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Answering the call – Afghanistan veteran would do it all over again

Published in the Barrie Advance
9 November 2007

Published in the Orillia Today
23 November 2007

On Remembrance Day, Canadians honour the sacrifices of Canada’s war veterans. It’s also a time when Canadians most often think about our troops currently serving in harm’s way.

Canadians have answered the call to duty in numerous wars and peacekeeping missions, stretching from the South Africa War to the current mission in Afghanistan. For the first time since Korea, Canadians are involved in sustained combat.

Historically, Canadians have fielded the biggest non-conscript military. It just seems to be an inherent trait that Canadians are willing to serve their country.

With the current mission in Afghanistan never far from the headlines, Canadians are asking themselves if Canada should be involved or we should withdraw our troops.

There are many reasons why people choose to join the military and fight in far off lands, but a common reason cited by many military personnel is a sense of adventure, a desire to travel to distant places and possibly making a difference in the world.

These are some of the reasons given by past veterans (some things never change). While the possibility of dying is always a possibility, for many service members, serving in an operational field is why they joined in the first place.

One such person is Navy Lieutenant Anne Hopkins, a nurse with the Mental Health Support Unit at CFB Borden. Lt (N) Hopkins served in Afghanistan from January to August 2007, one of approximately 200 medical support personnel. An enthusiastic 29-year veteran of the Canadian Forces feels strongly that Canadians should be in Afghanistan helping to rebuild the country.

Hopkins originally joined the Army Reserve in 1978 with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. She transferred to the Regular Force in 1984 and over the years served at various health care facilities in CFB s Gagetown, St.. Jean, Winnipeg, Halifax, Shearwater and Borden.

Married to Clayton, a former 24 year member of the Canadian Army, for the past 21 years, Hopkins says her husband and 20 year old son are very supportive of her military career and service in Afghanistan. ‘When I say that maybe it’s time to retire, he convinces me to stay,’ says Hopkins of her husband. Hopkins thinks this is a wonderful time to be serving in the forces with lots of opportunities to make a positive difference. Although being away from family and the long work hours can be hard; the good times stand out in her memory more than the bad times.

Hopkins admitted to being a little apprehensive about the prospect of serving in a war zone, that feeling quickly dissipated once she arrived in the country. ‘You get to do the job that you trained to do. Esprit de corps has never been higher.’

Although the possibility of being injured or worse was always in the back of her mind, ‘It is the last thing you think about. You just want to get the job done,’ advises Hopkins, who would go gladly back to Afghanistan if needed.

First in Hopkins mind was providing good mental health care to Canadian and coalition forces, along with some care to local Afghanis when needed. Additionally, a sense of pride; a feeling that you are representing your country for the betterment of another country, is another positive aspect of the mission in Afghanistan.

‘The local Afghans are very appreciative of Canadians and feel safe and comfortable with us because they know they will get top notch care,’ says Hopkins, who saw Afghans being treated at the Canadian led multinational hospital.

In recent years, there has been much discussion about the role that Canada’s military would play on the world stage, there are many who believe that Canada should remain a peacekeeping nation as it had a reputation for during the 70s and 80s. However, Hopkins believes that Canada,s role has changed to that of peace support in a country that has had such upheaval for so many years. As Lieutenant-General (retired) Romeo Dallaire once said, “Peacekeeping is not a soldier’s job, but only a soldier can do it.”  While any veteran will tell you that peace is better than war, we can’t have peace, security and freedom unless we have a military that is prepared to defend it.

The soldiers themselves see the mission as an important one, and one that Canada most definitely should be involved. Capt. Craig Bowden, Operations Officer for the Grey & Simcoe Foresters, echoes this sentiment. Despite the danger and hardships of the mission, all the soldiers the Grey & Simcoe Foresters have sent to Afghanistan have come back more determined and dedicated that the mission should continue.

Great inter-nation co-operation with coalition nations has not only strengthened the resolve on Canadian soldiers, but greatly elevated Canada’s status in the world.

Hopkins describes treating an American soldier who told her that he wished he could be a Canadian serviceman as everyone loves Canadians.

Although she wasn’t serving on the front lines, Hopkins has observed that the soldiers who are in the tick of the action, are glad to be there. They are full of energy and love the high tempo and like Hopkins, doing what they trained to do, although it can be straining mentally and physically. Personnel routinely work 7 days a week for weeks at a time, with sometimes only hours off duty. That is where mental health care professionals such as Hopkins provide a valuable service to service members.

This care continues once troops return to Canada. ‘We provide top notch medical care for soldiers returning to Canada,’ states Capt. Cheryl Swarbrick, Public Affairs Officer at Base Borden, who acknowledges this may not have been the case after World War I and II.

Hopkins is justifiably proud of her military career. ‘I have no regrets. It’s been the best 30 years of my life, ‘ advises Hopkins, who only wishes she was young again so she could do it all over again. ‘I’ve done things that my civilian counterparts will never do.’

For those wondering if the Red Fridays are appreciated, Hopkins assures us that the troops appreciate the support, no matter how small it may be. ‘The troops need and want to hear that Canadians are behind them,’ said Hopkins, who adds that Red Fridays also offers support and reassurance to the families of fallen soldiers that their sacrifice is not forgotten.

We should all be thankful that we have people willing to serve in this country’s military.

To see the full Barrie Advance article, go to – http://www.simcoe.com/article/52298

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/answering-the-call-afghanistan-veteran-would-do-it-all-over-again/

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