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Opinion: Canada’s bravest military heroes deserve our highest recognition

David Mack is a Canadian who served as an officer in the British Army with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

On October 14, 2006, Private Jess Larochelle found himself in the fight of his life.

A rocket-propelled grenade had exploded at his military outpost in Pashmul, Afghanistan, throwing him through his observation post, smashing his back, fracturing two cervical vertebrae, popping his eardrum and detaching his retina right. In a way, Sdt. Larochelle managed to crawl up to his C6 machine gun and open fire.

Running out of ammunition after single-handedly repelling the advances of 40 Taliban soldiers, he reached the rocket launchers at his feet. Under the most intense pain, Pte. Larochelle continued to defend the position, reinforcing his company’s otherwise undefended flank; according to his citation for the Star of Military Valour, “his valiant conduct saved the lives of many in his company”.

In order to honor the few who best exemplify the virtues and standards of the Canadian Armed Forces, Courage, Bravery, Courage and Courage to Carry On, such medals are awarded. The highest of these is the Canadian Victoria Cross, which was established in 1993 to honor conspicuous gallantry, acts of gallantry, self-sacrifice, or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy by members of the Forces. .

And yet, in 29 years, the Canadian Forces have never done it – not for Pte. Larochelle, nor any other member. The last time a Canadian was awarded a Victoria Cross was 77 years ago, under the British system, when Lieutenant Pilot Robert Hampton Gray sank an enemy destroyer before crashing in the bay of ‘Onagawa in Japan on August 9, 1945.

Rewards matter. Medals matter. People serve in the armed forces out of love of country, out of love of freedoms, out of love for each other; money or adulation do not determine a soldier’s motives or decisions. And when the shells begin to whistle, the bombs begin to land, the blood begins to pump and the hair begins to stand on end, all the tangles of everyday life fade away as determination and focus unequaled drive the soldier towards danger.

However, the message now is that Canadian soldiers, alone among our allies, have never shown courage, determination or bravery – which is not true.

Since 9/11, Britain and Australia have each awarded four Victoria Crosses. Even New Zealand, which has a smaller population than the Greater Toronto Area, has been awarded a single Victoria Cross. The United States, meanwhile, has awarded 28 Medals of Honor, which is the country’s equivalent.

Our allies make it a priority not only to award the highest medal of bravery, but also to review and upgrade deserving soldiers who may have been overlooked, long after the official windows have closed. Of the 13,000 Distinguished Service Crosses awarded by the United States, at least 178 have been promoted to the Medal of Honor and cover actions in the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, from the Korea and Vietnam, long after the fact. And in 2020, Australia took the unusual step of upgrading ordinary seaman Teddy Sheean’s mention in the Dispatches to the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Pacific during World War II.

If the United States Army, this great juggernaut of 1.4 million soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, has the humility to admit that it may not have gotten a reward the first time around, then Canada can surely learning from its allies and re-evaluating some of its pricing – starting with a review of Pte. Larochelle.

More than 14,000 Canadians agree, after signing a parliamentary petition calling for a review of Pte. Larochelle file. Likewise, more than 100 organizations from a wide range joined the call, including the Burma Star Association, the Dieppe Veterans and Prisoners of War Association, the Métis Nation of Ontario Veterans Council and the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society. , as well as the cities of North Bay, Kingston and Ottawa.

To be sure, Canadians are often uncomfortable about acknowledging having been in the war and understandably have mixed feelings about what happened during the war in Afghanistan. But on the contrary, the current situation in Ukraine has demonstrated that national defense is a very real need; indeed, many of those who cut their teeth in Afghanistan played a vital role in preparing the Ukrainian military.

Now is the time to reopen the case and consider the awarding of the Canadian Victoria Cross. As the Canadian military makes the necessary changes regarding the dishonorable conduct of some of its members, it should also be confident enough to reflect on those who have sustained bravery.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.