Saturday, February 03, 2007

The War at Home

The war in Afghanistan is a much more visible reality in some communities in this country than in others. Most of us can go about our daily lives thinking about it largely as much as we choose to. There aren't constant reminders all around us that our countrymen are in harm's way.

Military towns are a horse of a different colour. War and peace are their business. There are always, in these towns, the reminders of the main industry that drives the place; but when it's war, there is a sense of urgency and a pervasiveness of reminders that are jolting to an outsider.

Oromocto is a pleasant little community just a few miles outside Fredericton. Its motto is "Canada's Model Town", and it's fitting, because Oromocto is a planned community (incorporated in the giddily optimistic mid-1950s) which was developed around CFB Gagetown. It is naturally home to many military families, and if you don't wear the uniform, wear the wedding ring of someone who does, or call someone who does "Mom" or "Dad", then you work in some fashion to support those who do. We visited there today, as we do occasionally, to browse their book stores for a change.

The war is very much in Oromocto now. There have been smaller deployments of troops from there to theatre, but up until now most of the units deployed have been from CFB Petawawa in Ontario or CFB Shilo in Manitoba. Now, however, Gagetown is seeing its first significant deployment to Afghanistan.

The town is awash in yellow ribbons - every single light pole and traffic sign I saw had one, and here and there were tidy bungalows totally engulfed in yellow ribbons - yellow ribbons on the door, on the box hedge, along the fence, on the mailbox, on the front-yard wishing well, three dozen tied to the bare limbs of the sleeping elm tree on the lawn - that announced to the world that someone's presence is missed here, missed and fretted over. And that nothing would be okay again until his or her footfalls were heard again in the front hall.

They've been staging "Red Rally Fridays" where everyone gets together and wears red and, well, rallies, for the troops. Last month they created a giant living Canadian Flag. Just to take a picture. Just to cheer up the guys serving over there.

It's a town where, these days, faith is more overtly evident than in pretty much any other Canadian town I've been in east of Manitoba. Everywhere we shopped we saw prominent displays of angel-statuettes and angel-themed things, and sentimental, inspirational books and knick-knacks. At the mall bookstore, the front table display of featured items wasn't full of Valentine's-themed books - those were inside - but of bibles and Christian inspirational books.

As we entered that small local shopping mall, another reminder of how this war is a community war. It is a sign, announcing the times of the upcoming troop deployments. This is so that the community can be on hand to give them a send off; the red text in the lower right-hand corner outlines the routes the buses take from the base to the airport and suggests where townspeople should park to see them off, but not hinder their progress; and the final sentence urges "Let's send them out together, blow your horn and wave a flag. Together."



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