2.19.2012

The Least I Could Do

I recall a few years ago I was engaged in our favorite national pastime – waiting in the drive-thru line at the local Tim Horton’s – when I noticed a Canadian Forces truck pull in behind me, occupied by two of our Finest. Figuring it was the least I could do, I told the girl at the window to put the next order on my tab. After a couple of double-double coffees and a box of Timbits were added, I got my stuff and moved on.

A store across the parking lot was my final stop before home. I had just pulled into the space right in front and parked when I noticed the CF truck pulling in beside me. The driver got out and came around with an “excuse me”. He asked if I had paid for their order, which I affirmed. Both soldiers then expressed their thanks, with the driver inquiring as to why.

Ignoring proper etiquette, I returned the question with one of my own, in which they confirmed they were both locally based. I followed by asking if they had seen any action overseas.

“I’ve had two tours in Afghanistan,” said the driver, pointing his thumb back over his shoulder, “and he’s just preparing for his second.”

A short conversation ensued, beginning with some of their experiences which ran the gamut from hilarious to horrific and evolving into the mission overall. Tales of the wonderful camaraderie between the soldiers and the playful rivalries between the Allied troops brought moments of laughter from all of us, as did a story about the hilarious problems that sometimes occur when trying to communicate with the “kind and generous” locals.

“…some of the nicest, most accommodating people on Earth.”

Their first-hand accounts of the aftermath of I.E.D. explosions, firefights, and things they encountered while out on patrol removed the smiles and replaced them with a heavy mood.

As the conversation went on, I couldn’t help but wonder if the hard work and sacrifice these incredibly courageous men and women have made would be remembered by a Canadian public that has grown tired of a war that has seemingly, to a degree, faded from our collective consciousness.

There is no question that we value our troops. Throughout the conflict Canadians have expressed their pride in our Forces personnel in various ways, from showing our individual pride by joining in on Red Fridays, to revealing our national soul by lining the curbs and paying respect to our fallen along the Highway of Heroes.

But we have become a society with an incredibly short attention span. What is news today is forgotten later today. The most pressing, whip-the-public-into-a-frenzy issue right now will soon be ‘so yesterday’. When it comes to Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, as we move on will we lose our appreciation of all that our Forces accomplished?

As that battlefront in the War on Terror comes to an end, will we forget our part?

The soldier in the car reminded his buddy that they had to get moving. I thanked them for the chat; they thanked me for the coffee with a handshake. Just as the driver was climbing back into his seat, he again asked why I had paid for their order.

It was the least I could do.

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His Name Was Steven