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Journalist soldier comes full circle

October 2008

For most people who join the Canadian Forces Reserves, it is something they do for a four or five year period to help pay for school, to learn a skill or just to have some fun and adventure. When Tony Keene joined the Canadian Army reserve in 1964, little did he realize it would occupy four decades of his life, and lead to great personal and professional fulfillment.

Keene was born in 1947 in Wiltshire, England, the son of Jack and Maifie Keene. Jack Keene served in the British army during World War II, but post-war, joined the Metropolitan London Police Force.

It was in 1955 that he was approached, while patrolling on horseback, by a recruiter for the Royal Canadian Air Force, who invited him to join the RCAF and come to Canada. Shortly afterwards, he signed up as an Air Force Policeman and the family moved to their first posting in Namao, Alberta, north of Edmonton. Keene experienced not just culture shock, but weather shock. “That winter was one of the worst on record,” he recalls. After five years, his father was posted to Europe, where they lived in France and Germany for a further five years, before coming to RCAF Station Borden in 1964.

Keene was always interested in writing, producing short stories and Shakespeare parodies at Base Borden Collegiate. His interest in photography was quickened when he joined the school’s camera club. In1964, he also enrolled in the 28th Armoured Regiment, Grey & Simcoe Foresters as a Trooper. On leaving high school he joined the regular Canadian Army as an Officer Cadet with the Royal Canadian School of Infantry. After qualifying for a reserve commission, he rejoined the Foresters as an acting second-lieutenant and began working as a trainee reporter at The Barrie Examiner.

“I started work at the Examiner at 8 o’clock one Tuesday morning, and walked into the Armoury as a brand-new junior officer that evening,” he says. “So my career as a journalist and as a reserve officer started on the same day, only about12 hours apart.”

After four years at The Examiner, he moved to Orillia and worked at The Packet and Times. It was here that he married his wife Dianne.

‘She was an assignment…Simcoe County Dairy Princess. I kept meeting her at parades and events, we started talking and now it’s been 36 years.’

When the Grey & Simcoe Foresters converted to an infantry regiment in the early 1970s, Keene became a platoon commander, but later assumed the duties of Public Information Officer at Toronto Militia District Headquarters, where he was able to utilize his journalism skills. By this time he was working as a desk editor at Broadcast News, the radio and TV arm of the Canadian Press.

In those years, just like most reservists, he underwent weekly training at the armoury and attending annual summer camps at Borden, Petawawa and Meaford. His only out-of-country experience was attending camps at Ford Drum in New York State in 1979 & 1980.

In 1982, Keene was invited to join the reserve component of the Public Affairs Branch, an assignment he readily accepted. Besides writing articles and press releases, part of his duties included providing advice to unit commanders and dealing with media inquiries. During his time as a PAO, Keene helped to set up several newspapers for various units, and served at various times as the editor of military publications such as The Maple Leaf, Trident and The Borden Citizen.

“The best thing about being a Public Affairs officer is that I was not limited by the colour of my uniform,” he says. ‘I was able to accept assignments with the Navy in Halifax, Army formations across the country and in Europe, and I spent four years with the Air Force in Trenton, working full-time and flying all over the world on operational missions, into places like Haiti and Rwanda.”

For Keene, the highlight of his military career was, at the age of 50, finally being given the opportunity to serve on an overseas operational tour as a member of the NATO contingent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was the only Canadian member of a multi-national division, which included American, Russian, Turkish and Polish troops, plus many others.

Keene would return Bosnia and Herzegovina, three more times, in 2000, 2001-2002 and 2004.

While in Bosnia, one of Keene’s duties included running seminars for local media personnel, many of whom had once been on opposite sides of the1992-95 civil war.

One event that has stuck in Keene’s mind is an outing with a female Bosnian reporter who enlisted his help to do some on-location filming, only to later realize that it was merely a ruse to get him to be her armed guard while she delivered medication to her grandfather.

“We were walking down the street, and it suddenly struck me that this was what it was all about. We weren’t there to hold press conferences or build schools. We were there so people could walk down their own streets without fear. Everything else was secondary.”

Keene is proud of his career; proud that he has been able to serve Canada, proud to have been a journalist and been able to tell the stories.

“I have no regrets. My careers have had their ups and down, and I like to tell young people just starting out that I have been fired, or threatened with it, many times. The people involved were all different, in different circumstances, but they all now have one thing in common. They’re all gone, and I’m still here. And I have the medals and the memories to show for it.”

In 2006, Keene retired from the reserves after 42 years of service. He maintains his association with the Grey & Simcoe Foresters as a member of the Officers’ Mess. He holds the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, the NATO Medal for service in the former Yugoslavia, the ‘non-article 5’ NATO Medal for service in the Balkans, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the Canadian Forces Decoration, with two clasps.

He now works as a freelance writer. His byline appears regularly in The Barrie Advance, Orillia Today, and many other community papers of the Metromedia chain. He is also the author of ‘The Ship that Voted No,’ a collection of Canadian naval and maritime stories, and is a member of the Canadian War Correspondents Association..

“I started my career writing for community newspapers, and now I am back writing for them, forty years on,” he says. “Life does eventually come full circle.”

Keene lives in Oro Station with his wife Dianne, a retired teacher, and also a long-time reserve officer. She works each summer at Blackdown Cadet Training Centre, and the rest of the year with 99 Lynx Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Cadets, in Orillia.

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/journalist-soldier-comes-full-circle-2/

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