. It was very moving.
Today, there are Canadian forces all over the world -- in Afghanistan, in the Sudan, in Jerusalem. Keeping the peace.