Pte. Jared Skinner remembers watching the first Gulf War unfold on television as a six-year-old and deciding he wanted to be a soldier.
Now 18 years later, at the age of 24, Skinner will have the chance to follow his dream by heading out on his first tour of duty to Afghanistan next week.
Skinner was born in Red Deer and graduated from Notre Dame High School. He worked in the oil industry for a number of years before deciding to join the Canadian Forces three years ago, taking a substantial cut in pay to follow his dream.
His older sister, Lindsay Donaghy, lined 67th Street, 77th Street and Taylor Drive last week with 400 yellow ribbons, getting shin splints and a few splinters in her hands from the telephone poles in the process. It was all worth it to let her brother know how proud his family is of him.
His sisters Lindsay and Jennifer Wells, mother Wendy Skinner and brother-in-law Konrad Donaghy have all marked the occasion with tattoos, with the women’s tattoos having a ribbon, the words Love, Honour, Pride and Skinner’s initials and Konrad’s reading: He fights for us.
A large party was held in Skinner’s honour recently as a sendoff.
His mother Wendy said she has mixed feelings about seeing him go.
“Of course he is my youngest. I’ve always had my children around me so this is a long ways to go,” she said.
“I’m excited for him. I’m proud of him. I stand behind what he believes in and he wants to do. As hard as it is to see one of your children go that far, in those conditions, in an unsettled country.”
Skinner’s father, Marty Skinner, said they’ve all been preparing as a family for this day, but he didn’t become emotional until last Friday.
“I thought nothing would hit me until I saw all of those ribbons,” Marty said.
Skinner, who is single, did his basic training in Saint Jean, Que., and then took his basic infantry qualification in Shilo, Man., two years ago. A year and a half ago he was training in Chilliwack, B.C., carrying packs that weighed 60 kg (130 pounds) into mountainous areas, swimming in water near the freezing point, with as little as three hours sleep in a week.
“I’m having fun even when I’m in pain,” Skinner said. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t look at it as a job but a lifestyle.”
He will be heading to Kandahar, but much of his time will be spent “outside the wire.” He has been trained as a patrolman and will be doing reconnaissance missions. The kind of weaponry he has been trained on is extensive — think of the kind of things you might see in a Rambo or Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from the 1980s or 1990s and you’ll have a good idea.
However, his preparation hasn’t just included combat training, but also education on the culture and language in Afghanistan. He admits language may not be his forte but he has been reading everything he can about the country, its past and present.
Skinner will serve for six months in the 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan, with a leave of around 18 days during that time. He’ll miss Christmas in Canada and his sister Lindsay’s birthday. Skinner will celebrate his birthday on March 1 over there. He said the thing he’ll miss the most in Canada is his family.