A 40-year career winds down

News Article / February 15, 2017

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By Major John Blair

Having enrolled in the Regular Force before most of today’s military members were in grade school, 29 years of service seems a good commitment to “Queen and Country”. Today, after served an additional 11 years as an air reservist, I have concluded a six-month tour of duty in support of the counter-Daesh mission in the Middle East.

When I joined the Air Reserve in 2005, I would never have imagined twice asking for international deployments. After all, I had just become a reservist. But my experience is a reminder to all reservists that military experience can be both passed on and built up when deploying in today's international military theatres of operations.

For younger reservists, it is an opportunity to work with coalition forces on operations in a deployed setting. For the experienced, deployments allow reservists to apply their careers’ experiences to modern-day military battlefields. Because Canada’s reservists must volunteer to deploy, that personal choice all boils down to attitude, energy and interest. On what will be my last deployment, I had the absolute pleasure of working inside a modern-day weapons system – the Air Operations Centre comprising military members from 26 coalition countries.

When I joined the military in 1976, in an era when radar countermeasures were controlled manually by operators, it was a most amazing opportunity to be part of the US-led coalition force air capability component supporting task force operations against ISIL [Daesh]. The operational relevance one feels working on these futuristic mission sets affirms the career commitment and personal sacrifices of military life. This tour was technologically inspiring, encapsulating the very best of last 40 years of weapons system developments. So interesting!

Back then, I could never have fathomed unmanned aerial systems. The amount of manned air power available to mission planners, and literally being flown 24/7 by aircrews, is nothing short of incredible, and a testament to the coalition's determination against an indisputable evil.

The people one meets are always a deployment tangible – the true reward for every military member fortunate enough to work in any multi-national setting. Working with coalition members every day, sharing ideas, concepts, concerns and, yes, the odd war story, was icing on the deployment cake. I am leaving the military richer in mind (and in war stories) because of these deployments. If you are a reservist and a deployment interests you, then lean forward and get on one.

Editor’s note: At 59, Major “Butch” Blair was the oldest Canadian on his deployment. He received a coin from Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lieutenant-General Mike Hood while in the Middle East, and collected many unforgettable memories. With a log book totaling 4,500 flying hours, he will leave the military having served as an air intercept navigator, an electronic warfare officer, a maritime air navigator and crew commander, a deputy commanding officer, a commanding officer, a staff officer, and an air reserve flight commander. Major Blair will retire as the 22 Wing North Bay, Ontario, lessons learned officer in June 2017.

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