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New vets bring home war’s reality

Cpl. Jason Villeneuve was at a veteran’s function when the event’s hostasked veterans in the room to stand up. Villeneuve, who had recentlyreturned from an eight-month assignment in Afghanistan, remainedseated.

Sometimes even those who fought forget for a brief moment.

Cpl. Jason Villeneuve was at a veteran’s function when the event’s host asked veterans in the room to stand up. Villeneuve, who had recently returned from an eight-month assignment in Afghanistan, remained seated.

“It even took me a minute to be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a veteran,’” he said. “I don’t have trouble calling myself a veteran, but I do have trouble seeing it and thinking of myself that way.”

Canada’s new generation of veterans is made up of men and women like Villeneuve. These individuals put their lives in peril the same way those who served during the First and Second World Wars did and yet, there is a distinct difference in how the public treats this generation.

Afghanistan is a modern, unpopular war, Villeneuve explained. It is a completely different experience from the total war of past generations.

“(Back then), it was us against them … you knew who your enemy was,” he said. “Now, the people we’re helping during the day are the people who are trying to kill us at night.”

While Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan remains a contentious issue, the conflict has helped hammer home the reality of war, the Royal Canadian Legion said.

“It’s right in front of everyone’s eyes now,” said Legion executive director Linda Sawyer.

“How many times do we need to see a casket come home draped in a Canadian flag to value the contributions being made by our soldiers?”

Young Canadians are getting the message too, said Sharel Fraser, the Legion’s community liaison director.

The Legion’s Young Ambassador program promotes peer-to-peer learning about Canada’s military history — from the First World War to Afghanistan.

“Learning about military history … grounds us as a nation. Our nation was built on our military. The reputation we have in the world is because of the military,” she said.

In the meantime, Villeneuve said he isn’t sure how the mission in Afghanistan will be remembered in future years. Whether he becomes an object of the same glorification as First and Second World War veterans, however, is of little consequence to him.

“I don’t think I’m owed anything by the Canadian public,” he said. “I just didn’t want to be one of those people who read the news and bitched about it.”

 
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