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Yellow ribbons show support for military, tie family together

Posted: November 25, 2019

Yellow ribbons show support for military, tie family together


The serenity of the Mediterranean Sea was supposed to help East St. Paul's Dave Pearce release the stress built up during a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.
The former Canadian Armed Forces pilot, who retired two years ago, says the military calls it decompression - and he admits there are lots of soldiers who need it after living the horrors of war.
But that wasn't the case for Dave Pearce, whose main desire was to get back home to his wife, Kaaren, and his family.
"I was kayaking in the Mediterranean, looking at all these incredible rock formations ... it's stunningly beautiful, and I was just wishing Kaaren was there with me," he says now, 10 years after the fact.
"I felt a very strong desire to come home immediately.  That was my decompression, I just wanted to get home."
So when he did finally land at Winnipeg's airport, Kaaren and other family members were there to greet him.  And his wife had a heartfelt welcome for him.
She'd tied yellow ribbons on Hydro poles along Henderson Highway from Hoddinott heading north, with the final ribbon wrapped around a tree in their front yard.
For Dave, it was an emotional welcoming, and one that was a long time coming.
He'd been gone from home for almost a year when pre-deployment training and post-deployment decompression are factored in, and Dave was ready to come home.
"The last one was on the tree just out front and Kaaren took a picture of me, still in my uniform, in front of the last ribbon and that was kind of neat," Dave said.
"That was an incredible feeling coming home and seeing that.  It's just extra special."
The story of the Pearce family is in many ways typical of most military families - when one spouse is deployed, the entire family is affected.  And during Dave's time in Kandahar, Afghanistan, there were highs and lows for everyone.
Dave joined the military in 1983 to pursue one of his two passions - flying.  He'd been working as a sound engineer, his other passion, travelling with bands in Ontario.  The late nights of life on the road had taken a toll, and Dave, who already had both his helicopter and airplane licences, signed up.
Dave's time in Afghanistan didn't have him in the air.  Instead, he was the Liaison Officer between the Commander of the Canadian Air Wing and the Commander of Regional Command South Afghanistan.
It was the latest assignment in a career that had taken him across Canada and on several different peacekeeping missions in places like Norway and Egypt.  And though Dave said his time in Afghanistan didn't often put him in grave danger, there was a war going on nonetheless, and reminders were never far away.
"I'm very fortunate, I never had any issues with PTSD or anything like that, I didn't really see a lot of bad stuff," he said.
"I was what's called being inside the wire, because of the nature of my job I never had to go outside of those gates, I never traveled in a vehicle, I never set foot outside of the fence and Kandahar was known as the safest place in Afghanistan.
"That said, the first three weeks that I was there, the rockets really came into the camp."
The rockets weren't targeted attacks from the Taliban, he said, but more random firings that were triggered from the hills surrounding Kandahar.
The siren warning of an incoming rocket sounds like a cross between an air raid siren and a foghorn, Dave recalled.  When you hear it, your skin crawls and you're supposed to get your gear on and run for the shelters.
Dave's first experience didn't quite go that way.
"The first time that went off I was laying in bed and ... I thought, 'oh no', and I heard kabang!  You're supposed to be putting all your stuff on and running for the shelter and I thought 'I don't think so'.  I just pulled the covers over my head and hoped nothing happened," he laughed.
He said he got accustomed to the sirens, and the rockets, but on one occasion the rockets were literally heard all the way back in East St. Paul.
Dave and Kaaren were talking on Messenger on their computers, him in Kandahar and Kaaren in their East St. Paul home, half a world away.  She said as someone who grew up the daughter of a military man, and who'd been dating Dave before the Internet was as functional as it is today, Messenger made communicating so much better.
But on this day, she went from talking to and looking at her husband on the computer screen, to hearing the crash of a rocket and then nothing.
In an instant, Dave was gone, and Kaaren had no idea whether the rocket had literally struck Dave, or whether it simply knocked power out.  And she wouldn't know for three agonizing days.
"It was horrifying.  I know there's three days of radio silence, (the military) won't say anything that happened or didn't happen", she said.
"So do I go to work?  Do I stay home and wait for the black car to show up, what do I do?"
She debated on whether she should say anything to other family members, to Dave's parents, their son, Kristian, for fear she would worry them over nothing.  So it remained her secret, until the three days passed, and she learned her husband's fate.
Dave was fine, but he knew that Kaaren would be living a nightmare at home, not knowing what had happened.
"When rockets go off, there's like a master switch, they shut down all communications outside of that field, which includes all Internet, until they sort out casualties.  They have to make sure next of kin are notified first", he said.
"But (Kaaren) doesn't know what's going on, she's wondering if I got hit."
Though deployments put families thousand of miles apart, Dave and Kaaren kept a strong bond, despite the distance.
Based out of the 408 Squadron in Edmonton from 1985 - 1990, Dave was deployed to El Gorah, Egypt for six months in 1988 on a peacekeeping mission, enforcing Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.
Kaaren was working at 408 and the two had been dating for about a year.  At the time, lots of their friends were getting married, and they talked about it, because as Dave's wife, the military would pay for Kaaren to go see her husband while abroad.
Ultimately, they decided against marriage at that time.
"We had the conversation and I remember saying to him, I don't want to ever think that I married you because I wanted to go to Egypt," she said.
Two thirds of the way into his Egypt deployment, Dave was eligible for a vacation and he and Kaaren spent it in the United Kingdom, at Kaaren's grandfather's house.  They got engaged during that break and spent three weeks day tripping in the U.K.
"We had a fabulous time," Dave said.
"It was really, really hard, I tell you, at the end of that one.  She went back to Canada and I went back to the desert.
The decision not to get married before the Egypt deployment proved to be the right one - the couple say they believe other than one other couple from that time, they're the only two still married.
"I still haven't been to Egypt, and we're still together, which is a good thing, but I look back on it and like, 'what the hell was I thinking'?" Kaaren laughed.
Life for the Pearce family is less stressful these days.  Kaaren, a horticulturist and arborist, doesn't have to worry about deployments anymore.  Neither does Dave, who retired from the military two years ago, but works as an independent consultant for them, and spends his spare time in his basement recording studio, mixing and mastering.

Dave Pearce with the yellow ribbon his wife tied around the tree in their  East St. Paul yard upon his return from Afghanistan.  She'd also tied trees all along Henderson Highway to welcome Dave home.  Dave and  Kaaren, and Dave in his element, being a pilot.


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