I am hanging up my combat boots this week. Incredible that this day has finally come, that I am no longer a “Lifer”. I will instead become a Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired)…a Retired Sapper, a former Cold Warrior, a UN veteran, an Old Soldier.

I can’t begin to explain what being a member of the Canadian Armed Forces has meant to me, what it has done for me, and how much it will still be a part of me – regardless of where I go or what I do. I do not think anyone can unlearn 33 years of habit, of conduct, of thought – neither do I think anyone needs to.

To many the military is a mystery. Even to this day, I have been unable to adequately explain to family or friends what it is I have done or what it is that I am doing. I know that I have their respect, and that in a sanitised, media-driven way they understand the risks of serving; but I know that deep down, they do not really get what it means to be a member of the Armed Forces – how your failure can affect the lives of others, how others look to you for decisions and commands that could very well lead to an unhappy ending.

1 CER  Leadership 2004They don’t really understand the hardships, the discomforts, the aches, the pains, the toil, and the exertion that is the daily bread and butter of soldiering – that we train hard to fight easy. They know that I have Army friends, but they do not understand just how much we have relied and leaned upon each other; how much we have comforted, supported, and helped each other; how we have ribbed and teased, and lovingly insulted each other – in seemingly cruel ways that would lead to lawsuits, or lost friendships or fist-fights in the outside world, but are simply our way of showing how much we mean tor each other.  Or how we love each other in ways that few professions can match – how we would do anything for each other if asked, asking no questions in return because our trust in each other is implicit and unwavering.  Or how some of my best friends in the world are the ten or so people who I met over 32 years ago, or 22 years ago, or 12 years ago…all of us driven toward a common purpose.

But they will know that even if I leave the Army, the Army will never leave me. The attention to detail, the punctuality, the decisiveness will always be there. The need to make a plan and to do a time appreciation – working backward from the appointed time to decide exactly to the minute when we must start getting ready – or must depart – to arrive 5 minutes early for a movie, or dinner, or party, will continue to exist. And so will the constant “mental war-gaming” to identify the worst-case scenarios – be it a car breakdown, an accident, someone injured or ill, or any type of chaos or confusion that needs someone to establish order; to exercise the creative thinking that is necessary to make sure that we are mentally prepared and quick to act if any of it ever comes to happen. And how we will never lose that willingness to help if help is ever needed – what my brother calls the “Joe Saver” complex. Little does he know that there are almost 100,000 Joe Savers out there wearing the Maple Leaf today, innumerable other Joes who sport the title “Retired”, and billions of Josephs, Youssefs, Iosifs, Jozefs, Yosyps, and Giuseppes etcetera, who serve or have served their respective nations and who are all standing by as well.

I leave the Army at the end of this week…to take up new challenges with new horizons. I am excited, but my departure is bitter-sweet.  Part of me does not want to leave the only home I have ever known since I was 17.  But the other part of me, the same spirit that led me to join the army, tells me that I am ready to go and that I can safely leave the business of protecting our nation and its interests to the next generation. I hope their service shapes them as positively as mine has formed me.

So, I leave fulfilled and grateful; I leave happy for the chance of a lifetime to experience more than I could ever have hoped

Combat Diver Graduation 2009

Combat Diver Graduation 2009

for if I had stayed in Toronto and not worn the uniform; for seeing people at their very best when the circumstances were at their very worst; for meeting so many fantastic role models and colleagues to show me how to be honourable and honest and forthright and trustworthy; for having seen things that make me grateful that we Canadians enjoy a fantastic quality of life, and that we are not consumed by ingrained, indiscriminate hate and hostility, like so many other places, that lead us to inflict indescribable injustices and cruelty on our neighbours; and for giving me so many opportunities to experience a joie de vivre and camaraderie and thrill that I do not think I will ever be able to find again.

In the 1980s, the adverts extolled how  “There’s No Life Like It” ; I agree, and I have never rued the day that I chose to live the Forces way (I know it is Navy, but it’s the only thing I could find on the ‘net)

I wish all of you, who continue to carry the torch, happy, fulfilling and rewarding careers. Remember that the bad times are necessary to help you appreciate the good times. Soldier well as you stand on guard for us.

Leaving Command 2009 - CFB Gagetown ALSC

Leaving Command June 2009

All stations, this is A Simple Fellow. Permission to close down. Closing down now. Out.