Gary Boucher reflects on military career
Early in Gary Boucher’s military career, he had the experience to work under Regimental Sergeant-Major R. Francis, and he conveyed to his men that they learn every role.
This served Boucher well as he enjoyed a more than threedecade career, that spanned virtually every division of the Canadian Forces.
Boucher joined up not long after high school in St. John, New Brunswick in 1975.
He said there was lack of opportunity at home so many people joined the forces. One of his friends enrolled as a cook, and told him, that no matter where the military goes, they always take a cook.
“As a tradesperson cook I got the experience to see all three sides of life in the Canadian forces: the Army, Air Force, and Navy,” he said.
He did his basic training at CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia and then did his trades training in Borden in Ontario. From there he went to Lord Strathcona’s Horse, an armoured regiment, then in Calgary.
“That was my first initiation into an army unit, and they were fantastic,” he said. “RSM Francis’ motto was ‘I don’t care what you are, a tradesman or infanteer, you will learn everybody’s job.’ As a cook I learned to fire the heavy machine guns, we did everything they did. It really became an advantage.”
While he was there, he did an eight-week Exercise Reforger to Germany.
He was with the Lord Strathcona from 1976 to 1982, when he went to 1 Service Battalion in Calgary. He was only there a year, but for six months of it, he was stationed at the North Pole, at CFS Alert. There were about 250 men and 25 women stationed there. This was just as the forces were opening up to more females in the service.
When he returned he was posted to an Air Force base in Edmonton. It was an interesting assignment. It wasn’t as mobile as his other posts, but he recalled in 1982 when a Hercules transport plane crashed during a training exercise.
“We were working 24 hours, we were called in because we had to feed all the crews, everybody that was involved,” he said. “That was my first experience dealing with civilians, all the city police and fire departments, plus the military side of it,” said Bucher. “I got to see how the Air Force reacted to emergency situations, and a lot of my training with the Strathconas came in handy.”
In 1987 he went to the Airborne regiment in CFB Petawawa, his favourite posting.
“You went everywhere with those guys, wherever they went, you went with them and they were the best. They were so close-knit… when you were a part of them, it was a brotherhood,” he said.
In 1988 he was sent to Iraq with the United Nations 88 Signal Squadron at the end of the Iran-Iraq War for four months. He was stationed in Baghdad and was filtered out to various areas. He recalls one tour to a village with 26 Canadians. Part of the mission was to supervise a body exchange on the mountains between the warring factions.
“That was totally different, something that you won’t forget. But it is an experience you want to try to forget, but throughout your career, you are going to remember seeing these things,” he said.
In 1990, he was stationed in Suffield, another new experience, working with the British Army. One quirk he recalled was the British officers would not break bread until after the Queen did.
There, he was heavily involved on the base, in particular, sharing his love of hockey. This extended from the children living on the base to the community and even the British soldiers wanting to take a crack at learning the game. He received a medal for his volunteer service with hockey.
In 1995, he took over the One Service Battalion kitchen as Chief Cook before it moved to Edmonton. He did his second tour to Alert. While the first time at the North Pole, it was all daylight. This time it was six months of darkness.
When CFB Calgary closed, Boucher and his family were back in Edmonton, and then in 1998, he was stationed in Halifax for his first stint with the Navy.
“I was posted to the ship called Terra Nova, but they decommissioned it before I got there, so I worked on base, and then I was posted to the HMCS Charlottetown,” said Boucher.
While he was there, tragedy struck when Swissair Flight 111 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. Because of his experience, he was called upon to man the kitchen trailer to feed the emergency responders.
This was his final posting and he retired and came to Calgary. But the life of a serviceman kept calling and he joined the reserves in 2000, and they were happy to have such an experienced serviceman. He served for six years In 2003, he had the opportunity to go to Syria.
“I was in the Golan Heights, on the Syrian side. It was the centre points between Israel and Syria,” he explains. “There were only 17 Canadians on the Syrian side. We were working with UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force).
The role was to watch the borders and monitor for potentially aggressive activity. In Syria, he was supposed to take over a kitchen. They closed the kitchen after a month and he worked in maintenance for five months.
“You learn as you go,” he chuckles.
He retired after about 31 years in 2006.
“I loved putting that uniform on. That’s why I joined the Legion because the fact that everybody is there,” he said. “Remembrance Day is my favourite day because right from being a private, we used to go down to the Old Colonel Belcher Hospital when I first got to Calgary, to talk to the veterans to hear their stories. Because I was military, the veterans would talk to us more than others, because they wouldn’t understand. I feel so honoured to go to the Legion and sit down with these veterans to listen to their stories and tell them some of ours.“
Gary Boucher... military career spanned three decades.