On Thursday morning, a disturbance filled the air over Parliament Hill. Overhead, a dozen Royal Canadian Air Force jets flew at an altitude no lower than 500 feet above the highest point in their flight path. At that proximity, those planes increase one’s heart rate.
Inside the Senate Chamber, senators gave up their seats for members of Canada’s armed forces. They were joined by Prime Minister Harper; Minister of Defense, Peter MacKay; Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, David Johnston; and other top Canadian dignitaries.
The unusual gathering celebrated the successful ending of NATO’s mission in Libya. It also honoured the military personnel who served, but especially Canada’s own Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, who commanded the mission.
No NATO mission has ever been led by a Canadian, but General Bouchard’s exceptional coordination of the complicated multinational forces brought great credit to Canada.
In the midst of what must have seemed a nightmare for those on the ground, the General’s experienced wisdom and stellar military strategizing enabled the NATO forces to accomplish their goal of protecting countless Libyan civilians.
When Governor General Johnston awarded General Bouchard with the extremely rare Meritorious Service Cross for his role, the Commander quickly deflected that praise back to the members of our troops.
“While I appreciate the honour bestowed on me today, in front of me are the true Canadian heroes,” he said, referring to the military personnel occupying the Senate seats.
Whenever I speak with any member of Canada’s military, I echo that sentiment. Their selfless service in defending the principles of democracy and human rights humbles me and fills me with gratitude.
During my term as the last chair of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, I observed the strenuous efforts of our troops to leave a lasting legacy. They are still doing that in Afghanistan – a mission far more complicated. Our government has not forgotten that our Afghanistan mission has been far more costly, especially in terms of human life, nor that it began long before Libya. Some of those military heroes will never return for decoration.
Defense Minister Peter MacKay, speaking at the celebration in the Senate Chamber on November 24th, had a message for troops associated with Afghanistan: celebration will come. “There will be a time, I assure you, that we will be doing something similar for the Afghan veterans,” he said.
“It is no small thing to put your life on the line, every day and all day,” Prime Minister Harper stated, later adding that when it comes to our troops, every day is a day of honour.
I would like to add a heartfelt echo to these words from our Prime Minister: “I am continually reminded that, soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, Canada’s armed forces are the best in the world.