(Note I realize this is almost impossible to read on mobile - I'm working on that, though Blogger is NOT behaving.)
A good friend of mine posted a really fantastic reflection about his experiences in the military reflected in the light of Harjit Sajjan being named Minister of National Defence. Scott entered the military at the same time as Sajjan (as is outlined below) and had some experience with Sajjan over their years of service. I'll let Scott fill in the details.
Scott posted this on Facebook and it immediately had a response from people that they would like to share it - I heartily agree, and thus I am doing my part here with permission of the author.
Over to Scott...
My semi-regular Remembrance Day musings ( I know I am early, but I have toddlers so have to take advantage of any free time I have).
I am thinking of current affairs this year. I am sure everyone has heard of Harjit Sajjan being appointed as Minister of National Defence.
While I certainly can't claim to really know him on a personal level, I met and had conversations with him on a professional basis quite a number of times.
I joined the military at the same time and place he did,1989 in Vancouver and was able to bear some witness to his experiences firsthand. The community of soldiers in Vancouver was and is quite small and most of us knew each other to some extent.
It might be shocking to think that at that time turbans were not allowed in the RCMP and were effectively unheard of in the military. Even years later, Sikhs were not even allowed to enter Canadian Legions because of a rule insisting that they had to remove their headdress. He would have been allowed to march in the Remembrance Day parade and attend festivities which almost certainly terminated at a Legion, but not come and sit with his colleagues for the many hours of stories and celebrations afterwards (even if he didn't drink alcohol). I wish I could sit down and ask him about how it felt for him on that most important of days for a soldier to feel unwelcome and excluded from the camaraderie of those who had donned a uniform.. Was there a place for him where he was welcomed in those early days? I hope so.
The Forces at the time were not exactly bastions of individual liberty that embraced uniqueness. Heck, it took a decade to convince them that my desire to have a left handed holster for my pistol (which as a Military Police officer could have been the difference between life and death) wasn't just me wanting to disrupt good order and discipline. Even then I had to go buy it myself as it would have been unseemly to actually issue me one.
Minister Sajjan was one of the first to test those rules and the institutional intolerance and racism. I have heard that he was refused from one army regiment before he was "allowed" to join another.
His being allowed to wear a turban with his uniform was big news in every mess around the area, and universally decried as offensive. Comments ranged from mere condemnation of him not wanting to be "like us"... all the way to threats of violence.
I wish I could say I was a bigger defender of his rights, I largely ignored it as just talk. The only time I remember calling someone on their crap was when someone was making the comments that it was unsafe to allow him to serve because he couldn't wear a gas mask and helmet... I recall shrugging my shoulders and saying that they have somehow managed in the Indian and British armies for the last couple hundred years.
My first impression of him as a young officer (I don't recall having spoken with him before he was commissioned) was that he was cold and unfriendly... as an MP that wasn't too odd of a reaction to my presence so it never really occurred to me that it could have been a result of battling daily against near universal disdain for his turban from low level soldiers, all the way up the chain of command to the most senior officers.
As time passed, it seemed like everyone just got used to seeing him, though in my own experience I didn't see a lot of overt acceptance... I wasn't a part of his regiment and left the military in 2005, so I only have an observer's perspective. I can only assume that within his own unit, he more quickly just became another soldier to be judged on his merits.
Fast forward to a few days ago. He was appointed as the Minister responsible for the entire Canadian Military (what the hell did I do with my life if we both started at the same time and he managed that).
I have many friends who served in the military and belong to a number of veteran related groups. The response to his appointment has been effectively universally hailed as a major victory by soldiers of all political persuasions. One of "us" (an actual soldier) was now in charge. ONE OF US... let that resonate a little.
In my own experience, I can tie a thread from my first days in the military where he was considered an unwelcome anomaly... all the way to him being lauded as a standard bearer for all soldiers.
I feel like I was a witness to history, something that will or should be in textbooks for students to learn in every high school social studies class.
I think it is important to remember that some of these battles are recent, some yet to even be fought. At the same time I amazed at how far we have come in my own time. While it may seem to be glacially-paced to those living it, in the perspective of history it will be considered to have happened at lightning speed... within the arc of a single man's career.
This Remembrance Day I will be scanning the faces of the soldiers walking by on parade and will be paying special attention to the various colours of skin, diversity, and whether there are a few more turbans on the heads of young Sikh warriors. I will see it as a trail blazoned by pioneers such as Minister Sajjan and others. I will stand a little straighter in my own uniform because of it.