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Afghanistan veteran calls on Canadians to learn from soldiers' sacrifices

Mike Akpata says veterans have wisdom to share if Canadians will listen.

'By speaking to these ladies and gentlemen who served, you keep their stories alive'

Mike Akpata served in the Afghanistan war. He says veterans have wisdom to share if Canadians will listen. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

Mike Akpata wants Canadians to pause on Nov. 11 and enjoy a moment of silence.

"That silence is peace and freedom," said the veteran of the Afghanistan War. "Appreciate what you have."

It's been ten years since Akpata's last tour, a number he still finds a bit of a surprise.

"The irony is how quickly time has flown by," he said. "When we were in-country we would scratch day by day off and to sit back now and think it's been 10 years since my first Remembrance Day as a veteran, I can't believe how quickly it's gone by."

Veterans young and old

Despite the past decade, the decorated soldier and LaSalle town councillor said student groups that he speaks with about his experiences are often struck by meeting a veteran who is so young.

He recalled speaking with a Grade 8 student just this week, whose grandfather had served, but who had never met a living vet.

"The lesson I'm learning when I go to speak with these young people ... is we ignited a fire in them," Akpata explained. "They are hungry to understand 'Why?'"

He added students seem curious why Canada has fought in far off countries and said sharing his story can help them learn an important lesson.

"At the end of the day I hope those groups of young children understand they have to do something to make this world and this country better than when they found it."

That's a lesson Akpata wants world leaders to learn, as well. 

By speaking to these ladies and gentlemen who served you keep their stories alive, you vindicate their questions of if they did the right thing and you show your appreciation.- Mike Akpata

He said he finds it hypocritical most of the decision makers who are rattling sabres today used power or privilege to avoid service.

Akpata said when he fought in Afghanistan he was joined by soldiers as young as 18, who left behind dreams and their educations to protect the "Canadian cause."

He's worried those same young soldiers could be put in harm's way again unless the powerful understand the responsibility they wield.

"You lead and we will follow, but the inherent responsibility of leadership is to guide, to make sure people understand what's going on and to do what's best for your people," said Akpata.

Listen to lessons from veterans

The veteran said the majority of men and women who have served understand peace is always the goal.

He added as veterans of past wars continue to grow older understanding their sacrifice becomes more important.

"By speaking to these ladies and gentlemen who served, you keep their stories alive, you vindicate their questions of if they did the right thing and you show your appreciation," he said. "That's what Canadians do. We engage each other, we talk, we learn and we bridge the barriers."