Let’s honour all our soldiers


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It takes strength and stamina to stand guard at a war memorial for hours at a time, but courage was never required. Nor was bravery needed for soldiers to wear uniforms in public.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/11/2014 (3062 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It takes strength and stamina to stand guard at a war memorial for hours at a time, but courage was never required. Nor was bravery needed for soldiers to wear uniforms in public.

Those axioms have changed since the slaying of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was gunned down last month while standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Two days earlier, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was slain in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., while walking in uniform with another soldier.

The two incidents alone may not make for a new paradigm, but the cold-blooded killing of a British soldier a few years ago and the slaughter of 13 American soldiers at a U.S. army base in 2009 have forced military forces everywhere to rethink old assumptions.

Military personnel are still under orders to avoid wearing their uniforms except on their way to and from a place of duty. Local commanders have the authority to issue stricter restrictions if lower visibility is considered necessary. New security measures are also in place for public events involving the military.

The idea soldiers are somehow immune from attack at home when their countries are waging war overseas is, of course, ridiculous. The drone operators in North Dakota who drop bombs on targets all over the world, for example, are well aware they are legitimate targets, even after they take off their uniforms and head out to coach baseball.

So far, the military has not faced organized attacks at home, but the rise of lone-wolf assaults around the world, regardless of whether they represent terrorism or lunacy, illustrates the new threat environment confronting the military and society in general.

Until now, Remembrance Day has tended to focus on the fallen and on those who serve or served in combat zones overseas.

It’s also worth reflecting, however, on the ordinary duties of our men and women in uniform, whose work in Canada is taken for granted.

In fact, those lives are not as ordinary as they seem. Between 1983 and 2007, nearly 1,900 military personnel died from non-combat injuries, the vast majority in Canada, according to a study by the Defence Department.

Of those, 57 per cent were the result of traumatic injury, including accidents and other mishaps. Suicide and deaths related to alcoholism and smoking are also high risk factors in the military.

There may be no life like it, but military personnel are subject to conditions most Canadians would not endure. They are frequently relocated, separated from their families during training and other deployments, and denied many basic rights.

They are ordered into dangerous situations with no ability to refuse. Thus, during the Red River flood of 1997, soldiers were ordered to drive over flooded roads while civilian emergency personnel watched safely from a distance.

Most military vehicles are dangerous to operate, such as the Light Armoured Vehicle III, which has killed many soldiers in rollovers. A colonel was recently killed and four soldiers seriously injured in such an accident in Alberta earlier this year.

On Thursday, a young infantryman was killed at the same military base when the lookout tower he was standing on collapsed.

Military work is inherently risky and highly stressful. The murder of two soldiers has merely added to the stress and the risks they face on a daily basis.

As Canadians remember Cpl. Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent, then, they should also pause to salute the country’s 80,000 full- and part-time soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, most of whom toil in obscurity.

Some of them will be standing tall in front of cenotaphs and war memorials across the country Tuesday. They will require strength and stamina. And courage, too.

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