Wednesday, January 13, 2010


When I reached the “Outpost” the other day, let’s just say that I was glad to see the old log cabin appear through the white-out. Safe at “Second Base”, I knew we were going to be there for a stint so I decided to unhitch the dogs and allow them to run loose. These surroundings were unfamiliar to most of them so best let them sniff around to see if these rustic if not primitive accommodations met with their approval. While dealing with the frozen snaps on the gangline with my bare hands, I couldn’t but run this ever present phrase through my head, “Yes my friend, you’re a lucky man”.

I wasn’t being cynical when I was repeating these words to myself nor did it have anything to do with the fact that we had made it to destination under such adverse conditions. You have to understand that when I took off that sunny morning, the weather was fine and I didn’t expect any real headaches along the way during this routine twenty (20) mile “long range patrol”. I had something on my mind thus needed some fresh air and some serious alone time to think things out. You see, three (3) days prior, I had just been tempted by an old friend of mine, working for Exxon Mobile, with a job proposal (six figure salary, may I add) in Papua, New-Guinea. With the recession and us running a “feast or famine” type of business, I must admit that the offer was more than attractive. So here I was once again being canvassed to get back in the security game and I have to admit, it kind of stroked my ego just fine, thank you. Only, I couldn’t figure out the sudden interest. It sure wasn’t for my “savoir faire” of the technical world. To me, a “Blackberry” was not a cell phone but a small sour fruit and close cousin to the “Raspberry”. High speed had nothing to do with my internet but instead was something I did, traveling down hill at twenty (20) MPH with my dog team. It sure wasn’t because I was up to date with directives and procedures as things had changed drastically in the last fifteen (15) years and terrorism wasn’t an issue with me in the backwoods of New-Brunswick. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it till I read Lloyd’s comments. “The company needs people like you that can get the job done.” Then it hit me. This guy and I had had a long working relationship in the military and this was to be a basic translation of “I owe you one, Buddy. Now let me return you the favor.” What my friend had not realized was the fact that I was like “Wayne Gretzky”. I had at one point been at the top of my game but when I hung up the skates, I hung them up for good and moved on.

Nonetheless, the offer had to be weighed then appraised and this seemed like a good time to do one of those “Year in Review” exercises. I walked in my “Home away from Home” and as normal, I stuffed the oversized wood stove with newspaper and dry kindling and got it going in a flash. I estimated that I’d be here for a few hours so I put in the good stuff. Two pieces of seasoned Maple hardwood were shoved down this black monster’s throat and it didn’t take long for it to start digesting them and throw some heat. Through my sister Michelle, I had inherited an old armchair that had belonged to one of my great-grandfather at one time. With its chewed up legs and ducked taped armrest, it wasn’t much to look at. To make matters worse, while it sat on the porch of the “Bunkhouse” for a couple of years, the dogs had used it to mark their territory. By now, I think you can get a clear picture as to where it should have gone. Fortunately for the “vintage” chair, the garbage man worked alone and it was against his mandate to pick up heavy things by himself and throw them in the back of the truck. Also because of its origins, it sort of had some sentimental values as I had fond memories of my Grandfather “Leboeuf” and remember seeing this spiritual man sitting in it with his “Rosary beads” praying for eternal salvation. Yes, I was having a hard time getting rid of that chair. For these reasons and the fact that the one hundred year old indentation in the cushion of the seat fit my “touche” perfectly and guess what. It had that “je ne sais quoi” formula that made it the most comfortable thing I ever sat on. Add to that, my putting my feet up on the coffee table by the roaring fire and you had a perfect combination of a place where you can sit down and do some serious thinking.

For a lot of people, 2009 will go down in history as the worst year seen in the financial markets since the great depression of the “dirty thirties”. It would also be the year that the Canadian Forces took the worst amount of casualties in Afghanistan. Now if you were to consider the so many factors associated with these two events then you would come up with a different prognostic than what our politicians are trying to feed us.

For the recession, one simply has to look at a few basic things… The hard working individual that has been unemployed for the last year, what’s he supposed to do when his benefits run out and he still hasn’t found a job. I guess he’s got two choices. Either, he goes on welfare or looks for a “minimum salary” job. And that could be a huge problem for the North American work force. We are extremely spoiled and not ready to make the sacrifices needed to help turn this economy around. In a lot of instances, it’s not because we are not willing to come in at $10.00 an hour but it’s because we have no choice. We have lived for the longest time, way beyond our means and our credit cards are “maxed” out. Consequently, we need that $27.00 an hour salary just to come up with the minimum monthly payments to our financial commitments. When the power of your dollar can only cover some of interest rates of what you owe then you know that you’re in a world of hurt. Even sadder is the fact that the huge corporations have seen the writings on the wall for a long time and have moved their plants somewhere in Asia where the labor force is way cheaper. There is something wrong with this picture when “GE” can produce and ship five Asian toasters to your local Canadian Tire for the same price as the toaster built by “Black & Decker” here in Canada - Same building process, similar materials but a huge difference in salaries.

Next you only have to look at our North American Auto industry and really see where the joke lies. Where the rest of the world has adapted to driving sub-compacts, we are still producing these obsolete dinosaurs called full sized pick-ups and SUVs. Please don’t get me wrong. The three big auto makers are quite aware of the situation but to re-tool and be able to compete in the small vehicle market is a tremendous financial challenge that will take at least five years to turn around. Add to that trying to convince their employees to take a drastic cut in salary and you have a recipe for disaster. And to think that our combined governments forked out billions of dollars just so that a “select few” could keep their “Toys for Big Boys” in the backyard. Yes, I’m a lucky man. I’m lucky in that we went through our own personal financial crisis in 2001 and somehow managed to stay afloat. Now instead of driving a $60,000.00 fandangle top of the line fancy living room on wheels, I drive an old beat up Suzuki Samurai that has maybe cost me $6000.00 to keep on the road over the years. It’s not that warm in the winter (the Japanese still need to improve on their heater technology) but it’s paid for. What’s nice about it is that the only financial commitment that I have towards it is to keep gas in it and even here there’s an added bonus. It’s cheap to run.

The other stressful thing that a lot of those unemployed people have on their mind right now is where the hell are they supposed to get the money to keep their mortgage going?” Here again, I consider myself a lucky man. Our property is paid for and the only thing that I have to worry about is to come up with the money to pay for the property taxes. So far this has not stopped me from sleeping as something good always comes up my way and I always seem to be able to manage to squeeze by. So to draw a conclusion to all of this, I would venture to say that although our lifestyle is not an extravagant one, contrary to many of our friends and neighbors, Fran and I can stay home and enjoy ourselves. At 52 years old, not too many can afford to live the “good life” and that in itself is worth millions.

Coming back to the recession, well we’ll see what happens. I personally think that it hasn’t gone full circle and it’s just an unavoidable conclusion of a long cycle of over saturating the markets with products. There is only room for so many TVs and computers in this world and only the companies with a solid bottom line will survive and outlive the competition. For us in Canada, well… The Conservative Government once again prorogued Parliament so we shouldn’t expect miracles coming from our elected members in the next little while. They’re too busy fighting amongst themselves and don’t seem to have time to sit down and come up with possible solutions to this financial fiasco. The present direction taken, copying the “quick fixer upper” methods of our American neighbors is not necessarily a sign of leadership. But I guess it’s better than nothing as like for most of us, this catastrophic economic episode is way beyond comprehension and they’re also at a loss. This present situation is far from over and I would dare to say that it’s only the “tip of the iceberg” and just like that big chunk of ice, it’s going to take years before it goes away. Time will tell and if one was to look for the “magic bullet”, I guess the secret to a winning combination would be to downsize and have very little to no “overhead”.

As for the war in Afghanistan, it’s sad that Canada has to trade human lives so that its people can keep themselves fed but that’s the price to pay if we are to uphold our NATO commitment. This is a totally separate subject matter, one that I will not tackle today. However, what does need to be addressed is the fact that during the last eight (8) years, we the allied troops, have been adapting to this new scenario of guerilla warfare quite well. This is fine and dandy but the other side has also evolved. On the battlefield, both sides are better equipped. While the insurgents are walking around with brand new “Kalishnikovs”, the Afghan Army has and is being supplied with new uniforms and of course the latest version of the legendary Colt “M-16” rifle. While the good side is coming up with “state of the art” solutions to protect its soldiers, the other side keeps coming up with more sophisticated ways to create more destructive bombs. In the latest phase of this conflict, we are seeing an added 30,000 + American Marines being deployed in “Taliban” heartland. Meanwhile, this threat called Al-Quaeda is managing quite fine to match the number of boots on the ground and for some reason is still capable of recruiting able naïve men from all over the world.

There is no solution in sight and no expert out there that can predict the outcome. The only thing that is for sure is that somebody somewhere is again filling his greedy pockets, supplying the “Military Machine”. What’s even more flagrant is that this escalation of force continues to grow and has gone way beyond that theater of war. Ten years ago, you would never hear of Muslim Fundamentalists or for that matter, Christian Fundamentalists. But now, both groups are there, “digging in” and promoting their own versions of what the new world order should be. Listening to either side, you can’t but see that somewhere some evil unknown force is advocating hatred and using people’s religious beliefs as a means to manipulate the masses so to promote its own agenda. At the end of the day, take religion out of the equation and you’ll see that the flames on both sides will most likely extinguish themselves. Whatever happened to the old proverb “Live and let live”. Are we past the point where we forgot that the blood that runs through everybody’s veins is red? Do we despise each other that much that if one of our loved was in need of a blood transfusion, we would refuse it because it came from somebody from a different faith? I won’t answer that one for you but will let you think about what you would do under such circumstances. It’s sad to say but a lot of folks these days hate so much that it would be a seriously difficult choice.

Where does the luck come when I speak of this? Well that’s quite simple actually. I often ask myself if I really have the “balls” to go out there and do what these Canadian soldiers are doing. To honestly answer that, I would have to say that if I was obligated because of military obligations then I would. However, I sure as hell wouldn’t volunteer to go out there just to get my ticket punched. Yes, I’m a lucky man because, through a great organization that I belong to, I came to recognize that there were others that served that have bigger health and life challenges. I only have to go back and look at the photos of when “VETERANS CANADA” patched this reservist from Sudbury, a Cpl William “Bill” Kerr. He was one of those fine young man that went out there on a second tour of duty and get this of his own “free will” and got blown up by an IED while on foot patrol. Yes, I’m a lucky man because when I compare my so-called traumas to his, mine don’t even rate in comparison. You have to understand – Cpl Kerr survived the ordeal but lost both his legs and part of his left arm. So when I’m out there running behind my sled and complaining that my arthritis hurts, I only have to close my eyes and picture this soldier confined to that wheelchair for the rest of his life. You know, for some reason his image gives me the courage to continue on. For that, “Bill”, I thank you wholeheartedly. I thank you for what you have done for your country and I thank you the inspiration that you give me on a daily basis. In my case, my friend, your sacrifices are well recognized and your efforts did not go unnoticed. As a small token of my appreciation, I will wear the round “Afghanistan/Some gave all” patch on my favorite parka. While traveling on the Racing Circuit this winter, if someone asks, rest assured that I’ll proudly tell them your story and how it helps me get through “the day”.

Another thing this year that made me realize that I was a lucky man was the certain revelations that I discovered of my Bosnian tour. Although the “Boyz” and I saw our share of military atrocities, we were lucky that we did our tour when we did. I guess you could say that if there was any good time to go to a war zone, Oct 93 – Apr 94 was probably the best time to be there. We came in at the tail end of the Medak Pocket massacres and when we got there, both sides had retreated to their corners to lick their wounds. When we were getting ready to re-deploy home and as “Col Zeljko Maglov” (I invite you to google his name) had confided in me over a few cognacs and a box of Cuban cigars, there would be another assault on the border in eighteen months. Although details of these upcoming events were passed on through proper channels back in Canada, neither this country nor the United Nations got prepared for that possible threat. There should have been a few eyebrows or maybe even a red flag raised when the Croats formulated a formal grievance to have the re-enforced observation posts of the “Vandoos” dismantled. What is known now that we were not aware of then is that the “CIA” spy satellites had noticed this particular build-up on the confrontation line. They thought that this was the work of the Serbians so subsequently reported these findings to the Croats. When investigated, it was reported by UN that it was not the Serbs but Canadians who had a series of seriously built-up defensive positions. Knowing quite well that these might impede their progress in the upcoming invasion, they successfully had them demolished. During “Operation Storm”, it is true that a lot of Canadian soldiers were held prisoners, helpless and abandoned in Knin and Gracac but there was absolutely nothing that could be done at troop level. The Commander of “Sector South” had been briefed by the United Nations of the upcoming events and was obligated to yield to the political will and agenda of certain “Western Nations”. To make a long story short, not one of you guys that was there during that sad period of European history, should blame himself for what happened. There was nothing that could be done. I know it’s sad and even enraging to see friends and workmates tortured at the hand of blood thirsty “mercenaries” but the situation was out of your hands. I guess here again I consider myself extremely lucky that I wasn’t in the compound when they arrested “Peter”. Who knows what I would have done to try and protect him. Maybe my actions would have warranted me to end up with the same dreadful demise that our interpreter saw. You see more than a few of us really cared for the individual. A great sincere individual, he worked for us at the “Guardhouse” and was a key player in helping us negotiate many close calls we encountered. He had earned our respect and his place as a member of the Military Police family in Sector South. I guess driving out of the main gate after the massacres and seeing him there hanging to a tree limb by his neck with both his eyes gouged out, sort of leaves you in a different frame of mind. (A personal note to Marc – drinking yourself into complete oblivion in your basement is not the solution, my friend. If you want to talk, get a hold of me. You’ve got my address.) Yeah, I can count my lucky star…

These were some of things I was reflecting upon when I opened my eyes and saw “Vixen” standing on my chest with her front paws and sniffing at me with her cold sweaty black nose. According to the clock on the wall, I must have been “meditating” for at least three hours. I was well rested and from what I could see, I wasn’t the only one that had needed some down time. In complete silence, all eight (8) dogs had managed to come in from the cold and had found a place to curl up on the floor around the warm stove. To see them snore and of course to hear the “Kid” fart really sent the message that this peaceful environment was more my speed and something that a lot of people only dreamed of. The scene put a smile on my face and emphasized the fact that these guys were now my family. There was no way in hell that I would leave them in pursuit of the mighty dollar.

When I got up to stretch out, this created some stir amongst the “Baisley Mob”. They started to jump around and horseplay but this was a bit too much for my likings “Rousse, you guys, Rousse” was the only thing I had to say to convince them to go outside. I looked out the window only to confirm that the weather hadn’t changed much but we had no choice. We had to continue on our way home, to Baisley. I wasn’t worried as the dogs were in fine form and had reached a new physical level of fitness, a higher plateau that I had never seen in the previous years. As it had been strongly suggested by the CAN-AM 30 at the end of last year’s racing season, if we were going to play in the “Big League”, we needed to amend our way of thinking and had to push way past that “No pain, no gain” threshold. So the sacrifices had been made throughout the fall training season and once we hit the snow, there was no doubt in my mind that the dogs were ready to tackle the upcoming race schedule. The Eagle Lake 30 mile race, set for mid-January 2010 would be used as a benchmark so to see where we stood. It was to be the first of three major events that would test and prepare the “Boyz” for the upcoming 60 mile race in Fort-Kent, Maine, in March 2010.

But when you’re a gambling man and are playing “Mother Nature” for the entire pot, well let’s just say that you are up against a real strong opponent. Too often, she’ll remind you that she’s in control of the game and you best be a smart player if you plan on leaving the table with all the chips. However, what she forgot to evaluate in her estimation was the fact that she was dealing with a bunch of determined canines. For most of them, they had worked together for the better part of twenty-four (24) months and the driver had the utmost confidence in them. No, they weren’t the most expensive sleddogs that money could buy but they were certainly a dependable “Go anywhere, anytime” type of dog team. Figuring that I had a winning hand, I decided to go “all in” and called “Mother Nature’s” bluff.

As it turned out, she wasn’t bluffing at all and when the 90 km/h cross winds picked up half way, let’s just say that it made it for an interesting return trip home. The trail was being covered with snow drifts and you had a hard time seeing in front of the two lead dogs. As we had just received a fresh dusting of nine (9) inches of powdery snow the day before, the wind made it that we were faced with blizzard like conditions. I guess, if you’re not a musher, being out there in these conditions sounds like a crazy prospect. Then again, it is not everyday that you get to test yourself against the elements of the great outdoors. To be able to face and overcome this rawest and purest form of challenge sends a person in a near state of euphoria. Call it crazy but I guess this kind of stuff keeps me going. And that to me makes me the luckiest man in the world.

These were some of the conclusions of a long drawn out analytic process that had taken decades to assess. It had been a long time coming but I had finally summed up that a whole bunch of good things had come my way during my adulthood and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should capitalize on my good fortune. Back at the “Trailhead”, just enjoying this simplest and purest form of pleasure of seeing these sleddogs enjoy themselves rolling around making snow angels was another fine example of why I had made the right choice. It sort of drove home the positive spin that my life had taken and for a simple man, this was priceless.

For those who still haven’t realized what the secret to being a “Lucky Man” is, it’s very simple, really. “It starts at the grass root level and works itself up. When you’re kind to someone, somehow you will be rewarded for your actions. And that my friends, you can take to the bank and cash.”

Peace on Earth to one and all. Remember, together we can make a difference.


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