Like many young boys his age, Airdronian Travis Lanoway often reveled in playing “soldier” with his friends. But for him, it was more than child’s play. His father served in the Canadian Air Force and his father’s father served in World War II. In 1991, when Lanoway turned 17, he followed the family tradition and his passion and enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces as a medical doctor.
Although he was initially told that there were no medical positions in the army, his persistence and determination would eventually pay off as just before starting his basic training he was told that a doctor’s post was open. Five years after his deployment as a medic in the back of an armored ambulance in Bosnia in 2003, Lanoway would be deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.
“The threat level was extremely high. Canadians were regularly killed during missions. I lost two very good friends during the mission; both were doctors.”
One of those friends Lanoway lost in Afghanistan was the Calgary Corporal. Michael Starker of the 15th Field Ambulance Regiment. Starker, who also worked in Calgary as a paramedic, was killed in an ambush in May 2008 west of Kandahar. When it came time for Cpl. Starker’s body was to be carried home on his final journey, so Lanoway accompanied him.
“It was a really hard thing to do because you just lost someone you really respect and look up to. He was probably one of the best soldiers I’ve ever worked with and everything about him. was about being a soldier,” Lanoway said. “I think the hardest part for me was when it happened, up until that point I felt indestructible, and then when Mike was killed it erased that indestructibility.”
One of the starkest reminders of duty to country was when Lanoway returned home to Canada with an outpouring of emotion for the deceased paramedic and his good friend, only to have to return immediately to Afghanistan to continue his tour. .
“It was a great honor and I feel very privileged to have been chosen to be an escort, but at the same time it was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done.”
Although tours of duty last six months, Lanoway would serve in Afghanistan for eight months, as he had volunteered to stay longer if needed. Lanoway will also serve in Bosnia for five years prior to his deployment to Afghanistan. Although the landscapes and conflicts were very different between his two overseas deployments, he said Bosnia struck a chord with him.
“It was difficult in the sense that it’s an incredibly beautiful country, but everywhere you went there were bombed-out villages and mass cemeteries,” Lanoway said. “I was watching kids playing on concrete all the time; they weren’t playing football in the fields because a lot of the pitches still had landmines on them, so the kids learned to play on the hard surface where they didn’t have to do so. risk blowing yourself up.”
During his six-month tour, he would also travel to Sarajevo on a fact-finding mission, accompanied by a German medical team. The team showed Lanoway the status of area hospitals. Traveling through the area, Lanoway realized that a sports stadium that had hosted the 1984 Olympics had become a makeshift morgue during the conflict. Then there was what Lanoway said was a sea of white.
“All it is are crosses of people killed in and around Sarajevo. You see this beautiful city still recovering; there are shell holes in the sides of buildings, bullet holes in the sides of the buildings and all that countryside full of crosses.”
When his tour ended and he returned home, Lanoway said he had a very different outlook on life in Canada.
“I had a new appreciation…Kids were able to play in a park without risking blowing themselves up every day or watching people go to Starbucks and complain that their coffee was five minutes late and then I “I was just in a village that had no running water or half the village was destroyed or lost in the war. Canadians are doing pretty well when you look at other societies around the world,” said he said “You realize how much we have and it’s just amazing for me to realize how much we complain about what we have.”
While still reflecting on how lucky Canadians are to live in a country that has not experienced war and destruction within its own borders, Lanoway also reflects on how Remembrance Day has changed for him. When Lanoway was younger, with family in the military, he often heard stories from veterans of World War II and other wars, although he said it was almost like reading a history book.
“It’s tough and it has an impact, but at the same time it didn’t really affect me, so even though I observed Remembrance Day out of respect for all those who served and lost their lives before me, it never really did remember anyone I knew because personally I didn’t know anyone who had ever been killed in action,” he said. “After Afghanistan, knowing two doctors as well as some of the other people who were killed in the conflict; it really opened my eyes to what Remembrance Day means.”
For Lanoway, there is now a much deeper and darker understanding of the day, where he remembers not only those who died before him, but also those who died serving alongside him. And although he has lost colleagues and friends, he is certain that even knowing what he knows now, and having seen what he has seen, if given the choice again, when would he be even become an army medic.
Perhaps one of the most intimidating questions all Canadians could ask on November 11 is that those serving in the military are fully aware that they may be called upon to pay the highest price to fulfill of their duty, and yet they still do it; but why?
“I think everyone has their own answer to that. It might be the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. I think Canadians have a lot of rights and a lot of protections and that’s not is not the case everywhere in the world,” he said. said. “I think people who join the Canadian [Armed] Forces not only want to serve Canada and be part of this great tradition, but also want to make the rest of the world a little better. »
Lanoway continues to work in the paramedic field, but without his kevlar and fatigues. He is currently working in Calgary as a clinical operations supervisor. He previously worked as a paramedic in Calgary.
Over 40,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces have served in Afghanistan. 158 Canadian soldiers died during the mission in Afghanistan.
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