Story and photo by Geoffrey Roper
Canadian military representatives and Family members of the fallen were all honored guests of Fort Carson, brought in June 30 to celebrate Canada’s independence day.
Canada Day, July 1, is Canada’s version of America’s Fourth of July, the day Canadians celebrate their independence, which occurred in 1867.
The guests spent an entire day at Fort Carson, first touring the memorial grove area by the main gate, then meeting with support personnel who work with Families of the fallen. Later they met with Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander, to discuss the various programs offered to Families who lost loved ones while in the military.
The idea came from Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. J.M. Duval, deputy commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command, where Canadian forces work in partnership with American forces. Each year, Canadian forces there create a theme for the celebration and this year decided it should be something that honors those military members who gave the ultimate sacrifice to their country.
“To me personally it’s quite an honor. This year, with much thought and consideration, the committee decided under the direction of Gen. Duval that we would have a theme that centered around Families of the fallen Soldiers, and there was a great reception for it, both from the U.S. side and the Canadian side,” said Canadian Forces Capt. David Simms, J712 Vigilant Shield Exercise Division, NORAD, U.S. Northern Command.
Canadian Forces Lt. Col. Normand Dionne, deputy chief, joint training and education at NORAD, said there was an immediate sense of camaraderie between Canadian forces and Fort Carson’s Army Community Service personnel when the idea came up.
“We thought it was a great idea and we had outstanding support from the Family support services people (at Fort Carson). As soon as we approached them to ask them if they wanted to be a part of this venture, they said yes right away, so we’re very, very pleased by their support,” he said.
Bob and Pat O’Kane-Trombley, who lost their son, U.S. Air Force Capt. Thomas O’Kane-Gramith, July 2009 said they felt deeply honored to be a part of the day’s events, but also felt a great sense of loss, reminding them of the reason they were invited.
“It’s a mixture of intense pride and real sorrow, that we’re a part of this select group,” said Pat.
While the day was meant as a celebration of Canada Day, it was also meant as a chance for the guests to come out and see the myriad services offered at Fort Carson for Family members of the fallen.
Canadian Shirley Seggie, mother of Cpl. Mike Seggie, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, was joined on the tour by her husband Hamish (Jim), along with daughter Michelle Turner and her two-and-a-half-year-old son Carson.
While it was an emotional day for all the Families, Shirley said it was especially touching to her clan, who had always made Canada Day an annual tradition.
“It’s so very special. We’re just so very proud of (Mike). We’ve always attended Canada Day ceremonies, even when he was little … it’s just a little more special now,” she said.
Jim Pirtle, whose son, Sgt. James Pirtle, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, was killed in Afghanistan more than a year ago, said he remained emotional throughout the day. A former Soldier himself, Pirtle saw reminders of his son at every turn, but said he also felt a deep pride for what his son did for his country. He also realized he had a connection to the others present.
“It’s just an honor to meet another Family. You know, we belong to a very exclusive club, and can share a story and a tear together,” he said.
When finished viewing the memorial grove area, the group visited the ACS building, where they met Patricia Randle, director of Fort Carson Army Community Service. Randle spoke about all the support services offered at Fort Carson, introduced the guests to other Family support personnel, mentioned the importance of such services to the post and said how privileged the installation was to have such honored guests.
After a tour of the ACS facility, everyone met for lunch with McLaughlin, who spoke with pride about the way Fort Carson and the Army treated Family members of the fallen.
“The great thing about our programs is that they are not just connected with Families of the fallen now, but from any time; the first Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, all Families are welcome to take advantage of our services and are always welcome at Fort Carson,” he said.
The last stop of the day for the group was a look at the Virtual Route Clearance Center, a facility that trains engineers on a simulated battlefield using virtual reality. It gave everyone a chance to see part of the evolution of training, using high-tech tools meant to increase safety and efficiency for the modern Soldier.
After leaving Fort Carson, the final stop of the day was Peterson Air Force Base, where the guests met with Duval. Many said this was a Canada Day, shared by both Canadians and Americans, they would not soon forget.