Remembrance Day is typically the day when Canadians take a moment to honour the men and women who have sacrificed for their country.
But, says Jon Chabun of the Esquimalt Family Resource Centre, a part of the day should be taken to remember the challenges faced and sacrifices made on a daily basis by the members of the Canadian Forces.
“For example, unless you’re related to someone in the military, you’re unlikely to hear about the stress of family separations and how military members miss out on parts of their family’s lives,” Chabun said.
“Beyond the daily hazards of military work, (military) members will miss out on birthdays, the first steps of their children, and a lot of things we take for granted. But I’m always impressed with the resilience of service members and their families. I’m actually humbled by what they do.”
One military member who embodies that resilience is Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Grimard.
He’s been a member of the Armed Forces for 23 years; nine in the army and 14 with the navy. In 2010 he deployed as part of the 1st Royal Canadian Regiment to Afghanistan where he served for eight months.
He’s also been assigned to HMCS Calgary and HMCS Winnipeg where, on several occasions, he’s been part of “sails” that take him from home for extended periods of two to five months.
“I suppose that the key to keeping life together is communication. I talk to my wife a lot about what’s happening and what to expect when I’m required to go away,” Grimard said.
“She knows that there are some things I can’t tell her about at all and that sometimes there’s going to be longer periods of time when I can’t contact her. That can be hard.”
But when Grimard returns, it’s very important to share his experiences with his spouse and keep the lines of communication open.
“Reunification can be a big challenge for families,” Chabun said.
“Things can change and a service member can return to find that there are new friends, routines and interests. Children grow and change very quickly and it’s a time when everyone needs to catch up.”
Chabun said the Esquimalt Family Resource Centre offers counselling services to military staff and that its busiest time tends to happen about four weeks after reunification.
One of the strategies that helps to avoid the stresses of long deployments is an accommodation for spouses to be briefly reunited at some point in that deployment.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I arranged to meet up with my wife in Europe and we toured around there for a short time It gave us a chance to see things we’d never seen before and reconnect before I had to return to Afghanistan,” Grimard said.
The danger that is inherent to military life is always a factor as well, and Grimard said that, again, communication is key to maintaining family life.
“My wife and I talk about what would happen should something occur. Anything could happen, but that’s the understanding we have when we sign on the dotted line. It’s called unlimited liability, and I just have to make sure that I have all my benefits in place and the paperwork done before I go away.”
The Canadian Armed Forces has 71,500 regular force members and 30,000 reserve forces.
The Forces have served not only the major conflicts of the First and Second World Wars, but a plethora of other conflicts around the globe, including Korea, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“Whether they’re in an active conflict zone or in training or exercises, these men and women are serving all of us. We should take a moment on Remembrance Day to give some thought to their sacrifice and express our thanks,” Chabun said.