A salute to today’s reservists

Written by Buzz Bourdon (late the RMR 1975-82) – this article was originally published in The Montreal Gazette on Monday 09 November 2014, http://montrealgazette.com/news/national/opinion-a-salute-to-todays-reservists

RMR's On Guard At Tomb of Unknown Soldier in August 2014
RMR soldiers On Guard At Tomb of Unknown Soldier in August 2014

The senseless killing at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa on Oct. 22 made me realize that a lot has changed for the dedicated Canadians who volunteer to serve in the Canadian Forces reserves.

Back when the world was young and anything seemed possible, I joined the Royal Montreal Regiment as a callow 16-year-old. The year was 1975. There were no suicide bombers. Canada wasn’t fighting a “war on terror” and no one tried to kill me when I walked to the RMR’s venerable armoury on Ste-Catherine St., in Westmount.

Joining the reserves in those days was a good way of paying for university and having something to do on the weekends. We learned various military skills, including drill, communications, patrolling and infantry tactics. Once a year, we marched through the streets of Westmount and Pointe-Claire on the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day, to pay tribute to Canada’s war dead, including the 1,192 men who lost their lives serving with the RMR in the First World War.

It was a safe, ordered military life that followed a predictable routine year after year. Once or twice a month we trained in the field on weekends. We tried to take that seriously, but it was hard sometimes, especially when we ran out of blank rounds. Then we yelled, “militia bullet, militia bullet,” to simulate rifle fire as we attacked an imaginary enemy.

Once the weekend was over — the wars did not go into overtime in those days and we had jobs or school to go to on Monday — we repaired to the Men’s Mess for a beer, or two.

The militia was pretty much a club back then, a part-time hobby for military enthusiasts who liked to wear uniforms and learn about weapons. Mess life was lively with a party every six weeks or so. We had a lot of fun. In fact, for about six years, until I went back to university for good in 1984, the militia was all I worked at.

Thirty years later, some things have changed for the better, I’m happy to say. Pay is higher and courses for promotion are longer and harder.

Since the 1990s, those reservists who volunteered to deploy overseas on operations have experienced the harsh realities of peacekeeping and combat, including the death of friends. Starting in 1993, the year I retired, hundreds of reservists served in the former Yugoslavia, where they witnessed firsthand the effects of ethnic hatreds.

In 2002, the regular army went to Afghanistan and took reservists with them. In fact, the regulars have always admitted that they couldn’t mount an operation if they weren’t augmented by reservists.

The cost was high, though. Ten reservists died in Afghanistan, out of 158 overall. There’s no doubt at all that reservists merit the proud title “twice the citizen.”

Now we in the militia have lost another brother-in-arms. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, a member of Hamilton’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), was murdered in cold blood as he stood sentry at the National War Memorial.

Standing tall and at ease, Cpl. Cirillo and his partner were on duty to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Their bayonets were fixed on their C-7 rifle barrels, but they had no live rounds in their rifle magazines. In other words, they were unarmed.

His killer obviously chose to murder him as a symbol of everything he hated about a free and democratic country, but that maniac and those who support him are wasting their time. They can’t and won’t win.

Canada mourns the loss of one of its finest. He was a father, son, brother and reservist.

His name will fade from the news, but we will not forget him.

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