An old soldier just lives with his memories

Maybe it was only a kid holding the AK-47 assault rifle pointing at Bill Fletcher’s face. But he was a kid whose long young fingers danced gingerly on the trigger of a lethal weapon.

Bill Fletcher with his husky Sierra outside their Westridge Estates home in Red Deer County. Over his career

Maybe it was only a kid holding the AK-47 assault rifle pointing at Bill Fletcher’s face.

But he was a kid whose long young fingers danced gingerly on the trigger of a lethal weapon.

Years since his posting with UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, the retired colonel recalls remaining totally calm as he moved the barrel of the rifle aside and asked how he could assist the young soldier facing him.

He says the incident never has come back to haunt him, nor have any of the other tragedies that played out while he served as an army officer in Rwanda and later as civilian contractor in Bosnia.

“I just shrugged it off. I would guess it’s because I became jaded.”

Every tense moment, every brush with tragedy, was simply set aside, sealed away as yet another bad memory.

“I think soldiers have to do that all the time.”

Others continue to suffer immensely from the pressures put upon them combined with the horrors of the theatres in which they served.

Armed, but prohibited from using their weapons except in self defence, UN peacekeepers dealt with a constant burden of frustration as they formed a blue-helmeted human wall between enemy forces, says Fletcher from his acreage home west of Red Deer.

Since the trench warfare of the First World War, nearly a century earlier, the line between enemy forces has become more and more blurred, says Fletcher.

It’s next to impossible for Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan to know who is on what side of the conflict there.

He absolutely supports Canada’s program in Afghanistan, although the defense aspect of the 3D strategy is not working. Based on defense, diplomacy and development, the defense aspect has to succeed for the development program to work, says Fletcher.

He and his wife, Darlene also look at the Afghanistan war from their position of parents of an army officer. Now filling an executive post in Ottawa, Lt.-Col Bill Fletcher commanded a company in 1 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry during 2006.

You don’t worry, but there is concern, says Fletcher.

Fletcher had set his own path to the armed forces from the get-go, joining the army cadets in 1955 at the age of 12. He volunteered for the regular forces as soon as he was able to enlist, joining the young officer training program with hopes of getting a job in the infantry.

The new recruit was offered three options, selecting infantry as his first choice, artillery as his second and logistics as third.

He was placed in the Royal Army Service Corps — the section responsible for managing the movement of people, products and weaponry.

While Fletcher spent most of his career at home, he was posted to three different overseas jobs, starting with a seven months in Cypress as a Canadian member of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there.

His involvement in international conflict didn’t end there. After retiring from the army in the late 1990s, Fletcher took his skills to army contractor ATCO Frontec, responsible for providing and maintaining the Canadian camps in Bosnia, where his son had also served.

These days, there’s a big yellow ribbon posted at the driveway leading to the Fletcher family home. And if there were any doubt about the feeling behind its message, a smaller version is pasted on the garage door.

Remembrance Day is a time to honour the soldiers lost in battle, says Fletcher. But their sentiments shouldn’t be limited to that one day. He would like Canadians to spend a moment or two every day thinking about those who have died serving their country — including the 133 lost in Afghanistan.

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