November 11: 'By remembering we can prevent further conflict'
On Remembrance Day, Concordia alumnus Joseph Leger (BA 15), takes time to remember friends he lost in Afghanistan.
“It’s a sobering time,” says the Canadian Armed Forces veteran. “Similar to anyone who loses someone they care a lot about, you try to keep their memory alive.”
Yet, Leger is careful to point out that the memories stirred up for him by Remembrance Day aren’t always negative. “On another level, it brings me back to a special and formative time in my life, it’s kind of nostalgic at times.”
Leger was first deployed to Bosnia in 2003 with the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was later deployed to Afghanistan, where he spent eight months in 2008. During his time in the Canadian Armed Forces, Leger achieved the rank of Master Corporal and was deployed as a section commander.
'You have a very different set of life experiences'
After leaving the military in January 2009, Leger threw himself directly into other pursuits.
He spent 18 months backpacking around the world, which he says worked well as a decompressing process. It helped him mitigate the emotions associated with transitioning back into civilian life.
“You feel a little bit alienated, a little bit like you don’t belong,” says Leger. “It took me probably three or four years to slowly come back into a place where I felt normal and a part of society.”
It was during that multi-year process that Leger began attending classes at Concordia.
“That was a challenge as well, I was coming in as a mature student, I was 27 years old. And I’m sitting in class with very bright people, but that have a very different set of life experiences.”
“You’re forced to work closely with people under very tight deadlines. That feeling of disconnect was gone and I really, kind of, hit my stride in the journalism program,” he says.
Leger graduated with distinction two years ago. This fall, he returned to his alma mater to work as a special projects writer with Concordia’s Advancement and Alumni Relations.
‘They died for something they believed in’
On Remembrance Day, Leger also thinks about the complexities of war and its ugly side, the fact that the people most affected by war are innocent civilians who aren’t complicit in starting the conflicts they find themselves caught up in.
He acknowledges that it can be difficult for people who don’t want to glorify war to honour soldiers and those who sacrificed their lives in combat.
But it’s possible, he says.
“Regardless of whether or not you believe in the same things as those soldiers did, they’re just Canadians who died for something they really believed in. I think we can all agree to at least respect that, even if we don’t agree with it.”
No matter what beliefs Concordia students might hold about war and conflict, Leger encourages them to see Remembrance Day as an opportunity for sober reflection.
“Remember the soldiers, remember the victims of war,” he says. “The point is not to glorify the events, it’s to remember. Because by remembering, we can prevent further conflict in the future.”
Find out more about the Concordia Veterans Association.