“We’re there to live, move, fight and deny the enemy the same.” ~unknown
David Walcott didn’t think he had a story to tell when asked about his life in military service. It wasn’t as if he had served in a major World War and returned home with a battle weary tale. He was an Officer in our modern day military and was responsible for supply ordering and administration duties. In comparison, his military service seemed mundane.
He was in his first year of University and working toward a physics degree and the costs associated with school shocked him tremendously. He was in a campus bathroom one day and he read a poster that said, “Terry Fox was 17 when he began his run across Canada to help fight cancer, what have you done lately?” (paraphrased) It was a recruitment poster for the ROTP (Regular Officer Training Program) that offered military training and assistance with school costs.
David applied for the program and after several interviews he had been accepted. He was from a family that had no recent military experience so entering the program was a culture shock for him. But when asked about basic training he replied casually,while it hadn’t been a fun experience it wasn’t overly difficult. Besides regular physical training they were taught how to put on their uniforms, shine their shoes, iron and sew. They endured daily inspections of things like how they made their bed. It almost sounded like summer camp, but less fun.
When he graduated from University, he was ranked as a Lieutenant. It was a peculiar feeling being in command of a squadron of men who had much more experience than him but his education gave him a higher rank. David completed two phases of training and as an engineer, Combat Officer training became progressively harder. He described a week of navigations training, which involved being left in the middle of the night surrounded by woods with nothing but your pack and a compass. His pack was full of 24 hour ration, C7 (personal weapon with blanks), a map and water. He had no shelter, and carried a ground sheet for sleeping. Sleep wasn’t a priority anyway, cycles would shift during training and so if he was able to grab a few hours sleep he was lucky.
Once he entered into a third phase of training, he was entering into a more specialized type of training. He added that if he had it to do over again he likely wouldn’t. It was the more gruelling of the phases he had to endure. The physical training and the way they were treated was strenuous. He described days suffering through verbal, physical and psychological abuse after which they were permitted a day of rest.Then it was right back to it. This only last a period of 21 days but it was memorable to say the least.
One kind of physical torture he described involved weighted marches. They would carry their filled ruck sacks and anything else the training officer had brought that day. Sometimes it was boxes of shoes, or ammunition boxes filled with sand. One day it was loads of wood, and then the next day would be more wood, and the following day would be more wood after that. At one point there was so much wood that it was an impossibility to carry it and he had his fellow trainees took it upon themselves to construct a type of gurney with which to carry it all as a team. David figured that was what the Course Officer was hoping they would do, and the next day of he just smirked as the crew grabbed up their gurney and used it to carry the newest increased load of wood.
In April 2010 David had been shipped overseas to Afghanistan and served for eight and a half months. A large squadron accompanied him, and depending on where they were stationed depended on how close they got to the combat zones. His role was primarily managing upwards of 21 teams of troops doing anything from detecting IEDs (Improvised Explosive devices) or building roads, so he was stuck mostly in Kandahar.
The Canadian troops had been spread fairly thin over a region called the Horn of Panjwai, a thin expanse along the far western border of the province. Because this area was thick with Taliban, Canadian troops were ordered to pull out, give up the ground, and leave their equipment behind. Once the Americans returned to Afghanistan David’s team was tasked with taking back the area that had previously been abandoned. The 101st Airborne had come in by helicopter, taken over the Horn and they were left in isolation. They would be resupplied with food and water dropped in by plane. The area was still too hostile, so one of the highlights of David’s time there was when he and another engineer were flown over by helicopter and dropped into the middle of a field at around 2 o’clock in the morning in order to assist the Americans. The 101st knew they were coming, but when they were on the ground there was no one to be seen and they were in absolute darkness. Completely disoriented, in the middle of a field, in hostile Afghanistan, they decided not to remain in one place and so they walked toward town. It was a chance they took which ended up being “fine” in the end, but a completely odd experience that he now recalls as being “fun”. It was one of the rare experiences he got to have as a soldier and one he would never forget.
The people within the region were mostly farmers, and their primary crops were drug related, such as marijuana. The tasks that David and his team were sent to do was to assist with infrastructure; roads, bridges, and waterways for example. He says they were received very well by the local residents, but it depended on who they encountered. The people who were in charge of paying the farmers, and they didn’t pay well, ruled the area and practically kept them hostage. If the army did too much to anger or incite punishment against the locals it would have great impact on their livelihood. Some regions were thankful for the work they were doing, but others wanted nothing to do with them. Nakhonay, a small village 30kms outside Kandahar City, was one of those towns that wanted nothing to do with Canada’s military assistance and they were not welcome. It was an exceptionally hostile region and they were attacked daily. They lost at least three engineers and many others were seriously wounded.
The major project that David had been a part of was building a road that allowed for trade and the shipment of supplies to the local villages. They helped turned a full day trip for the villagers into an hour trip, and when the Taliban tried to come in and establish their rule the villagers rose up and stood their ground against the Taliban. It was one of the first times David could recall the people standing up for their rights, and he felt that his teams’ contribution had helped with that.
He never did think about any risk to himself, it wasn’t something that occurred to him. There were so many other things happening at the time that there wasn’t opportunity to give it much thought. He wasn’t engaged in direct combat, their role was to build and protect.
He left the military this past July and is now in partnership with his brother to help run the Picton Harbour Inn. He loved his time in the military and the contributions he made to another culture through service for his country but now he is glad to be enjoying civilian life here in The County.
The remarkable thing about the current modern day Canadian military, is that they are serving a great country with rights and freedoms that other countries don’t enjoy. It was because of the brave men and women who fought in WWII that our military is able to now aide foreign countries with skills such as engineering and IED detection.
This Remembrance Day, we honour the ones who died during peace time as well. They too died in duty to our Country.