The Cold War was ongoing when Chris Upsdell joined the military.
Growing up in a British Columbia fishing village, Upsdell signed up for the Canadian Armed Forces when he graduated from high school in 1988.
“I didn’t do particularly well in high school and I didn’t really want to be a fisherman or a logger,” the Red Deer veteran explained.
“Originally when I joined, you would sign up three years. I figured I’ll learn a trade and then if I didn’t want to stay I wouldn’t have to. But then I ended up doing 17 years.”
Upsdell became a radio operator in the military.
“When I joined the Cold War was still on. I can remember the canteen at work, behind the door, there was a big poster that said, ‘Kill a commie for mommy.’ They were still the enemy. I was trained to fight the Soviets. But that changed early on in my career.”
Throughout his career, Upsdell was posted in a few places in Canada, including Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. He also did a couple of overseas tours.
“They used to do a big exercise every fall in Germany,” he said when recalling his early experiences in the military.
“All of the NATO forces would go on exercise at the same time, so it’d be us, the British, the West Germans, the French, the Americans and the Warsaw pack forces. It was a real eye-opener,” he said.
“As a radio operator you’d carry codes, so they’d give us a white phosphorus grenade – if you’re captured, you drop it on the codes and it burns your radio and everything. We’d be on exercise in Ontario, and they’d give us a peanut butter jar as our pretend grenade.
“When I was in Germany, they issued us an actual white phosphorus grenade. I thought, ‘We’re not messing around here.’ Everyone would say if World War III would start, it would happen here because everyone is dressed up and ready to go.”
During a tour in Bosnia in the early 2000s, Upsdell was injured.
“I stayed in the army for a few years after that injury. I didn’t get released until I was doing my clearance work to go to Afghanistan. The doctor who was supposed to sign off my forms said, ‘Well you’ve got this bad knee from your injury,’” Upsdell said.
Upsdell was officially released from the military in 2006. Following his release, Upsdell ended up at Red Deer College in the old disability and community studies program. He has been working at Employment Placement and Support Services since graduating.
“I guess I keep getting careers where I’m still around for a long time,” said Upsdell, who is now 50 years old.
Remembrance Day is a special day for all veterans, Upsdell noted.
“Quite often your thoughts go the people who came before you,” he said.
“I can remember being in Kingston, Ont., I was on the cenotaph guard (on Remembrance Day), it was snowing with wind blowing off of Lake Ontario. I was just about frozen solid, but you couldn’t let yourself feel bad at all because you keep thinking about the guys in the trenches during the First World War.”
Remembrance Day also reminds Upsdell of the friends who are now gone, he added.
“You think of your friends and the importance of what the day means to everybody. Somebody has to carry on this tradition and let people know our freedom wasn’t free. We had to fight for it,” he said.