In 1977 I first tasted fear. The rifle in my hands was real, even though it was loaded with blanks. My uniform was real, even though I had purchased it at an army surplus store. The bombed-out house was real, even though it had been constructed to only look like it was about to cave in. The booby-trapped staircase that I was about to climb was real, even though I knew that if I stepped on a trap, the worst that would happen would be a noise and a puff of smoke. I was completely safe, but it didn’t feel that way. At the tender age of 16, I was participating in a Queen’s York Rangers terrorism simulation. We learned how to set up a check point, search a car, and clear a house. And I learned about fear, something that has stayed with me for the past 40 years.
Back then, reservists and cadets were dismissed as “weekend warriors”. Nobody in my class at school understood why I would want to be a part of anything military, but as the privileged son of a well to do family, I wanted to get out from under. I wanted to try things for myself. In the cadets, I learned how to rock climb and rappel safely down. I learned how to operate a radio and navigate with a map and compass. Later, I learned that I was good at teaching others, that I could lead. For the first time, it felt like I was a part of something bigger.
Structure and a sense of purpose are two things that are missing from so many lives. The Rangers is big enough that you get that sense of working in a team, but close enough that you don’t feel like a tiny cog in a massive machine. In the Rangers, every man and woman counts. Every Ranger learns to follow and lead. The Rangers is a reconnaissance unit, intentionally small and fast moving, relying on people to make independent decisions, working alone and together. Back in 1977, none of us thought we would ever see action. Occasionally, you would see someone wearing a light blue beret, indicating that they had served with the United Nations, but it was a rare sight. Things have changed. Today, many Rangers have served and continue to serve along side the Canadian and International Forces in places like Afghanistan.
I did not pursue a military career. I went into finance and technology. But in 2017, I participated in a hackathon. We had 24 hours to create a working software package from scratch. I was part of a hastily assembled team: 5 people from 4 different companies, coming together to build a nonprofit fundraising app. Other than mine, there were few grey hairs in the room. Our team started strong but began to crack under the deadline pressure. As the only Canadian on the team, my job was to ensure that the app handled Canadian charity requirements, something I worked at through the night. At the end of the day, we were able to pull it together and win first prize in our category. Afterward, one of the judges remarked how calmly I had worked through the drama going on around me. I told her this wasn’t the first time I had had to perform under pressure. Thank you, Rangers.