Wearing her poppy and service medals, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces (Royal Canadian Navy) stands at attention during the Remembrance Day service in Dartmouth, N.S. Photo credit: Ryerson Clark, Getty Images
Two minutes. It isn’t that much time, right? We are supposed to take two minutes to brush our teeth. In that amount of time we can easily tidy up our workspaces, heat up leftovers, make our beds and so on. Those trivial day-to-day things that we don’t put much thought or effort into.
It’s also possible to accomplish really important things in that short amount of time. And one of those is spending two minutes on November 11 reflecting on those who have served our country.
When we think of Veterans, those responsible for many of the freedoms we enjoy as Canadians, we may picture a man in his eighties, marching on Remembrance Day, wearing a beret and a row of service medals. While this is accurate, it is just one of the many different faces who could be representing what a Veteran is. In Canada today, the fact is there are over 450,000 Veterans of all ages with diverse backgrounds and experiences, each with a different story to tell. Some may have served decades ago in the Second World War or the Korean War. Others in the Gulf War or in Somalia, Rwanda or the Balkans in the 1990s, in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, or more recently in Iraq or Latvia. Veterans have also served on home soil, providing support during natural disasters such as devastating wildfires or floods, as well as in long-term care homes to bring relief to health care workers during the global pandemic. They are all Veterans.
In total, throughout these many conflicts, we have lost more than 100,000 Canadians to war service. Their Families, friends, comrades in arms and Canada as a whole feel their loss. This doesn’t take into account the daily acts of courage that are a part of service or those whose lives continued on when they returned home, their lives forever changed and sometimes haunted by what they’ve seen. Many of them live with injuries as a result of their service, including invisible ones such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.
Throughout this service, the Families of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members are at home, holding down the fort while their loved ones fulfil their sworn duty. These Family members are the ones who welcome CAF members back and support them through recovery from their physical, mental and moral injuries. Their sacrifices deserve our recognition as well, as they often are the people living with the impacts of service and related injuries of their loved ones.
While most of us will never know what it’s like to walk in their combat boots, there is much we can do to support active military members and Veterans. We can advocate for the highest level of care and for improved mental health supports that take into account the unique costs of service on both the mental and physical well-being of our soldiers, as well as the needs of the whole person and their Families. We can listen, acknowledge and honour the military sacrifices of generations past and present.
We can also support them by thanking them when you see them and listening to their stories. A simple “thank you for your service” or asking questions like “Can you tell me something about the world that you learned during your service?” can go a long way in making service members and Veterans feel recognized and heard. They have given up so much of themselves in service of our country, to give back, to stand up for the freedom of their fellow Canadians, but also of foreign countries, so that others can live in peace and free of terror.
This Remembrance Day, take those two minutes to remember those who gave up their lives for our freedoms, and to think of living Veterans and those who continue to serve each day.
Remembrance Day and Veterans’ Week is not the only time to remember our Veterans and their Families. We can engage with them, listen to their stories, learn from them and keep the conversation going throughout the year. Lest we forget.