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We wanted to help the people around us, in our own way

In recent weeks, I have had several rich conversations with a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). I had virtual meetings, phone calls, but most significantly I had the chance to read a document of more than 200 pages on his military life; his choices, his challenges, his failures, his disappointments. It was an interesting document for a guy like me who had never paid close attention to Canadian military issues beyond the political choices of Canadian governments.

The exchanges with this soldier ( in my opinion, you remain a soldier all of your life, especially when you have physical or mental injuries) have enabled me to realize that there are not only political considerations. There are human, personal, and family questions as well. It is women and men who are involved in these missions. This soldier, this man, Fred Caron, is a father, a husband, a fully involved citizen who has lived through a host of happy and unhappy experiences. From the age of 14 or 15, he admired military life with its discipline, its ranks, the possibility of traveling the world, and of becoming a high-level parachute expert; of exploiting his talent and of facing his fears. He's no different from other kids, nor from me!

At that age, I too had dreams: the dream of being a good hockey goalie, of being a good teammate, of being a person who pulls others towards group success. Fatherless at 14, it was important for me to help my mother, to make sure she had nothing to worry about. We wanted to help the people around us, in our own way. Our personal ambitions, our dreams, our experiences were different. Our approach to achieving them was also different. Fred worked through military service, while I did through university studies. Young as we were, we had the same desire for achievement and the same passion for success. We wanted to develop our intellectual capacities, we wanted to experience camaraderie, and we wanted to influence and invigorate the lives of our colleagues through the achievement of our common goals.

Captain® Fred Caron MVM. MS. CD. forward, Senior Mentor Afghan Reconnaissance Coy Return from operation with British Helicopter Assault Group, Kandahar, 2009

It is in combat that military life becomes completely different from civilian life. It requires composed, rapid decision-making and resilience, because your life and those of your teammates depends on it. If you survive, there may be physical or mental injuries, or post-traumatic shock. You need a family to support you, to guide you, and to take care of you. Even if our childhood dreams were the same, the risks in combat were not and the consequences are far from the same. For that, Fred, his wife, and his children all have my appreciation, and I thank them.

Fred wanted to lead and take care of his military comrades. He wanted to become a high-level parachutist, take full advantage of his talent, and face his fears. That was his podium, his Olympic medal, because the primary goal of a military career is not to kill enemies or to destroy infrastructure; it is about making dreams come true, like athletes, like business people.

But unfortunately, sometimes with risk and danger!

Réal Létourneau

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