In February 2011, I was chosen to work as an embedded journalist with the Canadian Military on an arctic training exercise. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I explored a region of Canada not many will ever get to see and I did so with the army -- again, an opportunity very few people will ever get to experience.
With it being Remembrance Day I wanted to share a story I wrote on my final days of the exersice. I think it's a story that'll stick with me for a long time and really exemplifies why I wanted to become a journalist.
|Warrant Officer Brady MacDonald|
For ten days the desolate tundra of Nunalla, Manitoba was taken over by hundreds of soldiers practicing Arctic survival skills as part of Exercise Northern Bison ‘11. Members of the Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry travelled two days by snowmobile, establishing a forward operating base (FOB) 150-kilometres north of Churchill.
The morning I arrived on FOB Nunalla as an embedded journalist, I crawled through the tent doors to come upon a soldier carving something into a large panel of wood. In an attempt to avoid the frigidly cold temperatures outside, I sat down on a cot and watched as he carved the letters “FOB BRAUN” into the board.
“We’re renaming the FOB after Cpl. David Braun,” he told me.
During my four-day stay at the FOB I would learn Cpl. Braun’s story and begin to understand why keeping his memory alive was so important to every soldier living on the makeshift camp.
Cpl. Braun, originally from Raymore, Sask., was 27 years old when he was killed by a suicide bomber near downtown Kandahar. In the early afternoon of August 22, 2006 a van loaded with explosives struck Corporal Braun’s re-supply convoy.
Based out of CFB Shiloh, Cpl. Braun had served with a number of the troops on the FOB. And despite being thousands of kilometres from the war in Afghanistan, the memory of their friend and fellow soldier remained.
“We want to keep his memory alive,” explained Warrant Officer Brady MacDonald, who, along with Sergeant Major Brandon Delyea, initiated the name-change. Everyone on the FOB quickly jumped on board.
Warrant Officer MacDonald was on tour in Afghanistan with Braun when he was killed.
“The guy was slick. He was my go-to guy. He was so vital to the platoon. It was a huge loss.”
On the final day at the FOB—as soldiers packed up their tents and began to ride away on the hundreds of snowmobiles that dotted the tundra—they securely braced the wooden sign engraved with Cpl. Braun’s name in place with large rocks.
“It will stay atop the ridge as long as the Arctic elements allow it to,” MacDonald assured me.
The significance behind the wooden board that I had once stared at blankly dawned on me the more I spoke to the guys on the camp.
Whether it’s a forward operating base, or any other type of geographical landmark, naming it after a fallen soldier will ensure that for a moment, someone—now and far into the future—will think about the name, the person, behind the location.
“It’s something that we can always remember Dave by, especially the newer soldiers that come into the battalion,” said Master Cpl. Jody Hartling, Braun’s close friend who was riding in the convoy with him when he was killed.
“When they eventually get tasked to go back North they’re going head to FOB Braun and everyone is going to know who Dave was,” said Master Cpl. Hartling. “It’s going keep his memory alive forever, for sure.”