While Canada’s participation in the First and Second World War has traditionally dominated the way we think of Remembrance Day the face of Canadian veterans is changing.
This year, while paying your respects, keep in mind the young man or woman standing next to you may themselves have served.
They could be someone like 33-year-old Paul Guilmain of New Westminster, who deployed to Afghansistan 2007 and 2009.
“Our platoon lost eight guys. There aren’t that many people in a platoon, 35-40, so these are guys we work with, you can’t help but become friends with people.”
Guilmain says it’s typical for people to imagine veterans as World War II soldiers.
“I do think that’s changing, simply because of the number of young soldiers that have come back. Bosnia and the Balkans in the 90’s, and now Afghanistan in the last decade and this decade, there is a lot of Canadian soldiers and military personnel that have deployed to those areas. There are a lot more veterans now.”
Between 2001 and 2014, more than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan. 158 of them were killed, and many more now live with physical and emotional injuries.
Thousands more served in Canada’s peacekeeping campaign following the breakup of Yugoslavia, and around the world.
Guilmain says it’s time for vets of this generation to get the same recognition as those who came before them.
“I would like to see that kind of appreciation. I think it is coming.”
Guilmain says coming home can be hard, particularly for veterans with invisible scars.
“I mean you lose a bunch of your friends in one instance, that are in the prime of their life. And they’re just gone. Maybe you talked to them five minutes before that. And it’s just really difficult for your brain to deal with it.”
He says supports for these vets are better than in the past, and they’re still getting better. He says he benefited from a peer-assited therapy program through the Veterans Transition Network.
But he says there are deeper adjustment problems, like leaving behind the culture and team of the military.
“They’re your friends and your workmates. And then you leave that and you’re faced with this sort of void… you don’t have this support network.”
He says on top of that is handling the stress of finding civilian work.
“It’s kind of scary. You’re looking at a good career, a pension, you’re good at your job, and you know your job. There’s no surprises, your daily routine is planned. It’s a comfort. So when you leave, it takes you way outside of your comfort zone.”
Guilmain says he was fortunate to be able to take advantage of a unique program through Legion and BCIT called the Military Skills Conversion Program, which allowed him to get a post secondary education.
BCIT’s Kevin Wainright founded the program six years ago. He says it started with a pilot program moving one group of Afghan vets into a business program, and was a smashing success. 95% of that first cohort went on to finish a business degree. It now offers 18 different programs, and has produced 50 grads in the last three years.
Wainright says the key to the program’s success has been taking a non-traditional approach to school credit.
“Rather than try and convert military training into course credit, is we took the entire embodiment of any one individual, so a soldier with so many years and such a rank, and said to ourselves: what would it take to train somebody at a post secondary level to be like that person?”
He says before the program, veterans often fell into a trap of working part time for the military, or being stuck with low skilled labour jobs.
“We will recognize them as being someone who has the equivalent of a diploma.”
He says from there, they figure out what it is the veteran wants to do and fill in the gaps.
Guilmain says he’s proof the program works. He completed a business degree in two years and is now a manger with ICBC.
With files from Shelby Thom