Reflections of a military father

George Heald holds a plaque he received for serving in the Golan Heights as a peacekeeper with the UN while sitting next to a picture of his younger self in his UN uniform. Melissa Heald photo.
George Heald holds a plaque he received for serving in the Golan Heights as a peacekeeper with the UN while sitting next to a picture of his younger self in his UN uniform. Melissa Heald photo.
By Melissa Heald
Nov. 5, 2014

I was supposed to be born near the beginning of August. Even then I was the type who had do things on my own time. I decided to hold off for two weeks.
It was 1981 and my parents were living in Dartmouth, N.S.
My father was on a ship at the time in Toronto. He had scheduled leave coming up once the ship returned to Halifax, but my lateness offered him a chance to be home for my birth.
He asked his superior officer if he could take his leave sooner. His request was denied. The next day or so, my mother went into labour.
I was 13 days old when my father got to hold me for the first time.
My father, George Heald, joined the military in 1976.
A native Islander, he had no interest in going to university and there were few jobs at the time. He was dating my mother and a friend of hers had joined the military.
When she was home for Christmas, she and my father started talking about her experience.
“She talked it up and said it was pretty good, so I said well, I wasn’t really doing anything,” he said.
But he wasn’t prepared for basic training.
“Basically what they did was tear you down as a civilian and then built you back up as military.”
He admits it was hard as he wasn’t in the best of shape. He went in weighing 185 pounds and by the end he was down to 165.
Running was his biggest challenge. He needed to run a mile and half in 12 minutes and 30 seconds. It took him until the second last day before he actually passed.
It felt good, he said, adding it was probably better he didn’t pass until the end because the better runners had to go on 10 or 15 kilometres runs.
My father spent his 20-year career as a supply technician, responsible for issuing rations, clothing, mechanical parts and more.
The trade and the military gave him the opportunity to see the world. He needs both hands and a couple extra digits just to court all the places he has seen.
He did two tours in the Middle East as a peacekeeper in 1979 and 1992 with the UN in the Golan Heights, an area of land between Israel and Syria.
On weekend passes he would visit Tel Aviv in Israel or Damascus in Syria. The vastly different landscapes of the two countries left an impression on him.
“Israel was all green and luscious, while Syria was just all desolate and dirt and rock.”
In the large, busy Syrian markets, people would be selling and bargain. He found the people friendly and nice, although he admits it might have been because he was in his UN uniform and they were hoping he would buy something.
He retired from the military in 1996. In those 20 years he married and had children.
With his 20 years in, my father decided it was time to retire. He was tired of the travelling and being away from home.
But he enjoyed his time in the military.
“I have seen a lot of the world I would never have seen if I hadn’t had joined.”

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