National Day of Honour
Ottawa – May 13, 2014
Last Friday, I attended the National Day of Honour in Ottawa to recognize and commemorate the service and sacrifice of the members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Public Service of Canada who served in Afghanistan. I found it very heartwarming: the speeches were honest and apolitical and the recognition of the dedication of those who contributed and sacrificed for Afghanistan were the predominant focus, as it should have been.
I also found it heartening to see thousands of Canadians of all ages gathered on Parliament Hill to recognize their courage and sacrifices during the 12-year mission, and to know that thousands of other Canadians were gathered across the country in their honour. The cheers from the audience as various military and police bands marched past providing music for proud serving members and Veterans said it all.
Emcees for the day were wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen who inspired many of our injured soldiers, including Captain Simon Mailloux who served with distinction in Afghanistan until he was severely injured in an incident involving an improvised explosive device. In 2009, Captain Mailloux redeployed to Afghanistan, becoming the first Canadian amputee to deploy in a war zone as a combatant. Both exemplify the courage of Canadians who face a rehabilitation struggle and come out of it as winners in all aspects.
While special thanks were given to the family members of those who served, as well as to the family members of the fallen who face additional family responsibilities following the loss of their loved one, perhaps missing from the recognition agenda were the sacrifices made by embedded media reporters who kept Canadians aware of the importance of the Canadian mission by reporting on a day-to-day basis as they travelled the Panjwai district with our front line troops. They too, and their families, faced similar challenges as any other deployed personnel.
The Afghanistan mission underlines to me the importance of the “One Veteran” theme with its focus on service, rather than “where” and when” that service occurred. No one was exempt from Afghanistan service. Approximately 40,000 military and police force members served there. Every occupation in the Canadian Armed Forces had a role to play, which meant that not only were units deployed, but so were individual Regular and Reserve Force members from every corner of the country.
In country, combat arms, air force and medical units were obviously the main forces in the frontline, but there were also vehicle technicians, computer technicians, navy explosive experts, photo technicians, unmanned aerial vehicle operators and many other operational and support personnel who supported the mission. As well, there were those who did not serve in country but were deployed elsewhere in the theatre of operations in support of the troops in the field. A Canadian Armed Forces Regular and Reserve Force strength of only 100,000 meant that many deployed to Afghanistan more than once to meet the requirements of 12 years of high intensity operations.
Today when one enlists, regardless of occupation, one can expect to serve anywhere at any time. This is part of the unlimited liability that is expected of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
Every mission is different and affects personnel in different ways. We know that 158 Canadian lives to the Afghanistan mission were lost. We know also that over 6,100 members and Veterans are now Veterans Affairs Canada clients with injuries/illnesses directly related to their service in Afghanistan. In addition to this service, many members had multiple tours in such places as Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor and Haiti. Finally, while we know that there is going to be a cumulative effect from all of these missions, we do not know how many members are going to need support to overcome those effects or when the effects will manifest themselves. We must also keep in mind the effect of such service on family members. They carry the stress of uncertainty, long absences and coping with physical or psychological changes to their loved ones.
I am pleased that Prime Minister Harper announced that the Afghanistan dates would be inscribed on the National War Memorial as a constant reminder of the participation of Canadians in the Afghanistan Mission. But, let us never forget that Afghanistan is but one mission for our Canadian Armed Forces. Members have served on many others in the past and will continue to serve on many more in the future. We can be proud that the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces stand ready to serve this country anywhere, any time.
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