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Thank you for your service

As my posting at the Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario was coming to an end, I patiently waited for my new orders to arrive. Until then, it was business as usual.

I loved working in a medical environment, and I had a hunger to learn as much as I could. My administrative and triage duties gave me a foundation of experience that would last me a lifetime.

Then one day my orders arrived. It looked like I was headed up — to Canadian Forces Station Alert, Canada’s most northern point.

They needed medics up there, and my name came up as a candidate. When my commanding officer presented me with the news, I was underwhelmed. I asked him what my options were; I had two. I could either pack up my stuff, take a two-week leave and then catch a ride north on a military transport, or I could resign from the Royal Canadian Air Force and walk away with a great education and an honorable release.

Having been raised in Montreal and living there for the first 25 years of my life, I was fed up with long, dark, freezing-cold winters. I was done with driving on icy roads, that is if you can find your car and dig it out with hopes that the frozen oil wouldn’t prevent the engine from starting. I remember having to heat up my car key with my Zippo in order to open the frozen locks.

The more I thought about it, the easier the decision became. I took the release and all the benefits that came with it. I wouldn’t have to spend six months in the Arctic, looking over my shoulder for rouged polar bears. I was now an RCAF vet, living in southern Ontario, looking for a job. The year was 1981.

As I reflect back over the years that brought me to where I am today, my military pride is as strong now as it was 40 years ago.

As a child I spent hours studying my dad’s WWII photo albums. Little did I know that those pictures would mean so much to me. My dad was a sergeant major in the Canadian Army. His dad ran away at 16 and enlisted into the Royal Navy. I had no idea how significant the military would become during my later years.

My father-in-law was an American pilot who was too young and lacked the higher education required to join the newly created Army Air Corp at the beginning of WWII. So he signed up with the Royal Air Force, flew Hurricanes in the South Pacific as a fighter pilot and ended up being shot down during the Japanese invasion on Java. He survived 3-1/2 years as a POW, or as he called it, “Being a guest of the Peoples of Japan.” Those were hard years.

His oldest son (Kerry’s brother, my brother-in-law) joined the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam years, and luckily spent his service time learning a trade, avoiding the jungles of Southeast Asia. Kerry’s sister married a man who also did his tour with the U.S.A.F.

My stepsons, Nicholas and Justin, also donned the U.S.A.F. blues. Justin, our oldest, was seeking direction as he entered his last year of high school. With the influence of his grandfather’s fighter pilot stories, along with a little financial incentive (bribe) from me and his mom, he quickly realized that there was a lot of opportunity for him to allow Uncle Sam to help him find his way.

Justin ended up doing a full 20 years before retiring with a bachelor’s degree and an in-demand trade in histology. His son Brandon (our grandson) is now contemplating getting his advanced degree first then enlisting into the U.S.A.F.

Our youngest, Nicholas, followed his brother’s footsteps — or I should say the family footsteps — when he finished high school, went straight to the U.S.A.F. recruiter and let Uncle Sam help him decide what he was to do with his life. After two tours (eight years), Nick left the Air Force and started working as private contractor for the military while completing his education. Today he has a master’s degree in computer science and continues to work behind the scenes protecting you and I, and our military.

The icing on the cake came when my niece Ayanna joined the Navy. She is now posted in Japan, helping to keep an eye on things in that part of the world.

So, if I see you walking down the street, don’t be surprised if I look at your hat or pin or other military insignia, and pridefully say what I say to so many that I love. “Thank you for your service!” I mean it.

Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.

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