RHES students to get lesson on the importance of Remembrance Day

Glenda Janes
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Students anxiously await arrival of soldier Mark Brownell

RIVER HEBERT - Only if a child is able to understand and participate in Remembrance Day Ceremonies can they be expected to support the traditional ceremonies in their communities and grow in admiration and respect for Canadas memories.

It is a motto that staff and students at River Hebert Elementary School strongly believe in and demonstrate every year through their veterans week activities.

It is so very important to pass on to our next generation the knowledge of war and suffering that occurs, remarked teacher Louanne Berry. We have realized over the years, it is very difficult for children to fully grasp the importance of Remembrance Day and the sacrifices Canadians have made to protect our freedom.

With this in mind, on June 18, the staff and students of River Hebert Elementary sent a request letter to Master Cpl. Mark Brownell, inviting him to attend and take part in the students veterans week activities.

Brownell has prepared a presentation for the students on the children of Afghanistan.

It will be cool to hear his stories about what life is like for the kids in Afghanistan, remarked an excited Jessica Burbine.

I think its great that someone, who went to our high school, has gone where he has and is coming here to talk to us. I think is will be very interesting, added Tyler Thompson.

Brownell arrived in River Hebert on Nov. 5 and his busy schedule was to include:

A power point presentation to the students of RHES

A power point presentation to the students of RHDH

Planting a peace garden with the students

Attending the veterans service at RHES

Thats My Boy: A question and answer with Gloria Brownell, mother of Master Cpl. Mark Brownell who arrived in his hometown of River Hebert, on Nov. 5.

That's My Boy

RIVER HEBERT - Gloria Brownell is no stranger to the residents of River Hebert. She is known in the area for her beautiful homemade quilts, for her volunteer work with the River Hebert Legion's Ladies Auxiliary and as the founder of this area's Yellow Ribbon Campaign.

But, as busy as she is, her thoughts are always with her son, Mark and she can hardly wait for Nov. 5 to arrive. The day her son, "local hero" Master Corporal Mark Brownell will arrive in his hometown of River Hebert, where he will be greeted by his mother, stepfather, sister and family, some of who have come all the way from Ontario.

It is a very busy time for her, as she is not only preparing for his arrival but is spending a lot of time at the hospital with a very ill sister. But she still found time for an interview with the Citizen.

What was Mark like growing up?

Mark was eleven when we moved here from Halfway River.

Mark was outgoing; he loved the outdoors, hunting, fishing, boy stuff. He was always eager to help anyone but he was also a little shy. No, he wasn't perfect! He liked to stick his fingers in my homemade pies and he would still do it today, if I let him.

Were you surprised when Mark decided to join the forces?

Mark had been working at Oxford Frozen Foods but he wasn't happy. I think he wanted more for his life, so when he told me that he was going to join the forces, I was happy for him. I thought it was a good career choice and I guess I never really thought he would ever see battle.

Where did Mark receive his training?

Mark graduated from River Hebert District School and went on to graduate from the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. He graduated from there on Sept. 29, 2000.

When he graduated, he was awarded the Vimy Trophy.

Where is Mark stationed?

The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton.

Has Mark ever served overseas?

In 2002 and 2003 Mark was one of the Canadian peacekeepers who served in Bosnia.

In 2006, he was sent as a Canadian peacekeeper in Afghanistan.

How did your life change when Mark went overseas?

A mother always worries about her children but it's different when they are in the forces, especially when they are in another country. You worry all the time. There were many sleepless nights, many tears, many pray and hours spent sitting by the computer waiting to hear from him. My MSN was on 24/7 because you never knew when he would be on and with the eight hours time difference it made it even harder. I didn't want to take the chance of missing him, so I kept it on all the time. And when he did pop in, his time was limited and never long enough. Trina (Mark's sister) Mark and I would have three way conversations that way we all got to talk to him.

Then on Aug. 3, 2006, just 12 days short of his six-month tour, he was wounded in battle.

Would you mind telling me about the battle?

It was in the Panjwaii area. The troops came under heavy RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenades) attack and it lasted for several hours. It took the life of three Canadian soldiers and wounded seven others. One of which was Mark.

When did you get the news that Mark had been wounded?

Mark's girlfriend called at eight in the morning. She told me that Mark was in a hospital in Germany, he had been wounded but he was going to be alright.

And that Mark would call as soon as he could.

My heart dropped, my worst fears had come true.

That was the longest day of my life.

I know I was told he would be ok but I needed to hear his voice. Hours passed and no call, finally at two in the morning, the phone rang and it was Mark.

He said he was in a German hospital and he had received injuries to both his legs and one arm but not to worry he would be OK.

We talked for awhile and I remember hanging up thinking "I need to be there with him"

How long was it before you saw Mark?

On Aug. 10, Trina, Winston (Mark's father) and I were flown to Edmonton to be with Mark.

Our plane got there before Mark and we waited until 11at night for Mark's plane to arrive. His plane was escorted by two fighter jets and General Rick Hillier and other officials were there to greet them.

We were given the opportunity to see him but only for a moment before the ambulance took him to the hospital. It was only a 20 minute drive but it seemed like hours.

Finally we were with him. After the tear cleared, I asked him if he had all his body parts. Then I lifted his covers to make sure he was all there. I think he thought I was crazy but I had seen a photo of him in a wheelchair and it looked like he only had one foot. So I had to see for myself.

How is Mark doing now?

It was a long recovery for him but his wounds are fully healed and he is back to himself.

I know we were very lucky, we have Mark. What Mark has gone through is very personal and he doesn't like to talk about it. But that's OK; everyone has something they don't like to talk about.

When did you start The Yellow Ribbon Campaign?

I started the ribbon campaign long before Mark was injured.

It was actuality Mark's idea. In one of our conversations he said "Mom, you should start a yellow ribbon campaign to show support for the troops."

That's all it took. The next day I went shopping for supplies. And since then I have given away thousands of yellow ribbons. I got permission to put them in the post office, the co-op and other business and it took off like a shot. People were asking me for more. I was proud to see that everyone was so supportive.

So there is a lot of community support?

This community has been very supportive and it means so much to Mark, Trina and I.

The children at the elementary school wrote to the troops and Mark got to pass the letters out to the other men. They were so excited to get letters from people they didn't even know and even more excited when they found out it was from children. The CWL sent a box to Mark. They have no idea how much that means.

In June, the children at the Elementary School sent a request letter to invite Mark to their Remembrance Day Activates and that is why he is coming home because the children requested him to.

I think it is wonderful that they want to spend time with him. Mark loved kids, he always has.

The joy of Mark's life is his son, Cale. So I think the children at the school will enjoy Mark's visit and the presentation he has ready for them.

I would like to say thank you to the staff and students at the school for inviting Mark to come home and to Mark's superiors for granting the children's request. You have no ideal how much this means not only to the children of River Hebert, but to the community and to our family. From all of us Thank You.

Is there anything you would like to share with other mothers, who have love ones overseas?

I understand what you are going through. Keep faith and pray. Understand they are doing what they believe in, so stay strong for them and most of all be supportive.

Anything you would like to say to Mark?

I love you and I am so very proud of you. You are and will always be my hero.

Organizations: River Hebert Elementary School, Oxford Frozen Foods, River Hebert District School Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School

Geographic location: RIVER HEBERT, Afghanistan, Edmonton Ontario Halfway River Quebec Bosnia Panjwaii Germany

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