Redefining the word 'veteran'

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on April 26, 2010
Modern-day veterans (from left) Shawn Clarke, John Carew, John Sloan and Spencer Barnes have all served multiple international deployments as members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. - Photo by Terry Roberts/The Telegram

The intense combat and casualties from the conflict in Afghanistan are generating a new generation of veterans, some as young as 18 and 19.

For this new crop of warfighters, it's a term that makes some of them uncomfortable, mainly because of the different qualities of the conflict.

The intense combat and casualties from the conflict in Afghanistan are generating a new generation of veterans, some as young as 18 and 19.

For this new crop of warfighters, it's a term that makes some of them uncomfortable, mainly because of the different qualities of the conflict.

Others contend that anyone who volunteers with Canada's military is agreeing to put themselves into harm's way, and therefore deserves to be called a veteran.

"I don't consider myself a veteran," said Sgt. John Carew, a reservist with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Carew returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan last week, but he finds it hard to describe himself as a veteran.

"I got into a lot of combat over in Afghanistan, but it still doesn't resonate in my head that I'm a veteran. Maybe when I'm 60 years old," he said.

Warrant Officer Spencer Barnes, also a member of the regiment, has a different view.

"I look at anyone joining the forces as having volunteered for a service that includes the risk you will be sent into danger.

"Accepting that risk when you volunteer, to my mind, makes you someone special," he said.

Barnes, who has twice served in Afghanistan, said those who have experienced combat demand an extra layer of respect.

Unlike the Second World War and the Korean Conflict, modern conflicts do not often include intense combat between uniformed armies. In Afghanistan, for example, Canada's soldiers are engaged in a counter-insurgency against enemies who blend in with the population.

Barnes puts it this way: "They didn't have to worry when they got in their vehicle moving to the rear that the vehicle would blow up on the way back, because the front line was the front line and the bad guys were on the other side.

"But by the same token, we didn't always have to worry when we rolled out the gate we'd be facing a large formation that wanted to cause trouble," he explained.

Sgt. Shawn Clarke, a veteran of four international missions, including Afghanistan in 2006, has mixed feelings on the topic. His lasting image of a veteran is of aging men wearing their Legion blazer and medals at a Remembrance Day ceremony.

"But we've got guys now who are 18, 19 and 20 years old coming home from places like Afghanistan and they're veterans," he said.

"It sounds a little strange, but I'm very proud of it," he added.

Sgt. John Sloan said while he has great respect for the veterans of past conflicts, he believes he has earned the right to be a called a veteran. He was injured in an explosion in June 2007 in Afghanistan, and was also engaged in combat.

"They never had our training or our equipment. But having said that, we've done our thing for the Queen and for the country and our province. So we do deserve it," he said.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment is a reserve unit of the Canadian army, but has contributed significantly to the mission in Afghanistan.

Another group of soldiers from both battalions is either making its way to Afghanistan, or is already in the country.

troberts@thetelegram.com