Christmas will see an empty chair at many tables

“It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid…”
~ Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

By Toby Barrett MPP
Like many in our area, I find myself meeting people who have just returned from Kandahar. Their stories are real and raw.

I spent time in Afghanistan in 1969 and it was a bit of a hell-hole then – the heat, dust and rocks. The difference then was that there was no war. So I can only imagine the tough times our military are going through over there now. But they do it with courage, good spirit and commitment.

Christmas reminds us that we have a duty to others, and we see that sense of duty exemplified in the men and women who wear a uniform. At this special time of year, we give thanks for the message of love and hope. For those who will spend Christmas far from home, we honour their sacrifice and thank them for all they do to defend our freedom and our way of life.

And at the same time we must not forget the sacrifice of our military families. Staying behind when a family member goes to war is a profound burden and one that is particularly difficult during the holidays.

While many of us celebrate the Christmas season with happiness, for some the good times are hushed by the absence of a loved one. This Christmas there will be an empty seat at many dinner tables right across Canada – some servicemen and women won’t be home to see the look on their child’s face as they open up the presents.

We are affected by events in Afghanistan and saddened by the casualties suffered by our forces serving there. Our thoughts go out to their relatives and friends who have shown immense dignity in the face of great personal loss. Since 2002, 153 have paid the ultimate price, as did Simcoe’s Petty Officer Douglas Craig Blake (RCN) on May 3, 2010.

Thanking our veterans and the men and women who serve today is a daunting task – they’ve given us more than we can ever repay. Many of us display a yellow ribbon on the tailgate, or trunk of the car.

We are all proud of the positive contribution that our servicemen and women are making, in conjunction with Canada’s allies. It is important to continue discussing issues that concern us all – there can be no more valuable role in our democratic society than to make use of our freedom, courtesy of our combat veterans, to debate ideas and information without fear of intimidation.

As Paul Marek of Saskatoon so honestly writes on his blog, “An entire generation, or two, of Canadians have no idea what it’s like to send men to war and have some return in caskets. An entire generation, or two, of Canadians have grown up thinking that only Americans go to war, and that Canadians by and large aren’t a warrior people. An entire generation, or two, of Canadians can’t comprehend Canadians hunting down and killing enemies.”

To our troops, wherever Christmas may find them, we say thank you for your sacrifice, and we send each and every one good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.