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WESTVILLE – Captain Melissa Anthony had toyed with the idea of joining the military for quite some time. After all, she had several cousins, aunts and uncles in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Her uncle had one piece of advice: if you join the army, don’t join any combat arms trade.
Of course, that became her occupation.
After a six-month stint in Afghanistan with the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, she’s spending two weeks of her leave home in Westville.
She credits her time as a teen in Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps 219 New Glasgow Legion as a good base for her career in the army.
“Little things like doing drill, polishing your boots and setting up a tent help you a lot going into basic training,” she said. “There are other guys there who have never put on a pair of boots in their life.”
After finishing up cadets as a sergeant, she attended St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. The idea of a career in the military was still on her mind.
“When I went to sign up the big push was on Afghanistan so they were only taking combat arms trade,” she noted, recalling what her uncle had said. “So I had about 30 seconds to read a description of what the artillery did and then signed a nine-year initial contract.”
And with the stroke of a pen, she was in the army. Since she paid for her schooling, she went the direct entry route and could leave at any point. She went into training and in a little under a year and a half, she was a fully qualified artillery officer.
“That’s from civvie on the street to fully qualified,” she said with pride.
The mission in Afghanistan was something she had always followed and hoped to one day go over there. Her training and postings, however, never seemed timed just right. In fact, her latest posting to CFB Shilo in Manitoba was just as troops from the base returned from a rotation in Afghanistan.
However, she added her name to a list so when the next rotation was sent, she would be considered.
“It didn’t matter to me at that time what position I’d fill if I went.”
In November 2012 she got the call and was offered a spot to go serve in Afghanistan.
“I was sitting next to the commanding officer of my unit. He said you’re going to get picked up as the adjutant of the task force.”
She’d be the commanding officer’s right hand man, advising the CO on policy-related matters and enforcing discipline and administrative continuity within the unit.
With the support of her parents, she arrived in Afghanistan on June 18, 2013, after about two days of travel. She was greeted by 45C weather.
“You have to get adjusted to the heat and drinking about eight litres of water a day, regardless if you’re thirsty,” Anthony noted.
While she was deployed, she was a member of the third major Canadian Armed Forces mission contributing to multinational operations in southwest Asia, Operation ATTENTION, which followed Operation ATHENA (2003-2011) and Operation APOLLO (2001-2003).
Operation ATTENTION marks the end of combat for Canadian troops and refocuses on supporting the Afghan national security forces to develop leaders and enable an accountable, Afghan-led security.
Her work was mostly in task force headquarters in the capital city Kabul, ensuring that the troops’ leave, pay and other needs were taken care of while advising the CO.
One of the more memorable moments was an American-led service of remembrance on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“They had a very large parade and I was asked to read a poem at the service,” Anthony said. “This was followed by the last Remembrance Day ceremonies that Canadian troops would participate in Afghanistan on Nov. 11.”
For her, it was an honour to be a part of these last services as the Canadian mission draws to a close.
“It’s almost surreal to think that it’s been 10 years, Canada has been in a theatre of conflict and war for that time.”
While her husband, a captain with 2 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was also deployed in Afghanistan at that time, they rarely saw each other.
“Even when we did see each other, which was about two times, it had to be quite formal. When we’d say goodbye to each other, the best we could do was a hearty fist bump.”
Upon returning home in December, she had to face the transition from 45 to -45C weather.
Her assessment is that the transition is going well and that Afghans have come a long way since the Taliban dictatorship.
“Going through high school you hear about the army, but you never picture yourself being a soldier,” she said. “When you look back to where you were on Civvies Street to being overseas and carrying 95 pounds of ammo and protective gear, you have to shake your head and laugh.”
For her service, she now wears the general campaign star for South-West Asia.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn