It was a full house at the Atlantic Maple Leaf Newfoundland & Labrador Tribute Dinner to benefit military personnel and their families Thursday night. The St. John’s Convention Centre was filled with men and women in uniform. Outside, military vehicles lined the side of the road with soldiers on hand to give tours. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band provided a fitting soundtrack for a night meant to take care of the people and families of people who serve to take care of their country.
To raise money, there was an auction and raffle of donated items that varied from trips to an elegant dinner for ten. A series of painted military helmets, each crafted by a different artist, drew a lot of attention from admirers and bidders. One sold for more than $3,000.
But the message was as important as the money raised. Among the many speakers was Warrant Officer Sheldon Herritt who told his story of serving in Afghanistan. On the 20th of March, 2007, Herritt was investigating a possible IED with a trained dog when the dog set the device off and both man and animal sustained major injuries.
“It felt like a giant baseball bat hitting me,” Herritt said.
Both Herritt and the dog survived and while Herritt’s story should have ended with him going home for proper treatment, he moved to stay and finish his deployment with his fellow troops, despite the extra pain and risk that would mean. He said his story is a common one and that the mistake people make is when they see an injured soldier, they concentrate on the word injured. A soldier, wounded or not, is always a soldier first, Herritt said.
“They will do whatever it takes to soldier on.”
That dedication comes with risk and a price for many soldiers, though, and guest speaker retired general Rick Hillier was there to celebrate the event that was helping soldiers and their families cover that price in some way.
“The men and women who serve in uniform from Newfoundland have a higher percentage in the armed forces than any other province based on population,” he said.
Hillier pointed out that when a war ends, another begins; the war back home to ensure veterans are looked after properly is just starting.
“Tonight what we see is the province of Newfoundland stepping up to actually serve them for perhaps one of the few times in history,” he said.
While Canada does a reasonably good job of looking after veterans when they come home, Hillier said it isn’t solely the job of the federal government to ensure veterans are looked after but the role of the nation to do so and each province should stand up and reach out to the people who are putting themselves at such great risk for their country.
“As always, there are needs that are not met, there are voids that aren’t necessarily filled and this is an example where we can help fill those voids and meet those needs.”
Hillier said a single soldier who suffers extreme post traumatic stress disorder would need care and support for the rest of their lives, putting a lot of burden on families. “People like this here tonight help show those individuals that they are not alone. I think that’s incredible,” Hillier said.
While the total raised wasn’t calculated by press time, it was well into the tens of thousands of dollars.