In 1984 he was just eight years old when he phoned home. “Mom, can I stay at Brad’s house for another hour? We’re playing Mario Brothers on Nintendo and I’m winning, killing all the bad guys.”

A year later he asked, “Can I join the Navy League Cadets? I only need twelve dollars, and Nathan belongs already. Can I join, Mom? Please?”

In early 1994 he said, “I’m joining the military when I graduate, Mom. I want a university education and that’s the only way I’ll get one. I’ll get four years of university if I agree to serve five years in the military afterward. And I’ll get paid while I’m in school. It won’t cost us anything.”

That year in May he announced, “I’ve signed up for the Artillery, Mom, in the Army! I’m eighteen now, so I don’t need permission. I leave as soon as school ends. I go straight to Chilliwack for basic training, and then I’ll be going to the Royal Military College in Kingston for four years.”

He phoned home in August. “I don’t know, Mom, if I can stick this out. Basic training is nothing like I thought it would be. I had to drop in the hallway and do a hundred push-ups just because some officer told me to! I miss my friends. I miss you. I miss being home.”

In October he called collect from Kingston. “It was awesome this weekend, Mom! We had to pass an obstacle course designed by the senior officer cadets and we had so much fun, even in the mud. And afterward there was a big official dinner and all the families were here and officers from all over the country who were former cadets here at RMC! I wish you could have been here, Mom.”

In March of 1995 he had a request. “Mom, I need my car. The military will pay to ship it by rail. You just have to give them the keys when they pick it up, okay?”

During the summer of 1996 he called to say, “Mom, I’m not coming home on leave this year. I’m driving with other cadets to Gagetown, New Brunswick for Phase II Artillery Training.”

The next February he called to talk about some training. “It was gruesome, Mom. We had to go into a building full of tear gas, just as if the enemy was really doing it to us. It was terrible. My eyes still hurt. But I made it out!”

In May of 1998 he was excited. “I’m so glad you’re coming to my grad, Mom. I’ve got reservations for you at a nice old hotel down by the water in Kingston. And my first posting will be Shilo, Manitoba. I’ll be a Second Lieutenant helping to train Artillery soldiers.”

The following year in December he phoned. “I’ll be home for Christmas but I can’t stay for New Year’s. Because of the Y2K scare, I have to be here in Shilo. The army is on standby to assist the police in case the computer systems in the prisons fail and the prisoners escape. It’ll be our job to help keep the peace and round them up.”

Two months later he called. “I’m leaving for Bosnia, Mom. I’ll be over there for six months. I’m a Lieutenant now. We are re-rolling infantry and I’ll be in charge of a platoon with 3 PPCLI out of Edmonton. I’ll only be able to call home once in a while. But don’t worry; I’ll be fine.”

Later that same month he emailed from Bosnia that he only had fifteen minutes on a very slow computer to write home. He would be allowed to use it merely once in ten days. And because he wasn’t married and other soldiers were, he would sometimes sacrifice his own time for them to email home.

In May of 2000 he emailed, “I’ll be in Sarajevo for a week. We’ll be supplying a nine man quick reaction force for security at the NATO Stability Force Headquarters. We’ll be in for six hours, resting for six hours, and then starting all over. Today I managed to get into the city and see ‘Sniper Alley’, the Holiday Inn that housed all the reporters during the day, and the city market where a 120mm mortar was lobbed into the crowd on market day.”

The next month he phoned home with only fifteen minutes to chat. “Yeah, I’m kinda down, Mom. My girlfriend emailed to break up with me. Said she couldn’t stand waiting any longer and is dating other guys. She told me I’d better get my things from her place as soon as I get back.”

Come August he was home on leave from Bosnia to attend a friend’s wedding as best man. He went for a long walk afterward with a young lady he met. “We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses, Mom. Her name is Chantal.”

The next spring he reported, “Mom, I’ve just been promoted to Captain!”

Then in July of 2001 he announced, “Mom, Chantal and I are getting married next year. I wanted you to be the first to know. I’ve put in a request for a three bedroom PMQ here on base in Shilo.”

In the spring of 2005 he called to say, “Mom, I’m being posted to Kingston. There are some courses I’ll be taking to become a technical staff officer for the Army. We’re going to buy a house in Kingston. And yes, there is a chance I’ll be going to Afghanistan sometime. You know I want to go. That’s everything I’ve been trained for.”

On May 17, 2006 he called home. “Oh, Mom. I need to talk to someone and I can’t reach Chantal. She’s in transit from Kingston to Tucson, to visit her brother. Nichola Goddard was killed in Afghanistan today. You met her when you came to Shilo—our neighbour with the two dogs. I’m just devastated. She was a Forward Operating Officer, the same job I had in 2002 and 2003. She was just standing up in a LAV when three rocket-propelled grenades slammed into it. Shrapnel lodged into the back of her head and death was instant. I don’t know how to tell Chantal. They were the best of friends.”

Two years later he phoned. “Mom, I’m going to Afghanistan for nine months. I’ll be leaving in May. Chantal is pregnant so I’m hoping I can arrange leave to come home when our baby is born. Don’t worry, Mom. I’m a Major now, so I’ll be mostly in front of a computer on the base at Kandahar. As the Fire Support Officer, I’ll be coordinating artillery and aircraft fire onto targets we’ve picked. Chantal will forward all my news to you.”

In September of 2008 he came home on leave for the birth of his son. “No, Mom, I haven’t seen any live fire up close, or actual dead bodies, just caskets at ramp ceremonies. I’ve been outside the wire a few times: sometimes on the roads, sometimes by helicopter, but there was no engagement. I do see things on the live video feed though. Such as when our guys take out bomb emplacers or somebody firing on a convoy; you see body parts flying through the air. It’s my job to take out the bad guys. And no, I don’t think about it. Don’t tell Chantal. She doesn’t want to talk about stuff like that.”

The next spring he called home. “Hi, Mom. I’m back from Afghanistan. Now I’m being posted to Petawawa. I’ll be a Battery Commander, and if I’m lucky I’ll be in charge of the whole regiment when my CO is away. I have to sell the house and buy another when we move this summer.”

In December 2010 he called from his in-laws. “Hey, Mom. We arrived from Ottawa. Can we do lunch tomorrow? Some good news. I’m posted to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for two years starting next June. I’ll be taking courses there that I need to become a Lieutenant-Colonel. It’s an awesome posting, and I’ll be home with my family for two years.”

He posted a note on Facebook in January of 2011. “I think getting paid for killing bad dudes on a computer makes for a pretty good day at work! I’m in Gagetown fighting off the Puntland hordes (fictitious country) in a computer simulation experiment. We’ve been mentioned in a T.V. news clip.”

After returning to Ottawa from Fort Leavenworth he called home in July of 2013 to say he had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. “One day I hope I can command a regiment, like my friend and mentor, Lt. Col. Bobbitt,” he said.

Then in May 2014 he emailed home from Amman, Jordan to say he was leader of a four-person team coaching and mentoring many Arab nations in a military exercise.

By August of 2014, at thirty-eight years of age, he’d moved to Petawawa. “I’m very proud, Mom, that I’ll become the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery on September 3rd. Can you come to see the Change of Command Ceremony? It’s a high point in my career, Mom.”

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