The military ethos “has been ripped” by scandal over the last few years, but those who serve in uniform are not “throwing up their arms” in surrender, the commander officer of 22 Wing/CFB North Bay told members of the Royal Canadian Legion, Sunday.
Col. Richard Jolette said members of the military are working to make the Canadian Armed Forces “a better place to work and serve” for everyone, and the 650 men and women at 22 Wing are “part of the cultural shift” to restore the institution.
About 400 members of the Legion from across the province are in the city for the Legion’s 52nd biennial convention at Nipissing University, the first time they have been able to gather in three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jolette said the military ethos of “service before self” can be difficult to maintain sometimes, but noted that belief is no stranger to those who serve and those who have served.
Legion members, he noted, know the importance of sacrifice, an importance that is shown with its activities such as Remembrance Day services, something 22 Wing has been an active participant in.
Members of the wing, he said, participate in services across the region, and last year reached more than 2.500 people directly through its speakers program – a program he is a strong advocate of.
Legion members paraded through North Bay Sunday morning following a wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph, then gathering for the official opening of the convention.
Ontario Command President Garry Pond said the convention is an opportunity for delegates to propose ideas and concerns over governance.
“Everyone has a right to be heard,” he said, asking only that ideas and suggestions be put forward in a respectful manner.
“We are all volunteers,” he said, and reminded them that “working together” is the theme of this year’s convention.
The convention is being hosted by Royal Canadian Legion District H, which includes Northern Ontario branches.
It’s the first time North Bay has hosted the convention since 1965, Pond said.
The biggest issue facing the Legion right now, he said, is how it can continue to support the needs of veterans and their families.
One program it has launched is Leave the Streets Behind, which as of the end of March has assisted 1,002 homeless veterans.
But he admits another issue is attracting new members.
“New people coming into the legion are few and far between,” he said. But, he noted, membership has been expanded over the years so it’s not only veterans who are eligible for membership.
“Any Canadian can come in and join,” he said.
Pond, whose first posting in the military was in North Bay, said his time here “trained me to be a soldier, an aircraftsman,” and his military service “made me a professional.”
The convention will wrap up May 17 with the announcement of the newly elected provincial executive.