If I describe him as a mouse it is too casual (and likely insulting) a description which is nonetheless intended to evoke a charming, avuncular quality imbued with a long and considered understanding of this house, its charms and its perils. Warrant Officer Rich Davey is the Company Sargeant Major of Adm. Coy. And will be my tour guide over the next 9 days. The length of his knowledge goes back a generation, goes back to when he was a junior NCO and I a private. We trade names and stories of guys still in, now out; names of the fallen, the forgotten and the remembered. Loitering around Call Sign 8 (the Adm. Coy HQ) a few days later, a passing W.O. makes the comment that the army is personality driven. This truism is something I am counting on as getting thrown in with a battalion of soldiers can be – as an understatement – a somewhat alienating experience.
WO Davey’s seen a number of retoolings of the Canadian Forces over his career. From Cold War Soviet Bloc training scenarios, through Balkans (no) Peace (to) Keep(ing) up to the great shift into front line Afghan combat. I’ve come knocking at yet another renovation, that of an Afghan training mission, a mission currently defined in only the broadest of strokes and, owing to this newness and vagueness, still embodying the combat ethos. It is an army that, though seemingly contradictory, has gotten more affable as it has gotten tougher. Surely the screaming Sergeants Major still pop their heads up, but they now seem to be the aberration. Maybe I’m just catching a very limited view or maybe the realities of buddies dying and getting fucked up has put priorities in order. When such trauma is spoken of, it’s with the casualness allowed for those who’ve suffered and carried on. Black bracelets are worn to commemorate the lost; double-amputations are discussed akin to root canals, as things you definitely don’t want to have happen.
In C/S8 soldiers troop in – mud-caked boots and combat pants – on various administrative matters. As the civvie in the corner I've claimed a chair and portion of table where I sketch, jot notes, sip hot, mango-flavoured energy drink and ambiguous coffee. The civvie in the corner is ignored, nodded at, engaged in small talk, offered more coffee and the occasional baked good (Exercise Dessert Ram to some) but also let me be. And as the stranger who’s taking dumps in their porta-potties, eating too much of their toast and generally loitering while they discuss family business, I am grateful. Some are suspicious, as they are of any outsider who comes pokin’ around. Remnants of hazing videos, The Somalia inquiry and the death of the Airborne Regiment still colour relations between soldiers and those who document them, but at the same time, these New Millennium soldiers are accustomed to a media presense in a way we never were at the Cold War’s demise. In effect there is a zero-sum loss; I am a measuring device who alters the results far less than I might have thought.