We don’t think about war very much in our day-to-day lives. Unless we have a family member or friend in the military, we don’t think about the military at all, since it is not visibly impacting our lives. Though they are always there for the crisis. There is likely only one degree, or maybe a maximum of 2 degrees, of separation between you and a soldier. Ask around – there’s a soldier beside you.
Having lived most of my life not really paying much attention to the idea, I eventually found myself living in Victoria, BC. Victoria has a naval base. The first person I met who had been in the Canadian Navy was Jason Nault, whom I worked with in Victoria. The next person I encountered was much closer to home.
Kelly McLaughlin was a classmate from high school. We reconnected through an adult recreational baseball league. Despite being much too good a player to be on a team I was on, he joined our team to fill out our roster and his wife Heather, appalled at our poor scorekeeping habits, turned out to games as well to keep us on the straight and narrow and sub in for our required “women count” when needed. Kelly was one of the team members instrumental in greatly improving my baseball skills! This reconnection was 30 years after high school and having lost touch, I had no idea that Kelly was part of Canada’s military.
It had been my intention to tell some of Kelly’s story in the post about Grandpa’s service, but in true form, I did not ask him for information in time to include it in yesterday’s post. But he graciously sent me some information and pictures last night so I could tell a bit of his story today.
Kelly enlisted in September of 1987 – just a year after high school. He began his military career in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia where he was sent for basic training. His No. 8 Platoon, the first to introduce women in the Navy, was composed of 8 women and 120 men. Upon completion of basic training, Kelly’s first post was to CFB Comox, aka 19 Wing Comox on Vancouver Island. This was the beginning of 25 years of service with Canada’s naval forces.
The ships that Kelly served with included HMCS McKenzie, HMCS Qu’Apelle, HMCS Saskatchewan, and the HMCS Yukon. Following those assignments, Kelly was posted to the HMCS Huron and did a coastal defence tour for Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War. Completing that tour, Kelly was stationed back to 19 Wing Comox for another 2 years before returning to CFB Esquimalt. The HMCS Huron was eventually retired, stripped of armaments and environmental contaminants and sunk in a live-fire military exercise off the coast of Vancouver Island - the first operational sinking of a Canadian warship in home waters.
At CFB Esquimalt, Kelly was posted to the ship HMCS Vancouver where they spent 14 straight months posted as coastal defence for the Gulf War.
The HMCS Regina was Kelly's last ship and he spent years training new recruits until his eventual retirement in Esquimalt. We have not talked a lot about his years in service, but enough for me to understand that he has lost friends to war, seen and done things that no human should have to, and has seen those around him struggle with PTSD after participating in conflicts that tore their souls apart. Not all are so fortunate to be surrounded by the support needed to weather the storms of PTSD that are always waiting in the wings to attack. We need to do a better job of providing our veterans with post-war and active service mental health support. While we have come a long way, there is still a very long way to go in acknowledging and truly understanding its impact.
War is never far from being very real and it is times like now, in a pandemic that creates uncertainty and economic instability, that give rise to autocratic leaders like Hitler. The charismatic leaders that appear to have a magic ability to unite a nation and use its military power to subjugate others.
SEE your neighbours - not for their politics, their race, their religion, their culture. See them for the human being that they are – just trying to do the best they can for their families. See them so that the soldier beside you is safe.
Thank you, Kelly, and all veterans and active service personnel, for your courage and commitment to our country. I'm proud to know you.