‘Those are the faces, those are the guys that you remember’

Afghanistan veterans remember the friends they lost

Allan Rishchynski at a Remembrance Day service last year

While Remembrance Day 2020 won’t be like any previous one on record, that’s not stopping three Prince Albert men from reflecting on their time in the military and he friends they made and lost in the war and back home.

Allan Rishchynski

Zahri-district Sergeant Major in Afghanistan from Jan 2007 until September 2007

Allan Rishchynski joined the military in 1981 as a private. His career brought him to Saskatoon where he became a regimental sergeant major and later a brigade sergeant major of 38 Brigade. While in the military, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and Africa in 2009.

Rishchynski said he’s not sure why he joined the military other than it was the right thing to do. His family worked for CN railroad so they were deemed an essential service during previous wars and stayed home in Canada.  

“It’s been a roller coaster and it’s probably one of the best roller coasters I’ve been on. It’s got its ups and downs but guess what, a lot more ups than a lot more downs,” Rishchynski said about his experience in the war. 

Rishchynski deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 where his crew was responsible for supporting local police and government and provided security for other forces to travel on the highway. His company was responsible for Panjwayi and Zhari. 

Being in Afghanistan was difficult and it took time getting used to the hot weather and carrying heavy equipment, said Rishchynski. 

He also had family back home and said he’s sure it was tough on his kids. His older daughter was attending Carlton at the time and he imagines it was hard for her because he was one of the only soldiers in Afghanistan from Prince Albert at the time. 

Rishchynski said it was hard being away from family. He was able to call them from Afghanistan but couldn’t talk about where he was or what he was doing due to security issues. 

“That’s why a lot of times you get that personal connection with the guys that you’re working with because they are your family or I guess for a lack of better terms your extended family overseas, (that) you rely on (and) support one another.”

Rishchynski views Remembrance Day as a time to reflect and remember his tour in Afghanistan and the individuals that were lost. Although he was never injured, he was involved in incidents where soldiers were killed. 

He believes when it comes to this time of year it’s important to remember that there are still people on active tours.

“There’s people over in Ukraine and Iraq and places like that that are just as important as it was for me to be in Afghanistan or Africa and we, the population, tend to forget that there’s still missions going on.”

Rishchynski said he also knew an Afghanistan veteran who died by suicide recently. 

“That’s the reflection that I do. It’s not all about the death, it’s about knowing people that are still struggling with their heads I guess you could say to get over some of the stuff that we actually had to do and see.”

Rishchynski is currently the officer commanding for B company in Prince Albert. He also works as the maintenance and building manager at Elkridge Resort.

Rishchynski was awarded the Order of Military Merit in 2013 as chief warrant officer of the 38 Canadian Brigade group. 

Ramsay Bellisle

Warrant officer in Afghanistan in Oct. 2009 to May 2010

Ramsay Bellisle has been in the military for the last 27 years with the North Saskatchewan Regiment. He joined when he was in Grade 12 when considering a career with the regular force. He decided to join the reserves to see if a career in the military was what he wanted. He never ended up joining the regular forces as he said in his heart, he’s a member of the North Saskatchewan Regiment. 

“It wouldn’t feel right being infantry in another unit.” 

Most of Bellisle’s family served or is currently serving in the military. His paternal grandfather was a part of the armoured reconnaissance regiment in Swift Current during the Second World War and his maternal grandfather was an infantryman in the 1st division with the Royal Canadian Regiment. His father was a medic and his mom was a clerk with the Armoured Regiment in Medicine Hat. His brother is a retired medic who also served in Afghanistan. 

Bellisle said his family being involved in the military probably had a little to do with his decision to join, but that he could’ve done whatever he wanted to do and was even considering a career as an electrical engineer.  

His wife is a captain with 38 Brigade group and his son is a corporal with the North Saskatchewan Regiment in Prince Albert. 

When Bellisle was 20, he deployed to Bosnia with the 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). He said seeing other parts of the world, and especially countries that have been impacted by civil war, makes you realize “North America has it very good.”

“Unless you’re going out and travelling and you start going to these areas, especially countries that have been ripped apart by civil war and then you start to appreciate everything that we have here in Canada.”

Bellisle deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 where he was a warrant officer and second in command of his platoon. The platoon’s job was defence and security of the camp, including gate duties, and making sure towers and wire obstacles were maintained. They also did foot patrols within the community to meet the public and build relationships and rapport with them, according to Bellisle. 

Bellisle said being away from home was difficult, and recalls trying to explain to his son and daughter why he felt he needed to go overseas. He said his kids understood people do get killed in Afghanistan. Bellisle remembers talking to his son about his friend, Josh Roberts, who was in Afghanistan at the time. Bellisle told his son that he wanted to go on tour like Roberts. The next day Roberts was killed.

“I think I did a decent job of explaining to them why I felt I needed to go over and do my part. My son probably understood a little better but as much as someone who’s 10 years old would be able to understand. Maybe I could’ve done a little better with my daughter who was 8 at the time.” 

Currently, Bellisle is chief warrant officer and regimental sergeant major with North Saskatchewan Regiment and an advanced care paramedic and shift supervisor with Parkland Ambulance.

The meaning of Remembrance Day has changed over the years for Bellisle. He said as a kid he tried to remember his grandfathers during the moment of silence but his last grandfather passed away when he was in Grade 2 so he didn’t know him well.

“You go and you pay respects but you didn’t really appreciate what it means,” said Bellise. 

When his friend was killed in 2006 and the military moved on to Kandahar, Bellise said things changed for him. 

“I now knew people that were killed in the war, or that had been seriously injured and then during those two minutes of silence, those are the faces, those are the guys that you remember.”

Bellise has also lost friends to suicide that served in the war. 

Around this time of year is when he allows himself to think about and remember the friends he’s lost because of the war. He said if he thought of them on other major days throughout the year such as when they died, it would be hard all throughout the year. 

Bellise said he knows older veterans who have been supported by the poppy fund and other organizations. He said it’s important to note that there are younger veterans as well. 

“I had a couple troops that were 19 turning 20 when we were in Afghanistan, so that was 11 years ago. These guys are 29 just turning 30 now. These guys are veterans that have been to war.”

Ramsay Bellisle poses with his daughter at a Remembrance Day service in 2017 (Submitted photo)

Gerald Minielly

Rifleman, 1st Battalion of the PPCLI Battle group in Afghanistan from Oct. 2009 to June 2010

Sgt. Gerald Minielly joined the army in 2004 when he was 16. He said the 9/11 attacks were a big influence for him to help and protect his country and join the forces. 

Minielly deployed to Afghanistan in October 2009 with the battle group of the 1st Battalion of the PPCLI. Their job was to stabilize the area to allow the provincial reconstruction team to rebuild Kandahar and the rest of the country. 

Minielly said he had some great times with good friends but there were also dark times where he lost friends. 

When he deployed to Afghanistan, Minielly said his parents and sister said goodbye and there weren’t any tears shed. He later found out from his sister that once his family got back to their car, the tears started flowing. 

His parents were supportive of his decision to go on tour but he said it was hard for his family when he was overseas.

“For me it was a lot easier than it was for them because I knew when I was in danger, I knew when I was safe whereas they had no idea and to them and to anyone at home it was a perpetual belief that I was always in danger because they didn’t know.”

Currently, Minielly is second in command of the four platoon, where he’s responsible for teaching and mentoring the young troops and junior leaders in the platoon. 

Minielly said he remembers all veterans who served in wars and peacekeeping tours. 

Like Rishchynski and Bellisle, Minielly has also lost a friend to suicide.

“While they weren’t physically wounded over there, there are the mental wounds as well,” Minielly said. 

As for Remembrance Day, Minielly will be spending time reflecting on everything that’s happened and remembering the veterans and friends who have passed away.

Gerald Minielly (Submitted photo)