AMHERST – He said some major attacks had started before he was deployed overseas to Afghanistan, one of which was the death of a diplomat killed in an unarmoured vehicle.
“I remember my wife asking me, ‘are you scared to go over?’ And I said no,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer Alan Theal.
Theal said he remembered landing in Afghanistan on a warm, sunny day. He was escorted to the area he would be manning and saw tents that he would sleep in. He said many things were going through his mind at the time.
“After the first day, the nice place doesn’t seem so nice,” he said. “In our tour, this was when the attacks started hitting home, started getting more forceful. A lot of my soldiers were excited about going to Afghanistan and they all wanted to be on the last flight (home), thinking this was a great place, we’re here for the long haul. Unfortunately, after the first IED attack, on the first road trip, their opinions changed in a heck of a hurry and they wanted to go home today.”
The realization of the sacrifice became more real with the killing of each soldier.
“On my tour, we lost over 20 (soldiers),” he said. “Some of them you knew, maybe not from your own section, but you knew them because you took supplies to them. We talked to them.”
While in Afghanistan, Theal said he did lose one of his escorts. Although it was not due to an attack, the escort was killed in a vehicle accident, it had the same negative impact.
“We talked to him every day, he was in our tents,” he said. “Anyone you lose, the hairs will stand up on the back of your neck when you go out the gate. It was so stressful, but you had to keep concentrating.”
Sgt. Scott Moore recently returned from a tour in Cypress. When he landed, he remembered seeing an aircraft on its side full of bullet holes.
“That was kind of a different experience,” he said. “We kind of new what we were getting into but we didn’t. We got to where we were going to be stationed and saw oil drums that would be used for the OP (observation post).”
Moore said even with all the briefings they had bringing to flying out, they were still met with unknowns.
“I might go over again (elsewhere), but nothing’s for sure,” he said. “That’s what it is to be in the armed forces. If I can do my part and help out the local people, then I’d go again.”
Moore, like Theal, has also lost people he knew. He said he lost people he had trained who were stationed in Afghanistan.
“I realize that that was always a possibility, you’ll lose friends whether or not they’re in the armed forces,” he said. “To have someone that I was on course with or that I taught or got them on their way into the armed forces is a shock.”
With the increase of locals going overseas, and some never returning, Moore said younger people have become more aware of the need to remember our veterans and honour them during Remembrance Day.
“More so since we started going to Bosnia and Afghanistan,” he said. “People seem to be more aware of what’s going on in terms of remembrance. Before that, I don’t really think so, unless you spent time in the forces. It’s great that people are more aware. Over the last five or six years, the amount of people here for the parade in Amherst makes the hair on the back of your neck go up.”
Ray Coulson, curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum, agrees that there has been an increase in attendance to Remembrance Day services by young people. But said he fears students don’t have a proper understanding of the history behind the First and Second World Wars.
“You’re trying to teach everyone else that you shouldn’t repeat this,” he said. “It’s sad, you can’t teach about history without talking about the people who were killed. They were a lost to the nation. It’s sad stuff and I think that’s why some people shy away, because it’s so sad.”