Paul Scully remembers his first day on active duty in the military.
“Your knees shake; your hands shake; your adrenaline pumps; your heart’s pounding,” he said.
Scully, in his mid-60s and a member of the Todmorden Royal Canadian Legion Branch 10 on Pape Avenue, served in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in the 1970s. Early in his deployment, Scully remembers the regimental padre approaching him.
“Do you know the difference between courage and fear?” the padre asked and then answered his own question. “The difference is, courage is just fear that said its prayers.”
“I said my prayers,” Scully said.
Forty years ago, Scully served in a peacekeeping force sent to Cypress, where Greek and Turkish citizens feuded openly.
“It was pretty scary,” he said. “It wasn’t a walk in the park.”
Of his deployment on the Mediterranean island, he mostly remembers the children.
“You’ve got child soldiers. You’ve got boy soldiers. You’ve got a 13-year-old kid sitting behind a 30-calibre machine gun that’s all rusted out. (It) has no right in the world to work, but you know, if he pulls the trigger it’s going to.”
Scully points to the high suicide rates among soldiers. He feels it’s because, “soldiers don’t talk; they commit suicide.”
The Veterans Affairs Canada website suggests the federal department recognizes the problem.
“There is a wide range of mental health services, support and information for Veterans and their families,” the VAC site indicates.
Janice Summerby, media relations advisor for VAC, said that veterans also have a peer support system and a crisis hotline and that veterans experiencing mental distress can be assigned a case worker and should call 911 in an emergency.
Services or not, Scully thinks of his fellow soldiers first.
“We have peacekeepers that we sent to Bosnia, Afghanistan, Somalia,” he said. “We sent them all over Palestine. You think those guys aren’t dodging bullets?”
Scully is critical of the way government controls the actions of soldiers.
“The political attitude to the military has to change,” he continued. “When politicians and people behind desks tell soldiers how to behave in a battle zone…” that, he said, endangers the lives of Canadian soldiers.
Most vivid to Scully, this time of year, are the bonds he felt with his fellow soldiers.
“You have relationships with men in a battle zone that put you closer than blood relatives. I can’t explain it.” He becomes visibly shaken, “and nobody understands that.”
“This is a difficult time of year for me,” he said finally.