Remembering those who might wish they could forget

Wearing the poppy is not only a celebration of service but a recognition of loss and sacrifice

The J.R. Vicars Armoury is the home of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, a reserve unit of the Canadian Forces that has been training in this area for a century. (Jared MacArthur/The Omega)

The J.R. Vicars Armoury is the home of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, a reserve unit of the Canadian Forces that has been training in this area for a century. (Jared MacArthur/The Omega)

Every year women and men serving in the Canadian Forces sacrifice their civilian life to stand on guard for this country. They train and prepare for the ever changing needs of our allies and the security of our nation. In past wars, we have lost many, and with this month of remembrance upon us, we think of them as always and pay our respects with a poppy over our hearts.

Here in Kamloops, we have a significant presence of veterans and active members of the Canadian Forces, both young and old. Branch 52 of the Royal Canadian Legion supports veterans of all ages and the Rocky Mountain Rangers brigade group has been training reserves for the past 100 years.

The Rocky Mountain Rangers in Kamloops have been awarded for numerous accomplishments, including a recent battle honour from their time in Afghanistan. In the main lobby of the barracks is a monument from the First World War, made of wood scavenged from the German trenches, with the names of fallen rangers etched into the planks.

More than 40 men and women from the Rocky Mountain Rangers, a primary reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces, have served on tours overseas since 2002.

Maj. Amedeo Vecchio, is the deputy commanding officer for the regiment and he himself has served on three tours since the 1980s. He has seen first hand what the frontlines of hostile environments are like and how difficult and rewarding it can be to be there.

In 1988, Maj. Vecchio served in Bosnia and years later in 2004 he was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan, where he would return in 2011 for his last tour.

His experience has taught him that soldiers really need to be signing up for the right reasons before they deploy, and that they should have a “personal purpose” for going overseas, whether they want to make a difference or just have skills they want to contribute.

When you’re out on those missions, Vecchio explained, you really have to have your head on a swivel all the time, which he calls a “condition orange.” On these operations, it is vital to be in that condition all the time, since combat situations quickly lead to scenarios in which a soldier’s every decision may mean the difference between going home or not.

Preparing servicemen and women is not an easy task. Before being deployed, they train for six to nine months, going through scenario after scenario of real-life combat situations, conditioning themselves to be ready.

Vecchio believes the training for soldiers is enough and that the preparation and decompression structures the military has in place are outstanding compared to what we used to have, but nothing can really prepare an individual fully for what they are going to experience, or the injuries that may be sustained, be they physical or psychological.

In the last two decades, there is growing recognition, by both the military and society at large, of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a legitimate health issue facing servicemen and women in the Canadian Forces.

Veterans advocacy groups have been raising issue in government for more than a decade, calling for more access to mental health professionals for injured soldiers and a compensation for continued care, as suicide rates have steadily increased among those who served in Afghanistan.

Reid Webster, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at TRU, says the psychology community is making advances in the treatment of PTSD but it is still very difficult to treat and can never be fully cured.

“It’s not about medication,” Webster said. “it’s about helping them work through this trauma.”

TRU will be holding a Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 10, from 10:30 to 11 a.m. on Student Street in Old Main.