Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Monday, May 22, 2006

Grieving a Friend

When a person joins the military, we call the commitment made "signing on the dotted line." The phrase calls to mind the sacrifices made and risk assumed by the person signing. Anyone who joins should "count the cost," so to speak, and I thought I did. I knew being a soldier could be dangerous; I knew it could get me hurt or killed.

Sadly, though, most of us who joined don't count the emotional cost of being a soldier. Military life doesn't just carry the risk of being hurt physically. Over the course of a career, you meet people and form relationships with many of them. The high-pressure environment of military life forges friendships like few other circumstances can. And since the risk to those friends is as real is the risk to oneself, military life means the virtual certainty that you will lose people you care about.

And being out of the ranks and backin civilian life does nothing to insulate you from that risk. Last Wednesday, I casually checked the news, and saw that another Canadian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan. When I opened the story, it was like a punch in the stomach. I recognized the picture before I read the name.

Nichola Goddard was a classmate, and a fellow soldier and gunner. But more than that, she was my friend.

I met her in my first year at Royal Military College in the fall of 1998. She was an outgoing, gregarious person with a big smile. One of the things that stands out in my memories the most is that, in a place where the use of last names was the norm even between close friends, she would always say, "Hey, Jeff!" as we passed in the hallway between classes. And we sat (suffered!) through many a class together, being both in the Arts stream at the College.

It was the following summer, though, where we came to know each other well through mutual friends. Nic had been in the same basic training platoon as my best friend, Kevin Laffin, and was in the same cadet squadron as my fellow drummer Mitch Rivest. As a result, when most of my first-year class went off to Saint-Jean-sur-Richilieu, Quebec for French training in the summer of '99, we wound up spending a considerable amount of time together. I remember various things: waking up at 5 AM for fire drills, standing outside the barracks shivering and swatting mosquitos; sitting with a bunch of buddies at our hang-out, Beethoven's, over peanuts and drinks, and Nic and her boyfriend Jay joining us even though it was their first anniversary going out together; my first visit to Ottawa on Canada Day '99, along with Nic, Jay, Mitch, and my buddy Bill Prince. I still have a picture of "Princess" and I all painted up for the occasion, me carrying a big Canadian flag - and if I recall correctly, it was Nic who took the picture.

It's funny how you remember all the little things at a time like this. Nic fretting, at the airport, over whether the airline would give her trouble for her biathlon rifle; the two of us being nominated for some Artillery regimental prize while at the College, and agreeing to decline because we were not trained as gunners yet; her advice to me about what to expect on Artillery training because she got the course before I did. The last time I saw her, she was finishing her temporary position as a training officer at Gagetown's Artillery School, where I was the Assistant Adjutant, and we were discussing public affairs and administrative issues.

All those memories sharpen the loss by themselves. Even sadder for me personally, I was privileged to catch a glimpse of her family life. Through the years I knew them, she and her husband Jay were literally inseparable, so much so that my buddies and I rarely ever referred to them separately; they were "Nic n' Jay." They met on basic training and had been going out ever since. I saw a comment Jay made to the media a couple days ago, saying that he had lost his best friend. He literally did.

She and her family were close. I recall a fencing tournament in my fourth year of College where she showed up, all excited, to watch one of the women's matches. Turned out her sister Victoria ("Tori") was fencing against the RMC team - that was the first of her family I met. And just two and a half years ago, Nic and Jay were in Calgary visiting her parents, and Mitch and I were invited to spend New Year's Eve (if I recall correctly) with their family. It was a privilege to meet them all.

Yes, she took pride in her work. She was a solid leader and as professional as they come. Everyone I knew at the Artillery School - and I knew practically everyone - had the highest respect for her. She cared deeply about her troops and about the mission she was on in Afghanistan. I'm sure, though, that it would have saddened her greatly to leave her family behind. It's the risk any soldier takes, and she knew it as well as anyone, but dying in battle would not have been her first choice. It's a testament to her love for the Army and her concern for her soldiers that she assumed that risk anyway. I'm sure she would have been proud that, in that last battle, all her soldiers made it out alive and that the Canadians defeated the Taliban soundly. She loved her job, and she died doing what she loved.

I'll keep Jay and her family in my prayers, and I'll be at the funeral Friday, God willing. As for Nic, it was a blessing to have known her, and I sincerely and painfully regret not having taken the opportunity to know her better. It really does take a loss to understand what you once had. Through times like this, we're reminded that every day really is a gift from above, and that we cannot take anything for granted.

Nic, good shooting. Stand easy.


Blogger ~ Michelle ~ said...

Jeff, I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm a friend of Mitch's and I met Nic and Jay one New Year's when they came out here and stayed at Mitch's place. They were amazing people and I remember so many stories Mitch had about Nic. You'll all be in my thoughts this weekend.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Lance Roberts said...

One of the great tragedies of our day is allowing women to be killed for us, in and around combat. I hope and pray that men will realize their responsibilities, and protect their women again.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Danielle said...

Hey Jeff. I too am very sorry for your loss. I'm Mitch's little sister, Danielle, and I had the chance to meet Nic and Jay on many occasions. She was an amazing person. Her smile could fix everything bad that had happened in your day and she didn't even have to say a word. At home we have a few pictures of The Ball at RMC with Nic, Mitch and Jay and it is such a funny picture, I stared at it for days after Nic died. She will always be in my heart and in everyone elses.

11:23 PM  

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