War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Brigade Dinner

one of the highlights of my three days with the Brigade was the day I was in the lineup for coffee and a French Canadian voice behind me asked, “how is the war poet today?” it was a WO that I had met at Wainwright in October. an army engineer (a sapper), he had the LAV that I called the Leaguer Starbucks, because after dinner (I drew the rations that tasted like Tender Vittles) I wandered over to the engineers’ LAV and was offered a cappucino. in the middle of the Battle River Valley. big sky. big stars. big moon. the LAV in the middle of the leaguer. the A’ghan village 1 km away.

I remember remarking on how clean the WO’s LAV was and that it had so many mod cons. but I guess that guys who can build and destroy anything put to them, can manage good coffee if they want. and this crew wanted. (my crew, young pups, were happy with that mystery fruitjuice sort of thing that you mix with water and which comes in the IMPs).

it was great to catch up with the WO and ask after his amazing Sgt, an extremely capable woman. a leader in her own right. she spent 7 months in Afghanistan clearing mines, doing whatever was needed. every day. no days off. she told me about little kids kicking soccer balls onto fields, chasing after them, and the kids realizing the field was mined. the Sgt and her crew would come and clear the field to get the kid out.

I asked Sgt. why she was in such a crazy business. “I liked chemistry, and the rest is history.” by all accounts, she is a first-class soldier. I hope I’ll run into her again.

on the last day of my visit with the Brigade at E’ton, I joined the officers at the Brigade Dinner. this is a real privilege. civilians don’t attend these things. they are for the officers and about the officers. the big cheeses of the CF attend. the CO told me that even his wife had never attended one of these do’s.

a formal event, with toasts and regimental songs, the officers dressed in their formal uniforms. lots of red and black and gold. just when I’ve thought I had figured out how to tell what rank, etc. a person is, by looking at their CADPAT uniforms’ stripes or crowns and tags, the officers changed into red jackets. black formal pants with stripes of differing widths, colours. and suddenly I had to decipher a whole new code of emblems, insignia. even the medals look different. I failed miserably.

the Brigade dinner is filled with tradition and ritual. a favourite is to take someone’s place card and to write something funny or possibly scurrilous in the “victim’s” name, and forward the place card to someone else to read. usually the addressee is someone high up. the thing is, the card is passed all around the tables and everyone gets to read it except the named person. my card disappeared early in the evening and I have a reward out for it. I’m dying to know what they would have to say about me. the worse the better as far as I’m concerned.

another tradition is that one must stay seated for the entire event. no getting up to go to the washroom even though many toasts are made. at one point in the evening, I was addressed by a young officer who said, “M’am, I’m here to escort you to the washroom”. I didn’t need to go, but soon realized that in fact HE had to go and was clever enough to extend a gentlemanly invitation. as soon as I said yes, took his arm to be escorted out, another jumped up and said that I must need two escorts. the room watched us exit, laughed, especially as I stood in the hall not needing the facilities, and waited for the young officers to return.

sms being escorted to the powder room by two young officers
(note: for privacy, I never publish faces or names of the soldiers)

at dinner, I got to sit next to one of the guys from recce. just as I did at the men’s dinner last Christmas in the hangar. spirited, some might say crazy (usually a recce guy describing himself), a recce seatmate is never dull. I promised this guy that I’d write something for him. his buddy across the table started me off with a couple of lines. but as early on in the evening I promised, “what goes on in the mess stays in the mess” and as a woman of my word, all I can say is that the second line ended with a word that rhymes with shore…

throughout the evening, I looked down the long tables. white table cloths. long white candles in silver candalabras, at all the men (and a few women) laughing- many of them young- toasting one another, standing for regimental songs – or in the case of the few air force officers present, standing on their chairs – shouting good natured insults at one another. I looked at the guys sitting across from me, one in particular, an artillery officer wearing the afghan campaign medal. I wondered if the next time I see him, will it be on Ex in the spring as they continue to prepare – or the desert next year. in that country so far away.
and how it will all be. after all.

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Brigade Dinner. It was posted here on February 07, 2009.


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