Retired veteran Steve Mears will be among many pausing to reflect at the Cenotaph in downtown Trail on Remembrance Day.

Retired veteran Steve Mears will be among many pausing to reflect at the Cenotaph in downtown Trail on Remembrance Day.

Remembering those who died and those who survived

When millions of Canadians pause on Remembrance Day, Steve Mears will have more to reflect on than most.

When millions of Canadians pause on Remembrance Day, Steve Mears will have more to reflect on than most.

“The first thing I think of is several of my friends who died in Afghanistan,” said Mears, who retired in 2006 after almost three decades in the Canadian Armed Forces.

“It’s very personal, and not just the people killed in war, but also killed in training accidents and those types of things.”

Mears always knew that he was going to have a military career, after joining the air cadets at the age of 13.

“Growing up I was always taught in school the First World War, Second World War, Korea. After I joined the military it became more personal.”

In 1978, one week after graduation from his Richmond high school, Mears left for boot camp in Cornwall N.S.

“The first few days were pretty overwhelming, it was still the old school back then, male dominated and we were treated pretty harshly.”

After 16 weeks of basic training, Mears flew to Chilliwack for three months of basic trades training. This led to many years spent as a combat engineer.

His career began during the time of the Cold War, when the army was not in overseas deployment except for peacekeeping in Cyprus and the Golan Heights.

His trade was not sent; instead Mears continued his training on North American soil.

“We trained as though we may have to fight the Russians. We would go on huge mine field exercises in Alberta and lay miles and miles of land fields,” he said.

“This was all with the view that we may have to fight the Russians.”

Mears first toured Peshawar Pakistan, on a four month humanitarian mission.   In 1990, after the Russians had been run out of Afghanistan, there were thousands upon thousands of Afghan refugees in the Pakistan-Afghan border camps.

Under the umbrella of the United Nations, Mears was sent to teach refugees how to identify and remove land mines and unexploded units.

“The view was for them to be able to go back home and clear their farm land of mines, so they could get back to work and life,” said Mears.

“Now, I think a lot of them are Taliban. They are using their skills to blow up our own guys.”

In 1991, almost a year to date after this tour, Mears and 600 members of his regiment were deployed from Chilliwack to Kuwait, seven days after ceasefire of the first Persian Gulf War.

His job was to set up the demilitarized zone between the Iraq and Kuwait border. His regiment spent six months building observation posts along the country’s borders.

“It was very austere. Kuwait City had been completely ransacked.”

“Every day I had to drive through the highway to hell. An area where so many vehicles had been blown up as Iraqis tried to escape back over their border.”

Mears spent most of his time out in the desert clearing roads of land mines and unexploded ordnance.

His regiment escorted contract vehicles, such as cement trucks, safely to the points where the desert posts were being built.

Mears felt his years of land mine training prepared him for this job, however the human cost of war, was more difficult to deal with.

“Little kids just across the border in Iraq would swarm the vehicles for food, even try to open the doors as we drove up. We had to throw rations out as we went because we were afraid that one of them would end up under our vehicle. They were so starving it broke my heart.”

Mears next deployment to Croatia was also an eye opening and shattering experience.

“How people could live next door to each other for decades, be neighbours for years, then all of a sudden one day walk next door, tie up a husband, rape his daughter and wife, then shoot the husband.”  Mears reflected that this happened all over the war torn country.

“It wasn’t just one side, it was both.”

During this tour, Mears was flown all over the former Yugoslavia to teach mine awareness.

“Mines were all over the place,” he said.

It was a very emotional time for him, as there were incidents when his plane came under fire.

“The plane would nose dive to dodge artillery fire from the Serbians who were shelling the runway.

“It would drop us off, we would run to the bunker and the plane would take right off again.

“It was emotional.”

After this experience, Mears caught a bit of a break back at the regiment on garrison duty.

During this time he married, and became father to a daughter and son.

His family time was short lived, as Mears was often sent away to train and instruct others about mine warfare demolitions.

When his daughter was six months old, Mears was sent to Cambodia for nine months.

He was seconded as a technical adviser for the Cambodian mine action centre, under the department of defence, as part of the United Nations.

“The United Nations set up to teach Cambodians to clear their own land, as it is the most heavily mined country in the world.”

Mears spent most of his time alone with Cambodians who lived in the woods.

“They were very loving, very generous people.”

However, the mission was difficult for Mears, as Cambodia was rampant with corruption.

“Money never made it out of the city, bigwig officials in the city had everything, but the poor people out in the country had nothing.”

‘It was shattering to see little kids with no arms or legs, just trying to collect firewood, or make their little lot better.”

After Cambodia, Mears returned to Gagetown, Canada and was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer, the highest ranked position an enlisted person can become.

“It was good for family life because I finally got to spend time with my wife and kids.”

In 1999 Mears was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major in Petawawa O.N.

“This was the pinnacle, the position that most guys shoot for.”

Mears was responsible for discipline, deportment, training, and career progression for all enlisted men and women.

On Sept 11,2001, Mears was sitting in his office having coffee with his commanding officer, discussing routine business.  He had just walked around the corner to the duty corporal room when the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

“All of a sudden all hell broke loose on the base.”

“All gates had to guarded, and everyone had to show IDs with this great heightened sense of security.”

Many of his army buddies were sent to Afghanistan to serve, some two or three times.

“I was in the higher ranks, a safer place than the worker bee. Those guys are outside the wire in the danger zone.”

In 2006, Mears retired after 28 years of service.

Throughout Mears’ decorated military career, he remembers three of his most satisfying times being at home, helping his fellow Canadians.

Twice he was in Winnipeg to help with mass flooding, and in Quebec during the historical ice storm of   1998.

“Canadian forces don’t only help people overseas, we help our own people.’

Mears does admit that he is not the same person he was before joining the armed forces.

‘I am much more reserved – I avoid confrontation, and I’m not good in crowds or cities.

I prefer my own company, or the company of my family.”

This Remembrance Day Mears would like to remind Canadians of our young soldiers.

‘Because of 9/11, we have combat veterans out there right now who are only 21 years old. Ninety per cent of the country thinks of a veteran as an old man with a cane. These are still kids.”

“I have so much respect for the young men and women who join the military now.”

Just Posted

Area A Director Ali Grieve (right), Village of Fruitvale Mayor Steve Morissette (front), and Village of Montrose Mayor Mike Walsh (left) held a congratulatory ceremony for Beaver Valley students who are part of the Class of 2021 graduates of J. L. Crowe Secondary at Beaver Creek Park on Thursday. Photo: Jim Bailey
Beaver Valley Grads of 2021

Beaver Valley mayors, RDKB Area A director celebrate their 2021 graduates with gift ceremony

Adrian Moyls is the Selkirk College Class of 2021 valedictorian and graduate of the School of Health and Human Services. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College valedictorian proves mettle in accomplishment

Adrian Moyls is a graduate of the School of Health and Human Services

A volunteer delivers food to families as part of a West Kootenay EcoSociety program. Photo: Submitted
Farms to Friends delivers 2,500th bag of food to families in need

The program services communities in the Nelson, Trail and Castlegar areas

Selkirk College has begun its search in earnest for a leader to replace president Angus Graeme who is set to retire from his position in May 2022. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College seeks community input for president search

Current president Angus Graeme retires next year

A report shows nine West Kootenay communities are have more low-income persons than the provincial average. File photo
Study casts new light on poverty in the West Kootenay

Nine communities in region have more low-income residents than provincial average

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read