For many men in times of conflict, they were called upon to serve their country. There was no question. It was for the good and the safety of Canadians. For Shaun Erickson, his calling came from within and not from the outside.
Erickson came to Drumheller earlier this year to work at the Drumheller Institution. He sat down with the Mail and detailed a military career spanning over three decades and took him to some of the most war torn places on the globe, and he did it in service of Canadians.
He first joined up as an Air Cadet, and not as a Sea Cadet, in Sydney Nova Scotia. He laughs and says most islanders do go into the water.
“Have you ever been in the ocean?” he chuckles.
He joined up at 13 with the Cadets with the dream of being a pilot.
When he was of age in 1983, he joined the army reserves and was trained as a medic. After a year and a half, he moved to Gagetown, New Brunswick, where he was employed full-time. He took on various roles. He transferred to the Royal New Brunswick regiment in Fredricton where he engaged as a mechanic.
In 1989, he joined the regular force army.
“The first question out was, do you like camping?” he chuckles.
He joined Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). His basic training was in Cornwallis, and then his trades training was in Wainwright. He was in the infantry and was stationed in Winnipeg. They would train and do exercises in Shilo. It was work-up training for Bosnia in 1992, before his tour in1993.
He was primarily stationed in the Medak Pocket in the former Yugoslavia for his six-month tour in support of the United Nations Mission. His role was as a driver for a liaison officer.
“We went everywhere,” he said.
He explained the liaison officer’s responsibility was information gathering, and also was at times an intermediary with the command on the opposite side.
Most of this travelling was in an old jeep with a canvas roof and no doors. it was rugged and dangerous terrain, and there were times they were under fire.
“When you are there because of your training, you are ready to go, everything can fall into place because this is what you are trained for and you are ready to go,” he said. “When you get out of there, nothing falls into place. You get so used to it that you understand it more than anything else.”
He returned to Manitoba, but in 1997 he returned to the former Yugoslavia. He was in a different, quieter section. He drove a Grizzly armoured vehicle, and as part of a section did patrol.
“We helped rebuild what was blown up, which was just about everything,” he said.
In 2000, he changed his badge from PPCLI to Signals. He trained as a communications technician. He spent two years in Kingston training and then was stationed back in Gagetown. He travelled all over doing new installations of communication equipment and armour before vehicles went over to Afghanistan.
In 2005, he put his new skills to the test in Afghanistan for a few months. While sometimes soldiers stationed in Afghanistan don’t leave the base, his signal corp went everywhere.
“When you go anywhere in the vehicles outside the wire, your weapon is loaded and cocked, and put on safety and away you go,” he said. “Ready to rock when you have to be.”
At the base and in the field, mortars were a regular occurrence. Part of his job was to install and repair radar that would track where the rounds were coming from. When it was pinpointed through triangulation, they would send aircraft to bomb the source. Often the shooter would get away and be in hiding.
Shortly after this tour, he worked as an instructor. He was promoted to Sargeant and was posted to Shilo in Manitoba in 2010. In his new role, he was off the bench and took on an administrative role. He retired in 2013.
“I loved my service it was the greatest. You meet a lot of people and they are great,” he said.
He adds there is a high level of camaraderie and trust.
“It’s the infantry, you have to (trust) You are both carrying a full load of ammunition and you are going at this guy with this group. You have to trust he is covering your butt. If he is not covering your butt, you are not going to last the seven seconds.”
He adds that discipline has served him all of his life.
“It was a lot of hard work, and there were also a lot of good times,” he said.
He has been involved in Legion in Drumheller since he came to Drumheller in March. He says there is a strong sense of camaraderie and support. He says the Legion is supportive when working with Veterans Affairs. He believes that once the next generation of people who served begin to see the support the Legion provides, they will seek it out.