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From the Canadian forces to NATO, a former Red Deerian reflects on Remembrance Day

Jay Janzen is glad to see Nov. 11 resonates with new generations
Jay Janzen, of Red Deer, is now director of strategic communications at NATO’s command headquarters near Mon, Belgium. (Contributed photo).

Every Remembrance Day, Red Deer’s Jay Janzen’s thoughts are transported back to Afghanistan’s Kandahar airfield.

He recalls the heat, dust, “and the heart-wrenching sight of flag-draped coffins being slowly carried towards the back of an aircraft…”

Janzen retired from the Canadian Armed Forces in June, having reached the rank of brigadier-general after 32 years of service. He immediately started work as a civilian for NATO, and is now director of the strategic communications division at command headquarters near Mons, Belgium.

The Red Deer native, who’s received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Red Deer Polytechnic, has attended many Nov. 11 ceremonies at local schools, is glad to see the message of remembrance passed down to new generations of children.

Even today, Canadian soldiers and their families are making sacrifices, said Janzen. “On missions such as Canada’s deployment to Kandahar, danger is everywhere.”

During his lengthy military career, Janzen served in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and twice in Afghanistan.

“During my tour in Kandahar we lost 25 soldiers over a nine-month period,” he recalled.

Ramp ceremonies at the Kandahar airfield were important for two reasons: “First, saying goodbye and paying tribute to a fallen comrade. And second, steeling your resolve to continue the mission,” said Janzen.

“For me, Remembrance Day is about remembering sacrifice, and a renewed commitment to defend our nation in honour of our fallen.”

Nov. 11 honours veterans of the two World Wars of the 20th Century, as well as the Korean War. Janzen believes there’s a need to continue commemorating these sacrifices, even though the number of veterans from these conflicts dwindles with every passing year.

“The sheer number of fallen Canadians (in the World Wars) and the scale of their sacrifices demand that we never forget,” explained Janzen.

“We also need to remember the horrors that these conflicts brought, with millions of people killed and years of incomprehensible suffering.”

While his experiences in military communications were mostly positive, he added, “I’m mindful that others suffered significant loss.”

Canada’s military’s role during peacetime, Janzen explained, is “to be ready for anything.” Soldiers had been called in to work in long-term care homes in crisis during the pandemic. They have provided water to isolated communities. “Our troops have helped evacuate Syrian refugees, and our search and rescue teams have saved the lives of hundreds of Canadians.”

The Canadian military also needs to be ready to help maintain international stability.

As a founding member of the 30-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Canada has pledged to defend freedom, democracy, and respect for international laws. As there are various global players who do not share those values, Janzen said, Canadians need to ‘stand on guard,’ or our future will be at risk.

His role with NATO is to help communicate the role of the alliance, as well as to help defend NATO forces from “disinformation and information-based attacks.”

“There are growing levels of foreign interference on our social media networks and in other spaces within democratic societies,” said Janzen.

“NATO forces are targeted in these information attacks, and so we must be ready to defend with accurate and timely information.”