A soldier’s story – local vet looks back on military career

November 5, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

As Remembrance Day approaches, there is a tendency to honour the few remaining veterans who fought gallantly in the Second World War and in Korea, and list the names of those who served in the First World War.

It is also important to remember that in the years since those wars, there have been thousands who served honourably in the military and have taken part in everything from peace keeping operations to combat patrols in dangerous places around the globe.

Nearly 40,000 Canadian soldiers served in the Balkans, and several thousand more were in combat duty in Afghanistan.

Close to 200 battle deaths were recorded during that time, with many more wounded.

Returning home, veterans carried the physical scars as well as the mental images of seeing society at it’s worst.

For Orangeville veteran, Bryan Goustos, a 25 year career in the military resulted in more good memories than negative ones, even though he was deployed in several hot spots around the world and did a considerably dangerous job as a combat engineer – a position that meant he was the one responsible for clearning mine fields, among other things.  

Mr. Goustos began his military career with the 2 Field Engineer Regiment in Toronto – a military reserve unit where he spent three years before deciding to enlist in the regular army.

When he enlisted he was offered the opportunity to select the field he wanted to enter. Soldiers are usually offered the chance to apply for several types of military work.

Luckily, Mr. Goustos’ first choice of entering a combat engineer unit was successful.

He trained at CFB Cornwallis in Nova Scotia and CFB Chilliwack in British Columbia.

Despite his time in his reserve unit, once in the regular army he had to start from scratch and went through all the basic training that new recruits must complete.

Combat engineers support the military with what they need to accomplish during a successful mission.

“A combat engineer will do mine work, bridging, camp construction, and we did water supply,” Mr. Goustos explained. “We do the work that allows our forces to fight, and deny the enemy the same.”

Over 22 years in the regular armed forces, Mr. Goustos found himself deployed around the world on various missions, both in a peace keeping capacity as well as in more hostile territory.

His first tour took him to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus as part of a mission where UN troops kept hostile forces at bay.

In 1992/93 he was sent to the Iraq / Kuwait border to help establish an international border after the First Gulf War.

“There was a large amount of unexploded ordnance along that border,” he explained. “We had to make it safe for our civilian surveyors that were hired by the UN. We did a lot of ordnance clearing on that tour.”

In 1994/95 Mr. Goustos was sent to Bosnia as part of a peace keeping unit when the conflict that broke up the former country Yugoslavia was going on.

“I thought it was pretty quiet during our winter tour,” Mr. Goustos said. “The summer tours were more active. We did some mine clearing and put some roofs on schools, we did some humanitarian work while we were there.”

As a soldier, you have no choice when you are selected to go on a tour. 

As Mr. Goustos explained, “They let you know your name’s come up, and that’s about it.”

In 2001 he took an ‘occupational transfer’ to become a fire fighter in the Air Force.

“I changed my trade,” he explained. “In 2004 I was posted to ships. First to the HMCS Ottawa, to the Regina, from there to the Winnipeg. I was posted to the fire academy for two years and from there I retired.”

After 25 years in the military and leaving with the rank of Sergeant, Mr. Goustos speaks positively about his experiences as a soldier.

“I served the country. It was a job, and you were flying the flag,” he said of his experiences around the world. “I had fun doing it to be honest. There was times when I thought ‘this really sucks.’ I thought ‘I’m really cold, I hate winter warfare.’ But at the same time you had the camaraderie that was always there.”

His work and experience as a fire fighter in the forces allowed him to experience an easy transition back to civilian life and he now works as a firefighter with the Brampton Fire Department.

As a veteran and member of the Royal Canadian Legion Orangeville Branch 233, he knows the importance of participating in Remembrance Day services. He wears his blue UN peace keeping beret during the ceremonies at the cenotaph at Alexandra Park.

“We lost a number of military members during peacekeeping operations,” he explained. “It’s all about remembering those guys as well. That’s what Remembrance Day is all about. It’s about remembering those men and women who didn’t come home from their missions. We can’t forget about people like search and rescue technicians that have died. We recently had a soldier who died during a training accident in Alberta. We have to remember those guys as well.”

As a veteran, Mr. Goustos recognizes the importance of keeping the Legions going.

“In some circles it is viewed as an old boys network. But you know what? – they kept those branches open. Now it’s your turn to step up and participate,” he says to ex military people. “You know what I tell the young guys? I say ‘welcome home. The Legion is your home.’ You should join a branch and help it out.”

While Remembrance Day ceremonies serve to remember the fallen, it is also a time when all military personnel should be honoured for their outstanding service to the country both in peace time and during times of conflict.

The Orangeville Branch will hold a Remembrance Day ceremony at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, however this year, it will be by invitation only.

Members of the public can take part by standing silently on their front porch as 11:00 a.m. approaches and remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.

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