A few weeks ago, on the weekend after the attacks in which we lost Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, I took a trip to three locations. I visited the John Weir Foote V.C. Armoury in Hamilton where Cpl. Cirillo was based out of, the War Memorial in Ottawa where the attack happened and finally to St. Jean where WO Vincent was struck and killed. I went to these places to lay flowers and pay my respects to these heroes but at the same time, it was as much as a journey for myself as it was for them.
As sad and shocking it was when WO Vincent was attacked on Monday, October 20th; Wednesday’s events at our nation’s capital, so soon afterwards, made it all the worse. We lost two soldiers, people who had taken up the duty and responsibility to protect us from foreign threats, right here on our own soil. As I’m sure most of us did after that Wednesday, I spent a lot of time thinking and soul-searching.
Most of you know that I applied to join the armed forces back in May of 2013. My application has gone through and they’ve said that it is very strong and my chances are very good. However, if I wanted the positions I applied for, I’d have to wait until at least April of 2015 before I’d hear back. The positions were full and that’s when they would re-evaluate their spots and openings.
Since that May, every time I told a friend that I wanted to do this, the first and inevitable question is, “Why?”. This is a reasonable question, why would I want to put myself into a line of work that is inherently dangerous and potentially life threatening? The answer I used to give was simply, “I just know that this is what I want to do.” While this was absolutely true, I never felt satisfied with that answer and I struggled to explain and put into words exactly how I felt. I was never satisfied with the answers I gave, until these events.
Make no mistake that my heart and soul go out to the families, loved ones and friends of these late heroes. I cannot imagine the vastness of their grief and I wish I could do more to help. Such was one of the reasons I went on my trip that weekend, to add my voice and to provide support and comfort as much as we all can as grateful citizens.
But there are so many important lessons here that cannot be ignored.
For one, I believe that as North Americans, although we are so inextricably tied to the rest of the world and the world’s events, we are also far removed. Our soldiers fight battles on far-away lands while we, at home, do not feel many of the effects of war. We experience some; we feel loss, hardship, hopelessness… But we are not in these places of conflict. We are not like those that live in the Middle East, innocent people who are constantly in danger of losing their homes, loved ones, their own lives. War is their reality, though they do not fight it. We fight the wars, but for the majority of us, it is not the reality we associate with our daily lives. This leads us to be ignorant, complacent, and indifferent.
Unless we’re a part of, or close to the military family, we don’t necessarily understand their experiences. We don’t understand the sacrifices they make, whether it be the soldiers or their families. The most important thing is that because we are so removed, we don’t understand the threats that we ought to understand. It is only until such events happen like those of a few weeks ago, that we are reminded that there are threats out there, and they can and will harm us if given the chance. But the reason that the vast majority of us can live our lives in relative bliss is because there are people who stand up and take on the duties necessary to protect us. Whether it be soldiers, policemen, or other emergency workers, their work and sacrifice often goes unappreciated and unnoticed.
This is a wake up call. A reminder that the world is not made safe on its own, but that there are brave men and women out there who make it so. The impact of these events happening so close to Remembrance Day is not lost on anyone; it is tragically coincidental.
Just as we are so far removed from the events in the Middle East and elsewhere, we are also removed from these local ones. While Ottawa and St. Jean are close, they are not places just down the street. In travelling to those places and Hamilton, it felt surreal even though I’ve been there before.
When I pulled up to the armoury in Hamilton, the first thing you saw was the incredible collection of flowers, posters, Canada flags and tributes all laid around the gate of the building and the walls. It was moving and heart wrenching. There were a number of people paying their respects and reading the messages and among them, there were few dry eyes. I paused to write a message on a Canada flag hung on the wall, adding my voice to so many others.
By the time I was almost to Ottawa, the skies had turned from bright and sunny to dark and rain-filled, fittingly so. I made my way to the War Memorial, it was the most surreal and yet, real moment of the day. There were rows of flowers ringing the foot of the memorial and people were gathered all around. The ceremonial guard were there, doing their duty so soon after the tragedy, as they must. Several policemen were walking around with loaded rifles, but the atmosphere was more solemn than tense.
Shortly after I arrived, the sound of bagpipes signalled the start of the changing of the guard ceremony for the war memorial and right on cue, the rain stopped. I watched the ceremony, it was precise, rehearsed, and perfect. Once it had finished, I made my way over to parliament and stood by the fire, taking in the atmosphere and acknowledging that just 3 days ago, this place was completely different.
After some more time in the capital, I made my way to St. Jean, just a short 1.5 hour drive from Ottawa. By the time I got there, it was night and raining even harder than before. I pulled into the parking lot where WO Patrice Vincent was hit and I walked up to the building where he worked and saw a spot where some people had laid down some flowers. I added my own and stood there for a minute in the rain before heading back to my car. In some ways it was sad to see and know that the passing of Patrice Vincent was less noticed and acknowledged by the public, but I know that the grief and pain was all the same to those who knew him. By this time it was late and I knew I had to leave if I wanted to make it back to Toronto before I got too tired.
All in all, it was not a reflective trip as one might expect, I had done most of my reflection in the days before; this was mostly an important trip for me so that I could pay my respects in a way that was meaningful to me.
If you ask me now why I want to join the armed forces, I will tell you this. The world feels safe to us because there are people out there who have dedicated their lives to protecting us and making us feel safe, whether in our streets or abroad. As civilians, we don’t always notice this, we take our safety and freedom for granted. But for me, I want to do more. It is not enough for me to let others protect us and thank them for it. I care so deeply for my friends and family and loved ones and I want to protect them the best that I can. I want to do this because if I don’t, I will never feel satisfied that I have done enough in my life to make a difference in this world.
To my friends who are in the armed forces now or have been, you know that I look up to all of you guys. Whether you share my point of view or have your own reasons for joining, I admire your courage and strength. Every single day, I am thankful.
If you’ve read all of this, my sincerest gratitude and appreciation to you. I think Remembrance Day is one of the most important days of the year, this year all the more so. Sadly, we also recently lost Private Steven Allen in a training accident in Alberta, he was 20. Let us remember those who are lost and gone, but also those who are still with us. Remember them, appreciate them, support them, for they support us every day.