Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005
For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.
It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.
In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.
It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.
The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.
So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)
If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.
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