A strong bond of brotherhood links generations of military veterans together in a chain that remains unbroken in Canadian history.
Capt. Sahib Bajwa and Warrant Officer Nathan Verhoog of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry know this bond well and are glad to see a return to in-person ceremonies honouring the nation’s military history on Remembrance Day.
Bajwa was born and raised in Chilliwack, B.C., where there is little to no military presence.
His experience growing up in Chilliwack helps him appreciate how Brandonites can be more plugged into military history and culture, given the city’s close proximity to CFB Shilo.
“I think that people in this community and nearby that support Shilo definitely take more of an interest in what’s going on and definitely have a better understanding of the military in general,” he said.
Bajwa was inspired to join the military through the mentors he grew up with.
“I worked alongside a lot of veterans and when I volunteered while going through school, a lot of them were veterans as well,” Bajwa said. “I was mentored along the way and taught skills that have served me throughout my entire life so far. I’m super thankful for them.”
He first joined the military in 2018, and his experience with the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry has encompassed “everything he joined up to do.”
He has enjoyed serving his country and training. Although it has been hard work, he’s grateful for the mentorship he has received from experienced soldiers and senior officers along the way.
Bajwa was first paired as a team with Verhoog when he arrived in Shilo and the two were deployed domestically to help Canadians, he said. They were sent to northern Manitoba to aid in Operation Laser, helping with the COVID-19 pandemic response.
“It was a very unique experience,” Bajwa said. “But whatever it is that the Canadian government needs, we are always on standby for them.”
In his time as a platoon commander and platoon warrant, his mission has remained constant — helping Canadians during the pandemic.
The majority of the population understands how demanding the job is, he said, especially those who give up time with their families to serve for weeks, months and years at a time.
“When the time comes, it’s 24 hours a day and you’re away from home,” Verhoog said. He added that during 2020, he was away from his family for seven months.
The time away from home has a big impact on one’s life, he said, and it can be challenging for those who have not been in the military to understand the sacrifices being made.
“I operate like I have two families, and in one way or another I’m never really away from home,” Verhoog said. “When it’s time to go on exercise or deploy, I’m surrounded by guys I work with every day and we have shared experience. You can find solace in that.”
Verhoog joined the military in 2000. The military has been constantly evolving over the past 20 years, and he has seen many changes in that time.
He first joined the armed forces because he wanted to attend the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. He joined the infantry to get work experience before applying — by the time he finished his training, he found that he loved being in the infantry.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the people that I worked with. It was wet, or it was cold, or you were too hungry or thirsty, but at the end of the day you’ve got this group of guys, all of whom are trying to make the best of it,” Verhoog said. “That sense of brotherhood, that sense of camaraderie that came out of training really appealed to me. I found I liked being wet, cold and miserable a lot more than I thought I would.”
Verhoog has been deployed both nationally and internationally — he was on hand for the 2003 Kelowna fires, has been deployed three times to Afghanistan, responded to floods in Manitoba in 2011, went to the Olympics in 2010, participated in the COVID-19 response in 2020 and aided in the fires that took place this summer.
It took time to adapt operations effectively during the pandemic, he said, but the organization quickly responded and ensured it could support Canadians.
“It was an unusual direction, but we just got on with doing the job,” Verhoog said.
Bajwa said they are glad to see Remembrance Day ceremonies will take place in person this year to commemorate veterans’ sacrifices.
“It’s nice to return to an environment where we can gather, even if under COVID precautions, to honour our fallen,” Bajwa said.
While the community was unable to gather in 2020, they still took time to honour their fallen comrades, Verhoog said. It was a different experience because they were doing it in solitude, he added, but the actual act of remembrance was unchanged.
Veterans built the foundation of the regiments and battalions into what is seen today, he said, and their legacy looms large in the military.
Bajwa encouraged people to wear a poppy and attend ceremonies in person if possible to commemorate Remembrance Day.
It remains essential to take a moment of silence to reflect on the past sacrifices of veterans.
“It’s the gathering, the camaraderie that usually takes place afterwards that changes,” Verhoog said.
“I’m looking forward to sitting down with some vets and sharing some stories.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun