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Leaving the Nest

January 16, 2016

bird taking flightBack in July, we had to do a really difficult thing – take our son to university back in Canada. He applied to university and was granted a scholarship. He seemed to be quite pleased about the schoolwork ahead of him as well as living in residence while his parents were on the other side of the planet.

When I tell people that my son is away studying in another country, I often get sympathy and pity, “Oh it must be so hard for you. How are you managing? You won’t see him until Christmas holidays? You must be so sad!”

Just between you and me, I’m not really sad. Don’t get me wrong; I love my kid! However, he is having a WONDERFUL time at university. His grades are excellent. He’s making lots of friends from diverse backgrounds. How can I be sad when I’m watching him grow into becoming a successful adult?

Maybe I would be more stressed if this were 20 years ago before the internet. Fortunately the marvels of modern technology (video conferencing, international text messaging, email and social media) allow us to keep in touch on an almost daily basis.

I can only smile when I get text messages like this:

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 08.55.25

Movie Review: Kilo Two Bravo

January 3, 2016

Visceral. Highly-charged. Intense. Emotional. Compelling. Dramatic. Graphic. And very real.

Kilo Two Bravo is a true story about a group of British soldiers who were stationed at the Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan in 2006. A three-man patrol sets out to disable a Taliban roadblock. In a dried out river bed at the foot of the ridge, one of the patrol detonates a land mine, blowing off his leg. His fellow soldiers come to his aid, only to find themselves trapped in an unmarked minefield, a relic of the Russian invasion of the 1980s. With no way out, any movement risks certain injury and possible death. Out of this harrowing day came extraordinary tales of bravery, selflessness and heroism, but also tragic consequences, for leader Corporal Mark Wright and his comrades, who risked their own lives to help each other.

Kilo Two Bravo is a documentary. If you’d like to immerse yourself in a compelling story, and become strongly attached to some characters and sit on the edge of your seat for a couple of hours, this is a film for you. iTunes places this movie in the thriller category and indeed it belongs in there. It is tense and full of suspense. It’s a true story with a disturbing content, very strong language and bloody injury details.

This is an amazing movie. I loved the scenery. Although filmed in Jordan, I’m quite sure it was representative of the scenery in the Kajaki district of Afghanistan. The filming is so vivid I felt like I was really there – right down to wishing I had a fly swatter to hit the flies buzzing in the dust. The acting is top-notch as is the directing and cinematography.

It deserves its 100% rating!!

Book Review: Unflinching

September 7, 2015

unflinchingThis summer I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of the book Unflinching, The making of a Canadian Sniper by Jody Mitic. I loved this book. It was an entrancing story. I couldn’t put it down.

Jody Mitic is a twenty-year Canadian Armed Forces veteran and sniper team leader. He is a respected advocate for wounded veterans, people with disabilities and amputees. He founded the Never Quit Foundation and currently sits on the board of directors of “Won with One,” an organization devoted to helping physically challenged athletes realize their dreams. He is a city councillor for Ottawa, where he lives with his wife, Alannah, and two daughters, Aylah and Kierah.

The book starts off with Jody talking about his childhood ambition of becoming a soldier. The candid, honest way he describes his trials and tribulations is refreshing. I’m not sure many people could be that open about the decisions, experiences and emotions from their youth.

Jody then writes about his time in the Canadian Armed Forces including the elite sniper training. He pulls no punches when he describes his feelings about the military –everything from the exciting, action-packed events to the boring and mundane ones. He also talks about his relationships with former girlfriends who had difficulty relating to someone who is already “married to the military.”

We’ve seen news stories about the battles in Afghanistan but they are superficial in their explanations. Jody’s raw descriptions of what soldiers experience in the field is something everyone should read. We hear names in the news but Jody very accurately helps his readers know the people behind the names.

The part that touched me most was in the final part of the story – how the medical system and Canadian government treats wounded veterans. Reading about the details from an insider’s point of view really helps put things into perspective.

I recommend that all Canadians read this book. It will change the way you view the profession of soldiering.

Hat Tip to Military Wives

August 16, 2015

Departing speech from retiring United States Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Odierno (US Army).

It is really worth watching!

 

Myth Busting

July 5, 2015

stonehengeThere are many assumptions out there about military life so I thought I’d take a few minutes to bust a few myths.

Myth: Canadian Armed Forces members don’t pay income tax.

Fact: All members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) pay taxes. We pay income taxes based on the same rates as any other Canadian citizen. There are no exceptions. When posted outside the country, (like we are in England right now) we still pay income taxes based on our Canadian income. If you’re paid by the Canadian government, you pay Canadian income tax. Exception: Some portions of additional income earned during a deployment (e.g. Afghanistan) are classed as non-taxable. The basic CAF salary and certain benefits are still fully taxable.

 

Myth: Canadian Armed Forces members don’t pay sales taxes when they shop on the military base at Canex Stores.

Fact: All CAF members pay sales tax just like any citizen of the province regardless of where they shop. Canex Stores charge federal and provincial sales taxes just like any other store. One benefit to shopping at Canex is that CAF members can take advantage of the low-interest payment plan for large purchases (furniture, appliances) and have payments deducted directly from their pay.

 

Myth: Canadian Armed Forces get all kinds of pay benefits.

Fact: There are specific benefits to which CAF members are entitled to ensure that their standard of living is similar regardless of where they live in the world. Many of these benefits are taxable meaning that CAF members pay income tax on those benefits.

 

Myth: Canadian Armed Forces members who live out-of-country are not affected by exchange rates.

Fact: CAF members are paid in Canadian dollars that are converted to the currency in which the member is posted. For example, we are paid in Canadian dollars and that is deposited into our UK bank account in Pounds Sterling. The exchange rate (at the time this blog post was written) is 1.96. This means that an annual income of $100,000 Canadian dollars works out to about £51,000. Note: The daily exchange rate is not used to convert pay; an average monthly exchange rate is used. This helps offset any daily fluctuations that would occur on a specific payday.

 

Myth: Canadian Armed Forces members living in military housing do not pay rent.

Fact: In a previous post, I explained that we do indeed pay rent. The CMHC and provincial standards govern rental rates. There are provisions in the Military Foreign Service Instructions to ensure that CAF members posted abroad are not subject to extreme rental rates.

 

Myth: Family members of Canadian Armed Forces can fly anywhere in the world for free.

Fact: Oh I wish!!! This is not true. There are opportunities for families to travel however they are few and far between and there is a fee, albeit small compared to commercial airlines. Additionally, military business has priority on military flights. This means that you might arrive somewhere and not be able to return easily or you may not get a connecting flight.

 

Myth: Family members of Canadian Armed Forces are taken care of by military doctors and dentists.

Fact: Military doctors and dentists treat only CAF members. Family members must register with the provincial health care system and find their own family doctors and dentists. This includes out-of-country postings. NOTE: For out-of-country postings in some cases where a family member requires specialized care or medications, the military doctors will liaise with local health specialists to ensure the family member receives proper care and medications.

 

Myth: The Canadian Armed Forces provide schooling for children of military families.

Fact: No. Children of military families attend local schools. The military does not provide additional funding if the local schools do not provide education in the family’s language of choice (i.e. English or French). In out-of-country postings, there is funding provided for children to remain in Canada at boarding school or have second-language tutoring.

 

Myth: The Canadian Armed Forces get to choose where they are posted (where they work/live).

Fact: CAF members are asked for their posting preferences but that does not mean that the requests will be granted. Just like any major corporation, the CAF posts members based on the member’s talents and experience and available job opportunities within the CAF.

 

Do you have any myths you want busted? Write in and let me know!

World War One Battlefields Tour

June 10, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, our family had the opportunity to take a bus tour of some of the World War I battlefields with fellow Canadians posted in the UK.

We started the first day very early in the morning and left the Canadian detachment near London at about 06h00. We made great time and had a few minutes to shop at the duty-free store before our Eurotunnel crossing. The Eurotunnel was extremely boring. The bus drove onto the train, parked and we just sat there for about 45 minutes. The only way I knew that we were going down under the Channel was that my ears popped. It was smoother riding in the bus on the train through the tunnel than it was driving the bus on the road!

Vimy Memorial

Vimy Memorial

Our first stop was the Vimy Ridge Memorial. During the Battle of Arras in April 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting side by side for the first time, scored a huge tactical victory in the capture of the 60 metre high Vimy Ridge. There were 11,000 casualties and of those, 3600 were fatalities. The monument is inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were listed as “missing, presumed dead” in France.
Just prior to visiting the Memorial, we stopped at the Interpretive Centre for Vimy Memorial Park so that we would better understand what happened in the battle. We had a guided tour of the tunnels and trenches that the soldiers lived in during the war. We learned about how the Canadians advanced on the German positions behind a “creeping barrage.” This precise line of intense artillery fire advanced at a set rate and was timed to the minute. The Canadian infantrymen followed the line of explosions closely. This allowed them to capture German positions in the critical moments after the explosions but before the enemy soldiers emerged from the safety of their underground bunkers. It was a chilly, windy day when we visited the Centre. I can’t imagine what the soldiers endured during the snow and the wind on that day in April 1917.

Troop quarters in the tunnels at Vimy Ridge

Troop quarters in the tunnels at Vimy Ridge

Beaumont-Hamel

Beaumont-Hamel

We moved on to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. It is beautiful but sad. On 1 July 1916, of the 798 soldiers (all ranks) that deployed into the trenches, only 110 remained unscathed. That works out to an 86% death rate for all ranks; 100% of the officers were killed.

 

We also visited the Theivepal Memorial, and the Courcelette, St. Julien, Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood) and Passchendaele Canadian Memorials as well as Tyne Cot  and Adanac Cemeteries. We saw the Lochnagar Crater Memorial, a typical crater that was produced by tunnelling under enemy territory, filling a cave with explosives – over 27,000 kg! 6,380 officers and men were lost that day.

I was very impressed with the preservation of many of the sites an the respect that people have for the history. There was a small site preserving some of the trenches in the middle of an industrial park in Ypres. There were cemeteries and memorials in the middle of farming fields. There would be a path from the roadway to the memorial or cemetery so people could visit.

 

The area around northern France and Belgium is beautiful rolling farmland. It just amazed me that people could have a war and do such damage to such a wonderfully productive agricultural area. This is a picture from just outside Ypres. See the slag heaps? They are the same ones seen in this picture from the Vimy Memorial!

Outskirts of Ypres

Outskirts of Ypres

Preparing to place wreath at Menin Gate

Preparing to place wreath at Menin Gate

The highlight of the trip for our family was placing a wreath at the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony. Every day, at 20h00 the Last Post ceremony takes place. We remember the terrible and turbulent years of the Great War and we pause to remember our dead. The local police halt traffic and the crowds gather – every single night! It is very impressive!

 

On our way home we were lucky enough to take the ferry crossing from Calais to Dover. The white cliffs are an impressive site. I can just imagine the feeling of the soldiers seeing the cliffs as they were on their way home from the war.
(Unfortunately, it was pouring rain our our ferry journey so I was unable to get a good photo of the cliffs.)

White_Cliffs_of_Dover_3_(Piotr_Kuczynski)-1

By Pkuczynski (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Although I had a deep appreciation for Remembrance Day prior to this trip, I now have a deeper understanding of what the soldiers endured during the Great War. Je me souviens!

The Military Family Vaccination Problem

February 5, 2015

I’m pretty diligent about keeping our family’s vaccination records but I bet there are not a lot of people that are so diligent.

In most provinces, you get a small folded bit of paper at birth (actual size 10x15cm) on which to record all the vaccinations for your entire life. You must keep this little paper safe at all times and take it with you to every immunization appointment.

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What if the vaccination card is:

  • stored in a pocket and goes through the wash and gets destroyed?
  • kept in your wallet and your wallet is stolen?
  • is just plain old lost?

Ah, you’re thinking you just go to your family doctor and he/she will have all of the records.

Not so fast!

If you’re a military family, you may have just moved and you don’t have a family doctor. You can’t get your medical records shipped from your old doctor because he/she will only ship them to a new doctor. There is also the possibility that you got your vaccinations from a public health nurse or school nurse who doesn’t necessarily pass on the information to your family doctor. You might try to get the information from the public health unit in your former province but if you don’t have your health card number from way back then, your records probably won’t be found.

To make matters worse, vaccinations schedules are different in almost every province.

The main immunizations (diphtheria, pertussis, polio, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella) are pretty much consistent. However, the schedule of other vaccinations such as chicken pox, HPV, Hepatitis A&B are different or are optional.

Canada has an immunization schedule tool but it is useless you were born before 2009 or if you’ve lived in 4 different provinces and, heaven forbid, you move from one province to another when you’re in the middle of receiving a series of vaccines.

What happens if parents don’t bother to keep records and have moved frequently?

Canada, you NEED a national health records system.

What are your suggestions to make immunization and health care better for Canadian military families?

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