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The Forces Were With Us

christine Bannerman in military uniform

By Shawna Bannerman
When I was young, army green was my favourite colour. It was common and comforting; it meant home. It was also the reason my life was never static or predictable.

I’ve grown up amidst the reliability of fluid change. I’ve had the unique opportunity to pan for gold in Alaska, rise among the red cliffs of Peggy’s Cove, doze to the intimidating sound of the Tofino waves, walk the length of the Canadian Shield and journey across Canada three times. All of these experiences I owe to my mother and her career.

christine Bannerman in military uniform
Photo by Tim Potter

My mother, Christine Bannerman, served as a nurse in the military for 26 years. During that time, she was posted across Canada five times, deployed internationally twice, taught at cadet camps throughout Canada, attended numerous courses and training seminars worldwide and, in 1997, she received her Flight Nurse Wings. After graduating with a Baccalaureate in nursing, she was promoted to Senior Nursing Officer and participated in over 50 international Aeromedical Evacuations, bringing ill and wounded soldiers home from around the world. At the time of her retirement in 2015, she’d been promoted to Major, achieved her Occupational Health Certificate and was a respected instructor of Aeromedical Evacuations.

When I was young, none of my mother’s accomplishments meant anything to me. To me, they meant she would miss my birthday, be working on Christmas and wouldn’t be home to spend the summer break with us. I couldn’t fathom the idea that there could be anything more important than me. Now, almost the same age as my mother when she joined the military in 1989, I understand.

“I think there’s a bigger picture. Yeah, I was missing birthdays and holidays and anniversaries but the bigger picture was serving my country. I knew those details. I knew when I signed the dotted line that was the expectation,” my mother said.

My mom also grew up in a military household. Her father served in the Forces for 27 years and, like myself, she grew to be a young woman surrounded by the comfort of green uniforms. She was also accustomed to moving boxes, unfamiliar postal codes and the uneasy art of making new friends. Saying goodbye was – and still is– not an ending but the beginning of something exciting.

“I grew up that way. It was normal. I don’t know if that’s a good thing but it was normal,” she said.

In our household, Remembrance Day was not a choice. It was the day that proved to me that my mother’s career was serving something bigger than myself. It meant trusting in the missed birthdays, accepting the months my mother spent away from my brothers and me, appreciating the weeknight dinners of Campbell’s soup and grilled cheese sandwiches my dad cooked for us. Each holiday spent apart was forgiven on this day, because the importance of it was right in front of my eyes; it was tangible.

“Remembrance Day for me was always an opportunity to remember and to honour the people that gave their lives in all the previous wars … I don’t think about myself being military,” my mother said.

“I think about the parents and families of our young soldiers who gave their lives fighting for the lifestyle we have here in Canada and our soldiers who are injured physically and mentally.”

Though the importance of Nov. 11 remains prevalent, Remembrance Day is a different experience for my mother since her retirement from the Forces.

“It’s different to go to Remembrance Day now. You’re not part of a big group, you’re an individual,” she said.

Two years ago my mother retired from the military and moved across Canada to assume the position of Supervisor of Health Services at NAIT.

“I didn’t think that I could serve my country as well as I used to,” my mother said, with a sigh. “[I thought I could] maybe take my skill set and use it somewhere else, so I chose to work at NAIT. I’m using my knowledge and skills … what I’ve learned as a leader, as a manager in the military and brought it to NAIT.”

Removing herself from the community of the Armed Forces was life-changing.

“I find it’s been harder these last couple years to establish those friends and connections,” she said.

“Because you always connect through people that knew people that knew people [in the military]. Here, it’s very different,” my mom said.

Despite the adaptation, NAIT has been an excellent community to make the transition. “There’s always presentations and awards and celebrations and to me, that’s really unique and … kind of fun!”

I will attend the Remembrance Day ceremony in Edmonton with my family this year; it will be the first year in my life that I attend the ceremony beside my mother, dressed in civilian clothing. Nostalgia will throw a shiver down my spine upon the sight of the green suits that enveloped me as I grew up. Goosebumps will line my arms, just as the uniformed mothers and fathers will march in line. My lip will quiver when hands of all colours remove their berets for the national anthem and I will be expecting the lump in my throat as I sing the lyric “Our home and native land,” because this is it – home.

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