Many wish for peace on Earth at this time of year, and one Penticton family knows all too well what it’s like to have the contrary keep them from being together.
Life in the military can cause some family members to be absent from the holidays. Master Cpl. Glenn Duffield knows that all too well, and is thankful he’ll be home for this Christmas.
He and his wife, Jodi, have been together since 2005, and quickly settled into a blended family routine consisting of five kids — including Caitlyn, twins Skyler and Levi, Megan and Colin — and three dogs with more personality than you can shake a tail at.
But they all know the sanctuary of domestic life is at the whim of greater forces — the Armed Forces, that is.
“You have to be very flexible to be in this career, and that translates into your home life, too,” Glenn said. “Jodi has to be flexible. A lot of stuff is on the fly, and you have to adapt.”
In 1989, he joined the Lincoln and Welland Regiment at 19, followed by signing up to the Canadian Navy at 20. “I never looked back,” he chuckles. Based out of Halifax, Glenn was gone all the time: conducting submarine exercises, going on fishery and Great Lakes tours, doing workup training, decommissioning a ship. He served mostly in times of relative peace, and decided in 1993 to step back from the career to raise a family.
Until the planes collided into the World Trade Center.
“America took that on the chin. To me, that was uncalled for. The U.S. has done a lot of things, but they didn’t deserve that. The people in those towers didn’t deserve that,” he said. “Anyone who thinks that couldn’t happen here is kidding themselves.”
He re-enlisted with the Canadian Forces, and the military reviewed his credentials and he was assigned to B.C. Dragoons Kelowna, a primary reserve armoured reconnaissance regiment. His first operation was the frontlines of the Kelowna fires, and he can explain in detail what being hit in the head with a bucket of water from above feels like.
But in 2009, good friend Corey Miller told Duffield about his desire to serve in Afghanistan. “I didn’t want to him to go overseas by himself,” he said, adding they applied to serve together.
An underlying heart condition disqualified Miller from service. Duffield was deployed in September of that year.
He was assigned to Lord Strathcona’s Royal Canadian B squadron, an armoured tank regiment sent to Forward Observation Base Ma’Sum Ghar, just southwest of Kandahar. He was assigned as the admin troop 2IC, in charge of the A1 Echelon outside the wire that, among many duties, had to check over injured soldiers and Afghans alike before they were admitted for care.
Duffield remembers responding to one scene with several dead or wounded, and finding an improvised explosive device (IED) planted on one of the bodies — secreted away to claim those tending to the dead. “It was to get to me and my warrant officer. They were targeting us,” he said.
All members tried to enjoy the Christmas overseas — a mercifully quiet day for combat — and Glenn remembers landing at least eight Santa Clauses among British troops.
But he also remembers the devastation and human suffering, and struggled to reconcile the poverty of Afghani children. The base had received scads of candy from back home, and he recalls bringing them to the front gate and putting them in small hands.
Jodi and some of her friends collected colouring books and crayons to send over, which were given to interpreters who would explain what they were to parents and children. The donations gave her something to do, something to think about, when things got quiet.
“I don’t even know a third of what he went through over there, and it’s probably a good thing,” Jodi says. “I think it’s important to have a life. That’s probably what got me through it.”
Despite the dangers abroad, things ticked along at home. She recalls when the family truck stopped working and she didn’t know what to do. Glenn called home just before he was about to “go past the wire,” or into unsafe territory, for two weeks. A broken-down pickup was the last thing on his mind. “I love you,” he recalled saying.
Jodi also grew accustomed to the silence — embracing it, to be honest. Part of Glenn’s deployment involved training for her, which detailed what would happen if something went terribly awry. The worst-case scenario would have involved uniformed officers showing up at her door.
“The phone calls bothered me the most. If I didn’t hear from him, I knew everything was OK,” Jodi recalls, adding she tried not to watch the news.
One last phone call brought good news, though. In April of 2010, Jodi was informed that Glenn was boarding an aircraft bound for Canada. He landed in Edmonton and began travelling through the night to fly back to Kelowna. True to form, Jodi didn’t know when he would arrive, just that he was on his way.
Now a transport NCO for the Dragoons, Glenn is still called away on training at a moment’s notice. He will not be volunteering for overseas deployment again, after making a promise to his son to remain closer to home and out of harm’s way. Despite that, he knows the new year will bring more last-minute trips.
But for now, the family is under one roof for Christmas — and that might make Glenn a tough one to shop for.
“Personally, I’ve got everything I want,” he said, adding good health can’t be wrapped up for the holidays. “As long as I can see the kids smiling on Christmas and Jodi’s smiling on Christmas, then I don’t need anything else.
“Worldwide, I’d like to see everybody out there come home, and come home safe.”