Royal couple's outreach to Canadian veterans highlights new connection

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OTTAWA - As Master Cpl. Jody Mitic stood chatting with Prince William, his young daughter seemed unfazed to be in the presence of royalty.

Perhaps that's because to her family, Mitic wasn't necessarily talking to a future monarch, but to someone more like himself.

"He's been through all the same training. Just because they're royals doesn't mean they don't have to do the basic training," said Mitic.

"In our opinion, it's a brotherhood."

Both William and his younger brother Harry are military men. William is a search-and-rescue pilot and Harry has served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He also did some of his training in Alberta.

William's wife Kate also has a connection to the Canadian military; her grandfather trained military pilots in Alberta.

The royal couple have made a specific effort to meet veterans over the course of their Canadian tour.

In William's Canada Day speech, he singled out the conflict in Afghanistan and the fact that the combat mission is now winding down.

He also paid tribute to the wars that had come before.

"The sacrifice of Canadians has been universally revered and respected," he said.

After watching William and Kate meet over 100 war veterans in Ottawa on Saturday, Cpl. Andrew Knisley said he was impressed by their earnest interest in each member of the group.

Knisley, who is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said it was important for the couple to acknowledge the military link between Canada and the U.K.

"Canada has been fighting alongside the British since Canada has been a country," he said. "It is very fitting that the royal couple recognize that."

For older veterans, the connection to the monarchy comes from the wars in which they've served.

Thousands of Canadians served in the Second World War, which was fought in the heyday of King George VI and his wife, who later became known as the Queen Mother.

It was the couple's decision to stay in London during the war that partially inspired the now-famous British maxim of "Keep Calm and Carry on."

But William puts a new face on the monarchy's relation with the military, said Mitic.

"We can connect with William and Harry because they've been in the same conflict we have," he said. "It makes sense."

But given that both royal brothers have many friends in the military, it's important they maintain contact with all parts of the realities of war, said Mitic.

Both Mitic and Knisley are amputees, having lost limbs to improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

They work with Soldier On, a group that rehabilitates soldiers through sport. William and his brother are involved in similar work in the U.K.

"Some of his friends could be in our position," Mitic said. "It's very important for him probably to make sure he maintains that connection to soldiers."

For military nurse Hallie Sloan, 94, it was nice to see that the young royals were remaining connected to older elements of military life as well.

She pointed out that when the Queen's husband, Prince Phillip, was in the Navy, the Queen moved to be with him. Similarly, Kate moved to Wales with William so he could continue his service with the airforce.

"She is following tradition and that is beautiful," said Sloan.

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