Gary Boucher re­flects on mil­i­tary ca­reer

The Drumheller Mail - - LEST WE FORGET NOVEMBER 11 - Patrick Ko­lafa The Drumheller Mail

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.

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