As the congregation engages in low-key banter, the padre’s golden, cropped hair picks up the sun is a counterpoint to his reddened, wind-swept skin – the skin that defines field-time in Suffield. It is the other uniform and is the summation of working on the land; a complexion that’s accented by flecks of dry skin on noses and cheeks and bracketed by the heavy gauge boot dirt and slivers of dirt held fast under fingernails.
* * *
In as little as a month this cluster of young Christians will trade dirt for dirt, Alberta for Kabul or Mazar-i-Sharif. Even though theirs is a training mission – not open combat – it’s easy enough to envision scenarios where they’ll come in harm’s way. The notion of crusade seems a tired one, the refuge of zealots, and one can only imagine as much apprehension as enthusiasm defines the thoughts of these guys from 3VP.
There has been criticism (from the troops) regarding the relevance of brigade level training when the unit will shortly be broken down into SUV-sized training cadres. At the same time, one of the driving motivations of soldiers to chose this life is the chance to know yourself, meet you limits and eclipse the known world. And so in that regard all challenges serve this greater goal of self-awareness – a quality that some would claim the soldier to be distant from.
The monastic spirituality of The Badlands and combat soldiering come together with equal parts tension and reciprocity. Mud is fought against and constantly undermines the training (and to a lesser degree the morale), the utter lack of trees is a regular cause for complaint but the obvious truth is that the land is best seen as an indifferent ally, that which, if given its due can be utilized and used against a human adversary. Just like the farmers of The Prairies and The Dakotas who chose a hard life and a closer proximity to (what might be called) god, so too can the ardour of physically traversing and confronting the land provide the soldiers a truer sense of themselves.