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Photos: Courtesy of Robert Parsons, Jozef Birt and Cody Van Loon

To mark Remembrance Day, the Fulcrum spoke with a handful of students at the University of Ottawa who are members of the Canadian Army Reserves to discuss how they balance their dual responsibilities and their thoughts on this day of contemplation.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Robert Parsons is a communications research officer and a second-year economics student.

The Fulcrum: Why did you join the reserves?

Robert Parsons: I had plans to attend the Royal Military College (RMC). I had an interest in joining the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) since I was 12 or 13. Over the years, my desire to go to RMC decreased and I decided the U of O was where I was going to study, but I still wanted to join the CAF. I became interested in my trade, communications research operator, after exploring different options in the Ottawa area.

F: What do you want students to know about you or the army?

RP: There is more to the army than combat arms, or infantry, armoured, artillery, etc. The list of jobs available in the army and CAF as a whole is long. If a student has an interest in sports medicine, they could be a medical officer. If a student is studying criminology or police foundations, they could join as military police. Have a knack for working on cars? Vehicle technician. Can you manage money? Financial resource administrator. We all have to maintain a certain degree of effectiveness in traditional soldier skills, such as weapons handling, but there is far more to do in the CAF than traditional soldier skills. 

F: What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

RP: Remembrance Day to me is a day where we not only remember the Canadians who paid the ultimate sacrifice in armed conflicts. Remembrance Day is also a day where we remember those who came home but were forever changed by what they experienced and those whose lives war has touched. In my short time in the army, I’ve found that it is very much like another family. Recruits are often told ‘welcome to the family’ when they join. This is my first Remembrance Day as a member of the CAF, and so this year, I also feel like Remembrance Day is about appreciating that family.

F: What is it like serving while in school?

RP: It means I have to balance my workload and my time in the army, just like any other student has to balance their schoolwork and whatever part-time jobs they might have. Schedule conflicts with classes do happen, and a reservist can’t switch shifts with someone like some people who work in retail jobs, for example, can. My regiment trains every Thursday night, and so if I have a mandatory class that runs Thursday nights, it means I can’t attend training those nights. 

F: What does a typical month look like, while serving in school?

RP: The service expected of members who are in school is no different from members not in school. The typical commitment for army reservists is one night a week and one weekend a month. During a training night, we often have lectures on various topics relevant to our respective trades or we are practicing with our equipment and learning how to maintain it. This could range from working on fieldcraft skills and maintaining weapons, to having lectures on signals communications and radio operations. On weekends, we might have a field exercise, where we put the skills we learn on training nights into real practice. A new recruit in the CAF would be attending lectures on basic soldier skills and could be completing his or her basic military qualification course on weekends. 

Jozef Birt is training to be an infantry soldier and is a first-year political science student.

The Fulcrum: Why did you join the army reserves?

Jozef Birt: Honestly, there are a few reasons but mainly I just don’t see myself doing something that doesn’t help other people. We’ve got things pretty good here in Canada and I think it’s important to help people in other countries affected by war and other issues. Also, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a pretty cool job with some really rewarding and fun opportunities.

F: What do you want students to know about you or the army?

JB: If you see me or any other reservist in uniform, I can’t speak for everyone but most of the time we’re pretty approachable if you have any questions about our job or you’re interested in joining. I’ve only been in for just over a year but I can definitely point you in the right direction if you have specific questions or want to know anything else.

F: What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

JB: Remembrance Day is really important to me and I don’t think everyone truly values it enough. It’s a day to remember all those who fought and/or died defending Canadian values at home and abroad and I think it’s important to remember the fact that they, in most cases, had no obligation to do so but rather did it out of their own goodwill.

F: What’s it like serving while in school?

JB: It can be hard at times to balance work, school and a social life, especially with a job like being in the reserves where some weekends you work from Friday night to Sunday afternoon with little opportunity for downtime. One of the hardest parts is accepting that your social life is going to fade a little but at the same time, you’re really close to the people you work with so it’s almost a second social life in a sense and these friendships extend outside of work in some cases.

As for the academic side of things, it can get tough especially because weekends are when students get a lot of studying and work done or simply get time to relax but you learn to manage it eventually.

F: What does a typical month look like, serving while in school?

JB: Typically most reservists go in to work one night a week from 7 to 10 p.m. For myself, this is Thursday nights. Aside from Thursday nights, we work at least one weekend a month and sometimes more. These weekends will normally start on a Friday night where we’ll be brought to wherever we’re working for the weekend and end on Sunday evenings. It can get to be a lot especially if we’re on a course that makes these weekends mandatory and more frequent, but you get used to it and learn to plan your schoolwork around these weekends.

Cody Van Loon of The Stormont Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders Reserve Infantry Unit is a first-year joint honours public administration and political science student.

The Fulcrum: Why did you join the reserves?

Cody Van Loon: I was enrolled when I was 17 so that I could still serve Canada to the best of my abilities while under 18.

F: What do you want students to know about you or the army?

CVL: The army has been the best career choice for me and I will continue to serve in the military throughout the long foreseeable future.

F: What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

CVL: Remembrance Day for me means to remember and honour the legacy of the fallen before us as they served with distinction.

F: What’s it like serving while in school?

CVL: Serving while in school gives a good balance to my life, both are completely doable and don’t interfere heavily with each other.

F: What does a typical month look like, serving while in school?

CVL: A typical month for me would involve attending classes, then on Thursday nights training at the unit with the addition of one weekend going into the field and of course working out on my own time.