After 33 years of service, Lt. Col Rick O’Neill attended Centennial College for its annual Remembrance Day celebration to speak about his experience in Afghanistan.
The Remembrance Day ceremony at the Story Arts Centre was held to remember and honour Canadian forces members who have died in the line of duty during wartime.
“In World War I we were still, and are still, part of the Commonwealth, but we didn’t even see ourselves as a country,” O’Neill said. “World War I is where Canada became a nation.”
An honoured guests at the ceremony, O’Neill had been part of the Canadian Army who did four tours of duty in Afghanistan and is now a residential program officer at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.
O’Neill grew up in Windsor, Ont. After graduating from the University of Windsor, he moved to Toronto to work for Ford Motor Company’s finance department.
During his speech at the ceremony, he recalled “looking out the window and asking myself if I needed to find a profession instead of a job.”
He decided to enlist in the Canadian Army and found his way to British Columbia for training, and later moved to Saint-Jean, Que. for language and logistics training.
‘What we achieved’
“I have got a unique experience being part of two large rotations in Afghanistan,” O’Neill said. “I got to see the transformation from really Civil War Afghanistan in 2003 to some of the improvements.
“You can see that improvement 10 years later and I do like to reflect back and keep things in perspective on what we may have achieved, not just what we did not achieve,” O’Neill said. “Not only as Canadians but the coalition in general.”
O’Neill also wanted to highlight the efforts of Afghan forces to build a stronger country.
“Most importantly, the Afghan National Forces whether police forces, security forces, the amount of blood and treasure they put into improving their country as well,” O’ Neill said, referring to the sacrifices involved in fighting to protect Afghanistan.
O’Neill took a moment at the ceremony to remember and honour a colleague who was killed in action.
“On a day like this, especially, I had one close colleague that I worked with, who on his very first tour when he was going over on a reconnaissance was killed in an IIED accident,” O’Neill said. “I think a lot about him and his family at a time like this.”
Remembrance Day will mark the courage and sacrifice of all fallen soldiers who went out to defend their nation proudly and honourably.
“I really think back to the number of times going out to say farewell and honour the soldiers,” O’ Neil said. “They were making their final journey home wherever that may have been.”