No greater honour for any member of the RCAF

News Article / February 24, 2017

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By Master Corporal George Arsenault

I am very privileged and grateful to have been selected to represent the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the 2016 National Remembrance Day Sentry Program. There is no greater honour for a member of the RCAFthan to stand on guard and pay tribute to all my brothers- and sisters-in-arms who have fallen in defence of this great nation.

The whirlwind started in July 2016, when I was informed by my chain of command that I was being considered for the Canadian Armed Forces National Sentry Program. Naturally, my first thought was, “I’m sure there are members more deserving of this opportunity than I am”, so I did not allow myself to get my hopes up, given the quality of members within the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Lo and behold, within two weeks I was informed of my selection. It seemed so surreal! Then, the panic began to creep in. I, Master Corporal George Arsenault, would be representing not only my unit, and the RCAF, but also our brothers and sisters, who made the ultimate sacrifice to make our country what it is today.

Our week in Ottawa began on the morning of November 6 with a visit to the Beechwood National Military Cemetery. For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to visit the cemetery, the feeling walking through row upon row of headstones, reading the names of fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, sisters, and daughters who rest peacefully in place, is overwhelming. I was struck by how much respect I felt at that moment for my wife. Often, we as members forget that it is our spouses who support us the most. They are the glue that holds our families together while we are away for months at a time. They are truly the heroes behind the uniform.

That afternoon we had a guided tour of the National War Museum. Although I had visited this museum on many occasions, when I walked into the room where the original headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier is preserved, just five days before Remembrance Day, and saw all the letters mothers have left for their lost sons, I felt an even greater appreciation for the position I would fill on November 11.

The remainder of that week was filled with amazing tours, of Parliament, of the RCMP Technical and Protective Operations Facility, and of the RCMP Musical Ride.  

On November 10, we attended the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion President’s Luncheon in honor of the Silver Cross Mother, Mrs. Colleen Fitzpatrick. Hearing her story about the 2010 death of her son in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion was a grim reminder to never take any day for granted. The evening of the 10th, sentries and our guests attended a dinner hosted by the Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer, CWO Kevin West, and also attended by environmental (Navy, Army and Air Force) commanders and their respective command chief warrant officers. For a junior non-commissioned member, it was a great opportunity in a relaxed setting to talk about my experiences and goals with the senior leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces – and even to tell a few jokes.

Finally, it was the day we had all been working so hard toward. Our drill was sharp, our uniforms were spotless and we were ready for our march from the Cartier Drill Hall to the National War Memorial. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for the emotions I felt marching up Ottawa’s Elgin Street toward the monument, with thousands of people lining both sides of the street, taking pictures and awaiting the start of the ceremony.

When we took up our designated positions on each of the four corners of the monument, and assumed the position “rest on arms reverse”, I reflected not only on what it means to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, but also on what it means to be part of a family that is so highly respected by our nation. Every year people take time out of their busy lives, braving the frigid winds and freezing temperatures, to show their respect to those who have paid the ultimate price in securing the freedoms we all enjoy – and often take for granted.

Standing at the base of that monument, representing the RCAF, I realized just how privileged I am to live in this amazing nation, how fortunate I am to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Standing sentry on behalf of those who could no longer take up arms to defend our country filled me with an overwhelming sense of pride that is still with me.

After the ceremony, we sentries were treated to a guided tour of Rideau Hall, including the famous greenhouse (palm trees and bananas in Canada; who knew?) and a formal lunch with the Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada David Johnston.  

Being chosen by the RCAF to be a sentry at the National War Memorial was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The group of people that I had the distinct pleasure of spending the week with had, in my opinion, the greatest impact on how much both my wife and I enjoyed the entire experience.

I feel honored to have been given the chance to stand on guard during our National Remembrance Day Ceremony and pay tribute to my fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms. It was the highlight of my military career, and an experience that I will not soon forget.

Born in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1984, Master Corporal George Arsenault enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces in September 2008 as an aerospace control operator. Master Corporal Arsenault is employed as an aerospace control instructor at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations in Cornwall, Ontario.

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