ARCHIVED - Sergeant Mark Salesse: A brother to all

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News Article / February 12, 2015

By Captain Bettina McCulloch-Drake

He was a literal giant among men. Sergeant Mark Salesse had a physical presence that made people notice him, but it was his natural tendency to reach out and help others that made him a person others could call a brother or a friend.

Last seen alive by three of his search and rescue brethren from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sergeant Salesse, 44 years old, was in his element on Thursday, February 5, 2015, before an avalanche swept him away, leaving him buried in the snows covering Polar Circus in Banff National Park, Alberta. Initial search efforts by his climbing partner immediately after the avalanche, and subsequent searches by Parks Canada visitor safety specialists, were made more difficult by poor weather conditions that increased the risk of more avalanches. Finally, on Wednesday, February 11, Sergeant Salesse’s remains were recovered from the treacherous terrain.

“Our consolation is that Mark has died doing what he loved most, in the majestic mountains that so beckoned him. He chose his final resting place. He is at peace,” said his mother, Liz Quinn.

Originally from Bathurst, New Brunswick, where his father Maurice still resides, Mark Salesse joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the fall of 1989 at the age of 18 as a member of the Governor General Foot Guards, a Primary Reserve infantry unit in Ottawa, Ontario. After serving with the Foot Guards for a year, he moved to British Columbia and joined the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), a Reserve Force armoured reconnaissance unit in Vancouver, British Columbia.

His love of outdoor sports and physical challenge lent themselves well to life in British Columbia. With the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean at his doorstep, Sergeant Salesse pursued his interests in mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, and SCUBA diving. Encouraged by his training in the Canadian Army, parachuting was quickly added to his active way of life.

Deciding to return to the infantry after nearly nine years with the armoured corps, Sergeant Salesse transferred to the Regular Force and was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

It was as a member of 2 PPCLI that Sergeant Salesse’s ability to adapt quickly to changing situations, as well as his professionalism and his willingness to help others, became more evident. Receiving a Land Force Western Area Commander’s Commendation for his service on Operation Prudence, the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic, from October 1998 to January 1999, he was noted as a role model and a team builder.

He “volunteered to work extremely long and arduous shifts as the contingent driver so that he could interact with soldiers and civilians from other contingents,” wrote the commander who recommended him for the commendation. “He was well respected by his superiors and by leaders from the other contingents. Through his tireless energy and good-mannered approach to the mission he was able to project a highly professional image of what a Canadian soldier should be to the soldiers of other nations.”

Sergeant Salesse went on to serve overseas again, but this time with the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Operation Palladium. He served with the mission on two separate tours, for which he was awarded with the NATO Medal for Former Yugoslavia, the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, and the Non-Article 5 NATO Medal for Operations in the Balkans.

Building on his experiences in the Canadian Army, Sergeant Salesse decided to apply to become a search and rescue (SAR) technician. Recruiting only from within the Canadian Armed Forces, the SAR technician occupation is highly competitive; out of the dozens of applicants who are selected to attend a two-week pre-selection course in February in Jarvis Lake, Alberta, no more than 16 are chosen to attend the 11-month training course at the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue (CFSSAR) in Comox, British Columbia.

Sergeant Salesse’s exemplary service record, combined with convincing recommendations from his chain of command at 2 PPCLI, his high level of fitness, and his experience in mountaineering, ice/rock climbing, SCUBA diving and parachuting, made him an ideal candidate for the specialist trade.

Transferring to the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 2004, Sergeant Salesse began his SAR technician training in earnest in August. His previous experience with the Canadian Army prepared him for various aspects of his SAR training, including winter operations and mountain operations. However, it was his ability to motivate and inspire others to accomplish tasks as a team when faced with challenging circumstances that really stood out in the minds of his instructors.

Adapting quickly to the demands of the SAR technician occupation, Sergeant Salesse successfully graduated from CFSSAR. Further training as a diver, as a primary care paramedic, and as a SAR technician supervisor followed over the years.

A known leader, this giant among men also served with his brethren at 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia; 444 Combat Support Squadron at 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador; and 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba.  

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