While the first night included socializing and settling into our hotel rooms, we couldn’t get TOO comfortable as we were heading to Wainwright, Alberta the very next day.
To be honest, I was unsure what the next three days were going to include as I have grown so accustomed to having the luxury of regular showers, technology and walking out on the busy downtown streets of Toronto any time I wanted. As I was told by my cousin (who’s a master corporal by the way) that there was nothing in Wainwright other than a WalMart and a Boston Pizza, I had to do a little bit of mental preparation to get ready to stay in a MUCH smaller town.
But rather than bore you with a step-by-step account of everything I did during my time there, I’ll list out some of the things I learned/observed in Wainwright.
Always bring your iPod: The trip to the base was a long one, and I was stupid enough to bring everything I MIGHT need for the trip except my iPod. Luckily though I brought my cell phone, but I definitely killed my data during the trip before I found out there was Wi-Fi on the bus. OH WELL.
Don’t eat the Salmon ration: I was so tired and hungry from the five hour bus ride that I was willing to eat anything. When we got to Wainwright, we were immediately immersed into the military world with a delicious (and by that, I’m being sarcastic) meal of rations. Being the idiot that I am, I took a salmon because thai chicken had a recall on their chocolate chip cookies. It turns out that I would have preferred bad cookies over disgusting, preserved fish. Eating lukewarm seafood is truly disgusting.
That being said though, it wasn’t THAT horrible. The packages pretty much tasted liked canned goods and Kool-Aid.
“Hurry up and wait”: This is a saying in the military because while punctuality is crucial to being a soldier, they often end up waiting much longer. We got a taste of this when we waited over 30 minutes for our bus to arrive. Plans tend to change often in a soldier’s life. (Kind of like a journalist’s!)
It’s a coyote, not a tank: If you’re not familiar with the military, you may think that any green vehicle looks like a tank. Knowing me, I learned this the hard way and made the same mistake right when I was exploring the military base in Wainwright. (Thankfully, everyone was friendly and helpful.)
The difference between a coyote and a tank is that the former is a light armoured vehicle, meaning that it is much smaller than the latter. As well, a LAV tends to have four wheels on each side while a tank (at least the Leopard 84m I got to climb on) has seven wheels on each side.
I was told that soldiers can stay up to two weeks in these vehicles during their missions, with short visits to the outside world to go to the washroom, sleep, etc. And with these vehicles traveling overseas, you can imagine that it can get pretty hot inside.
That being said though, I got to climb around both LAVs and tanks. But while I did get to start the engine of a tank, I just got to take a short ride on a coyote…which was a highlight of my trip!
Being a fake journalist from BBC Africa didn’t feel so legitimate when you already knew everyone: To add context, my colleagues and I participated in a military exercise set in the fictional French East Africa as fake journalists. Our purpose was to help soldiers get comfortable with the media. And while I was all for getting some practice of my own in a “conflict zone”, the situation just didn’t feel as real as it could have been seeing that we had just became friends with a bunch of the soldiers who were posing as “protesters” during the exercise.
What was helpful however, was trying to get information out of soldiers who were blocking the “protestors” from getting inside for food and shelter. Like anything else, bureaucracy and rules will also pose as a challenge for journalists.
Infantry: A highlight of my trip was getting to discuss and learn about the types of rifles soldiers get to use. My personal favourite is the Carl Gustav, just because it’s massive and gives my arm a wonderful workout. It also seems to have a powerful recoil. I mean go figure, it looks like this:
I also spent a lot of time learning how to properly use a C7 rifle, which is the standard weapon all soldiers in the Canadian Forces learn to use. I mean, I’ll never get to shoot one, but at least I know how to stand, aim and trigger it!
But seriously though, learning about the rifles made them seem a lot less scary.
Soldiers are just like us. No really, they are: Sure, the military may not be everyone’s go-to career choice but those who choose to serve love what they do.
While anyone who joins the Canadian Forces is a soldier first, there is a pretty much a job for everyone. From public relations, nurses, doctors, chefs and administration, everyone has a role in the military.
Regular Force and Reservists: One of the most helpful things I learned during the course was the difference between soldiers in the regular force and those who serve as reservists. Regular force soldiers work for the Canadian Forces full time. Reservists volunteer their own personal time to serve. In addition to that, reservists cannot be sent somewhere to serve against their own will. They have a choice to stay if they want to.
Reservists can also work full time from 9-5. This is what my cousin does. Some reservists only serve once or twice a week, typically on the weekends.
Food: Soldiers are very well fed. And strangely enough, I thought they wouldn’t be because I just assumed they would be out in the field most of the time. But now that that I’ve seen the types of meals they eat, it makes total sense. Of course they would eat well. The food is provided by the Queen aka our taxpayers’ dollars. It would only make sense if they ate enough to get them through the day.
Beef jerky: Before I went to Calgary, my cousin told me to ask about the beef jerky because he thought it was delicious. I thought he was being ridiculous. But when our Captain, who was named Owen, asked us if we had ANY questions (I mean like ANY) I decided to ask about the beef jerky.
As it turns out, beef jerky is quite popular with the soldiers. Made by a company called MeatCo, the jerky is made with no preservatives and must be refrigerated. A Major also told me that the jerky can be seen being eaten by soldiers while they’re on their exercises, which makes sense…since it’s actually pretty delicious.
I personally wanted to buy some to bring home for my family but a bag cost about $12.99 a pound. As a student, I didn’t have that type of money, but I thought it was especially sweet when Owen bought our group six bags of jerky. (I’d like to think he thought of my question when he decided to get us some!!)
Another funny thing (which is not related to beef jerky at all), is the fact that Owen hated selfies. But thanks to Jamie, who was one of our supervisors, he obliged for one big SOLDIER SELFIE!!!!
While there’s probably more things I can list out from my trip, these were some of the main observations I got out of my trip. There were often discussions of ethics and how the military is portrayed in the media. And while that would probably create a whole other heated discussion, I’m just going to leave this journal about my personal experiences with the military.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Wainwright and was sad to leave. The only thing that really kept me going was the fact that I could finally shower when I got back to the hotel. Having greasy hair got pretty gnarly. (TMI, I know)