Sunday, December 20, 2009
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL
This year, on the first of December, I sat there and realized that once again the festive season was upon us. As it does every year since I retired, it puts me in a somber mood and this of course made me wonder as to why? Running it through my mind, I came to realize that throughout my career I had never really spent a Christmas Eve in the traditional sense of the word.
Early in my career, I was always the pimpled face kid who got picked for the “Christmas roster”. I remember driving around the quiet PMQ areas, checking the Christmas lights and seeing people through their living room windows enjoying themselves. Feeling a bit lonesome, I remember consoling myself by saying that somebody had to be out there in case police assistance was needed somewhere. Without fail, at midnight, the shift IC would come on the radio and call you back to the guardhouse for coffee and Christmas cake. The shift would end and you would end up spending Christmas Day sleeping.
Then came Cyprus. The luck of the draw would have it that I was to spend that Christmas Eve on the island. Being a “Battalion MP” with the Patricias, spending Christmas with homesick soldiers was quite the chore. They would have their Christmas diner to then sit down and build the traditional “Heineken” Christmas tree. After getting ready to go on duty on the night of Christmas Eve, I had ventured to the living room of Ledra palace only to see that the “Heineken” tree was now standing about fourteen feet tall. At this stage, you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that you were going to be busy. After drinking all day, the boys let their hair down and partied “Army style”. Using common sense and a lot of compassion, you became a big brother and took care of them. Although the guardroom cells would be full, you knew that you were only keeping them in there for their own protection. The next morning, the RSM showed up and when he woke them up, they had quite the headaches and your job had been done.
Then there was the six year stint in Germany. Not your traditional Canadian Christmas but quite enjoyable. Christmas markets, building wooden toys for local kids or being the designated driver for many evenings, there was a sense of close knit community and the job as a base MP at CFB Lahr was quite interesting. Here again, a lot of common sense and compassion got the job done. Although some would throw the book at some offenders, others knew quite well that the soldiers we dealt with had families and to park their vehicle and drive them home did not give you points for the “MP” of the year award, but somewhere along the line, this particular person would find it in his heart to realize that the MPs were there to help a fellowman.
As for the Bosnian Christmas, once you added the flack vest and the C-7, the job was basically the same. However, an incident occurred and it was to mark me for as long as I live. A young corporal working for me had his eyes on a beautiful young Croat interpreter. To possibly get later favors from her, he asked me if she could catch a ride with us from Gracac to Knin. Although it was against UN rules, I did not see any problems with the request and told him to bring her along. On the drive up, I could see that she was beating around the bush and was trying to ask me a question. As she could not cross back into Croatia and knew that we could, she was trying to ask us to bring something back for her. Thinking that she might want something like “designer jeans” or some exotic perfume, out of curiosity, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. To my surprise, her answer floored me. She didn’t want anything for herself but rather it was something for her 82 year old grandmother. As it turned out, the young girl suspected that this was to be the old lady’s last Christmas and all she wanted was for her to have a feast of “shrimps”. Seeing how unselfish this young girl was made my heart rise to my throat. Swallowing real hard trying to keep the tears back, I told her I would see what I could do. Knowing that it was a matter of a few phone calls, these were done and 5 kilos of shrimps were delivered by helicopter to my office the next day. I gave the merchandise to this young corporal, gave him the night off and again worked the Christmas Eve shift. The next morning, he came back to the garrison. While watching him walk towards the guardhouse, there was no reasons for me to ask him how his night had been. Instead, I sent him to bed and pulled another 12 hour shift.
My last Christmas in the military was spent in Algeria. All primed and ready to go home to Canada, we had to postpone leaving Algeria that particular day due to unforeseen commitment at the embassy. As it turned out, somebody up there must have been looking out for us as the particular flight we were to board was hijacked by terrorists and who knows what would have happened if I would have been on that plane. Anyway, this was also another unusual Christmas Eve as we spent it sitting at home watching this huge sand storm go by.
To make a long story short, the point behind this is that the men and women wearing the MP uniform were and are still a special breed of people. Although a lot of people will advocate that we are police officers with specific duties, one must realize that we belong to a larger family and do cater to the military community. At Christmas time, everybody serving away from home all feel a bit lonesome and all react differently. Contrary to our civilian counterparts, the offenders we encounter probably had one hell of a year and most likely dealt with death on a close and personal note. Like I used to say to the “boys”, four basic principles will determine if you are to succeed. Firmness, fairness, politeness and compassion will make all the difference in the world. A gratifying reward you get from living with these simple principles is the respect you get from your fellow soldiers. Isn’t that what the Christmas Spirit is all about? Helping a friend in need?
Anyway to the serving men and women across Canada and Overseas, I wish to take this opportunity and wish you guys a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. To the boys in Afghanistan, “Keep your heads down and your powder dry”. If on Christmas Eve you’re on duty and feel homesick, remember that in your honor, somewhere in northern New-Brunswick, some “crazy old ex-Meathead” is out there dog sledding because he has the “freedom” to do so. God only knows that this freedom came with an expensive price tag this year. As for you “old farts”, I have fond memories of working with you guys at Christmas and will raise a glass in your honor.
Peace on Earth to one and all. Remember, Collectively we can make a difference.