Friday, April 13, 2007

Why They Do What They Do

The following is from, and I felt that it was worth another read. If you don't want to read the whole thing, fine. I just put it here because I wanted to read it. Click on the CBC link if you want to read some of the other entries written by Cpl. Sanders. Pin it on my chest Sept. 19, 2006 This morning was one of the few days different from the others. Careful, detailed attention was given to my uniform before it was put on this morning. Threads were burnt off, pants were properly bloused, and boots were properly laced. I shaved extra close, and even got a haircut the day before. Today is a special day, and I wanted to ensure that I looked good. Two hours later the sun beat down on me and 45 other soldiers, standing perfectly still at attention. The jagged rocks under my blistered, sweaty feet send a spike of pain up my back, causing the muscles in my legs to cramp. Nothing would feel better than to just sit down, but I remain still. My chest is pressed out a little farther today. My arms are straight down either side of my body, my hands clenched, thumbs out. Eyes are forward, feet are heeled together. Neither the blistering heat, nor the trickle of sweat running down my brow can make me move an inch. Days like today are one of the very few times when a soldier can openly show how proud he or she is. In front of us stands our leader, the colonel of our battle group. He offers praise to each of us standing at attention. He recounts many missions where we have fought, shed tears, and blood. His words of encouragement unearth my personal accounts here in Afghanistan. His praise is echoed through the words of the brigade sergeant major, who calls us to stand at ease. Both of them approach the ranks to see us face to face. Our leader will personally recognize each one of us today. I snap to attention when the colonel approaches me. He reaches out and shakes my hand. "Congratulations, you’ve earned the right to wear this." He proudly pulled out my medal, and pinned it to my chest. The feeling of having it placed is indescribable. Another handshake, followed by "well done," and our leader moved on to the next soldier. The hardest part is not being able to look down at the medal while standing at ease. Everyone else must receive their medal, and our discipline tells us not to move until the end of the parade. Now, while everyone else receives a medal, I must let you know that there is a lot of controversy among the troops about whom should get the same medal we wear. A lot of soldiers don’t believe that troops working in an office at the airfield should wear the same medal as another who went head to head in gunfights against the Taliban. South West Asia Service Medal (SWASM) The description of the medal is pretty bland. The SWASM is awarded to those employed in direct support of the operations against terrorism in southwest Asia, and a bar is added for those deployed into the theatre of operation. Blah. Blah. Blah. The actual medal itself, however, looks pretty cool. It’s silver, with the Queen on the front and something called a Hydra on the back. The Hydra, a many-headed serpent, represents evil in various forms. A Canadian sword transfixes the Hydra, and over the design is the Latin phrase "ADVERSUS MALUM PUGNAMUS" (We are fighting evil). Each colour of the ribbon represents something as well. Sand colour on the outside represents the challenges in the theatre of operation, while the red represents the blood spilled on Sept. 11, and the ensuing campaign that followed. Black represents the mourning of victims of the terrorist attack, while the white represents the peace that we are all fighting for over here. I thought the same way as others about the right to wear the medal — until about two weeks ago. While I was sitting in the smoking area, trying to quit smoking, I lit a cigarette and brought the medal issue up with the sergeant major. He and I were together during the last "big op." He was able to change my mind with his words that day. "Every soldier in Afghanistan has helped fight the Taliban in their own certain way. The postal clerk, for instance. It is because of him that you can find out how your loved ones are doing, and about little Johnny and how big he’s getting. "He allows us the opportunity to let our stress levels to come down, and forget about the hell we are dealing with here because we can read a letter from home; therefore, helping us fight the Taliban with renewed strength. Your medal, quite simply, is only as good as the story behind it." Those words changed the ideas I had held for 12 years about the issuing of medals. I can recall talking to veterans of wars past and them saying: "I got this medal fighting through the trenches in Italy, where I lost several of my friends by a German grenade." Whenever I talked to a veteran about his medals it was always the story behind them that surfaced, and it wasn’t until today that it finally made sense. It is what makes each individual's medal unique. The story behind this medal My medal signifies the 63 casualties that needed my crew’s ambulance for life-saving treatment. It recounts the 16 intense firefights my crew suffered through together. It remembers the more than 10,000 miles of arm-busting terrain I drove through. My medal can also talk about my church, which was able to help a young boy and girl here in Afghanistan receive life-saving emergency medical treatment, in turn changing hearts and minds of thousands of families that live here. Finally, my medal remembers the 20 soldiers in my seven months here that gave the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom for our country. Three of them were brought off the battlefield by my ambulance. My medal is more than just a fancy coin hanging from a ribbon. It’s more than just something that says I have been to Afghanistan. Just like the medals worn by my ancestors, my medal is a memory, it's a feeling, it's a tribute and it's a story. It's not just a thing, it's a living story of why our country is strong and free today. I will always remember that when I see our veterans on Remembrance Day. I will look at their chest and I will ask, "What’s your story?" The parade draws to a close with final remarks from our leader. "Don’t forget. The tour is not over yet. It’s not over until you are back in Canada, safe at home." Personally, I hope I don’t have to add to the story of my medal. The last chapter of my story will involve repatriation to Canada. I will leave that to my next entry though.

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