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Packed room, 1,400 yellow ribbons welcomed veterans

by David Meyer

FERGUS - The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 275 gave a hearty welcome home and a thank-you on Aug. 20 to some of the area’s veterans who served in Afghanistan.

The room was packed on Saturday as hundreds thanked Major Ken Stewart, Master Corporal Chris Tonkin and Corporal Kyle Hardy. They were three of five area veterans who were able to attend the ceremony.

Stewart grew up in Elora and Fergus, married a Fergus girl and joined the Armed Forces. “My mom and my in-laws are still here,” he said in an interview.

He is part of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and starts his new job in Ottawa just after Labour Day.

He was with the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) serving overseas, and he also served a tour of duty in Syria in 2005. He said that group’s job is to look after any soldier, sailor or airman outside of the country. He is now a point of contact in Canada.

“When they call home, I’m the guy on the other end of the phone,” he said of his current duties. He has been in the service for 26 years.

He was grateful to the Fergus Legion for its support. He has served overseas for over six years and, “Each time the Legion has been steadfast in supporting my family” and when he returns, it has welcomed him back.

Tonkin was stationed in Afghanistan from January to July of this year. He was also there from February to August in 2006.

“It’s nice to be home,” he said. “It’s nice to get back. You really appreciate what you have here.”

Tonkin was stationed in Kandahar province, and said the feeling there was one of repetition, like the movie Groundhog Day. “Everything was done over and over again.”

Tonkin is a supply technician, and said when he left he weighed 195 pounds, and upon his return, he is 176.

He joined the service in 2006 and is in the supply and support part of the Armed Forces. He said because of that he can serve just about anywhere for the Army, Navy or Air Force.

He was born and raised in Fergus, and joined when he was 30. He did basic training in Quebec, did trade training at Trenton, and served several years in Edmonton.

“I was able to see a lot of the country,” he said, noting that he was part of a fire fighting force when British Columbia had huge forest fires in 2004.

He said people in Kelowna there treated servicemen like gold. He remembers going into a Tin Hortons and being sent to the head of the line, then being told his money was no good there.

“It was really nice to serve in your country,” he said.

As for his work, “I love it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.” He said he is very pleased he joined the Armed Forces.

“Sometimes I sit down and astound myself at the places I’ve been.”

Hardy is now in Pickering after growing up in Fergus. He is part of the Armoured Division, the Royal Canadian Armoured Corp., and he was stationed outside of Kandahar.

“It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” he said, noting he just turned 21.

He is a reservist and said his goal is to join either a police department or become a firefighter.

But he added he has been in the reserves since 2007, and no matter what career path he takes, he “will stay in” the reserves.

All three servicemen saluted the recent announcement by the Canadian government that the designation “Royal” will again be applied to the Navy and Air Force.

Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino announces the royal designation was being re-instated to the Canadian Forces.

That came after much lobbying by veterans and Legions. As a result, Maritime Command is once again the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Air Command returns to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Land Force Command is now the Canadian Army.

“These were the names under which Canadians fought and emerged victorious from the First World War, the Second World War and from Korea, under which they contributed to the deterrence and defence of Europe and North America from the early days of the Cold War,” said Fantino. “These were also the names under which Canadians served on the first international peacekeeping missions.”

Hardy said, “It’s good that they’re being recognized properly.” He indicated many of his fellow servicemen feel the same way.

Tonkin said, “I don’t know if I ever really stopped” considering the services as being designated Royal. He said in Edmonton, it was Army personnel he was with, and it had never had that designation, but units within it still do have it.

In Trenton, there were “a lot of retired Air Force people,” and they never gave up the designation in their minds.

Major Stewart said of the announcement about the Royal designation being returned to Air Force and the Navy, “I think that’s wonderful. I think that’s long overdue.”

He said the designation was bestowed on Canadian Forces by the King of England. The Navy received it in 1919, and the Air Force in the 1940s.

He said the reason for amalgamating the services several decades ago was to save money.

Stewart said he was pleased with the reception he and the others received in Fergus. “It’s very nice. It comes back to a nice extension of our roots.”

He added he has known Tonkin for years, and still knows most of the people at the Legion branch and others there on Saturday.

Yellow ribbons

Stewart was also pleased at the success of the Legion’s yellow ribbon campaign to welcome home the troops from Afghanistan.

The chairman of that ribbon committee, Brian Bielby, said originally the group planned to make 300 yellow ribbons and offer them for sale at $5, with the expenses taken out, and the rest donated to families of those who served overseas.

He said Saturday the branch sold over 1,400 of those ribbons during its campaign.

Stewart said that is marvelous, noting returning service people appreciate that support.

“There are still a lot of lonely service men and women out there,” he said. “They are posted all over the country. It takes time to get home.

“Every community I’ve driven through, there’s been yellow ribbons. It makes you feel you’re home. It’s a comforting feeling.”

 

August 26, 2011

 
 

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