Life after deployment, the moving and the remembering
My third tour of Afghanistan came to an end last fall and it is not clear at this point whether I will go back.
For me, that last tour had been fairly uneventful, with only a few trips outside the wire. The running tally of rocket attacks that we scrawled on the wall was somewhere around 35 for the seven months we were there.
And although none of us kept track of ramp ceremonies, I knew it was, sadly, well over 30 Canadian and coalition deaths that I attended over that same time frame.
After a short stay in a "decompression" area, I finally came home late last November and, for once in my many deployments, managed to keep my family in the dark as to the exact date and time I would be arriving.
Nathalie and the boys had done up a "Welcome home Daddy!" sign and it was hanging on the front porch.
My family was waiting for me inside the front door and, after a round of hugs and some joyful tears, we began the process of post-tour reintegration for the third time.
I started back to work at the end of February and I am pretty sure Nathalie was thankful that I was finally out of her hair and back to bugging soldiers again instead of her and the boys.
March, however, changed everything as I was told by my career manager that I was being posted to the Royal Canadian Dragoons. That meant we would be moving back to Petawawa, Ont., after only three brief years in Kingston.
Although I hadn't personally experienced the job satisfaction in Kingston that I had in our earlier posting in Petawawa, I knew my family really enjoyed Kingston and when I asked to stay one more year it was a little disheartening to be told "No, you're moving to Petawawa this year."
At home, Nathalie was understandably upset at having to quit her job, knowing jobs are more limited in Petawawa, and having to move away from all of her friends again.
She asked me how some soldiers manage to stay in postings for 10 years or more and why we always seemed to get tossed around every few years.
I didn't really have a good answer for her so I didn't even try to explain. I knew she was upset and left it at that.
Jumping off points
At the same time as we were dealing with the impending move, I was ecstatic to discover that I would soon have the opportunity to go on my Basic Parachutist course.
It was something that I had wanted to do my entire career. Although I'm not really a fan of heights, I was pretty confident that my desire to earn my paratrooper wings would help me overcome any fears I might have.
Nathalie and the boys were a little worried that after coming home safely from a third tour of Afghanistan, I was putting my neck on the line again.
I was not sure they understood when I told them it was "something I have to do for myself." But, supporting me as always, they reminded me to be safe and not to do anything stupid, or at least not more stupid than jumping out of an airplane.
Three short weeks later, when I stood on parade, bruised and sore just about everywhere, my parachute instructor punched my wings onto my chest.
For me, it was one of the proudest moments of my career. As the course warrant officer explained, it's about standing in the aircraft door at 1,200 feet, conquering your fears and jumping out into the unknown.
The move to Pettawawa in the summer was not the best. There was a housing shortage for married families on the base and, to top things off, our beloved Australian shepherd had to be put down.
But eventually we settled into as normal a routine as a military family can have, taking the boys to sports, cadets and other extra-curricular events. Although I knew none of us liked Petawawa as much as we did the first time we were here, we were doing our best to stay optimistic.
Being back in Petawawa, my family obviously wondered if a fourth tour of Afghanistan was in the works for me, especially as I continued to follow the media coverage of events in that country.
With Remembrance Day closing in, I sadly watched the death toll of Canadians climb to 133.
I read each and every article about a soldiers death, whether I knew them personally or not, and I was always troubled by the fact that there are people who feel the announcements are an open forum for political debate about the value of Afghanistan and what we are doing there.
The most troubling comment I saw was one posted by a young lady who observed that it didn't really matter about the soldiers because in 50 or 100 years no one would remember them anyways.
Every soldier who dies is someone's son or daughter, and maybe a mother or father, brother, sister, uncle or aunt.
They are remembered by their families, their friends, their comrades and those that they have liberated from oppression.
In Holland, even to this day, the gravesites of those Canadians who gave their lives to free that country from Nazi tyranny are cared for by the sons, daughters and grandchildren of those liberated some 64 years ago.
Here in Canada, parades are held and memorials are created in every town, not only on Remembrance Day, but on other occasions that commemorate feats of courage and self-sacrifice.
Beechwood Military Cemetery in Ottawa brings to Canadian soil the opportunity for us to pay tribute to our fallen here at home.
The thousands of graves of Canadians who fought and died in or after the First World War right up to the current conflict in Afghanistan are lined up row upon row and are impeccably cared for.
The flowers and Canadian flags that are placed at many of the gravesites are evidence that those men and women are not forgotten and are regularly visited by family, friends, comrades and caring Canadians.
My family and thousands of others just like us will continue to visit and read the names of Canadians who have given their lives, ensuring even those without immediate family that they are not forgotten.