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At home on the frontlines: Sudbury soldier shares story of being deployed during COVID-19

Sudbury Irish regiment returns to "new normal" after answering the call to service during pandemic

Warrant Officer Michael Young was back at the Sudbury Armoury on Sept. 3 as the Irish Regiment gathered for the first time since March, when much of the country was brought to a halt due to COVID-19.

Young was one of 20 Sudbury soldiers from the Irish Regiment who were on-call when the pandemic hit, with Young travelling to CFB Borden in early April for what was dubbed Operation Laser - the Canadian Armed Forces' domestic response to COVID-19.

"The minister of health took a look at the state of the long-term care homes and they put in a request to the military," said Young. "Guys from Ontario and Quebec, other platoons got there the last week of April when things were kind of tapering off, and then we got sent to a home that didn't have any military support yet on May 31 and they needed that extra push and mentoring to get them back into what we called the green."

Young was part of a group that was made up of 14 health services personnel and 23 soldiers who performed general duties at the long-term care home.

"The majority of the health services people were regular forces, there were a number of them that were reserves, and they did all the patient care, the mentoring with the staff, liaising with the long-term care facility's administration," said Young.

"My guys who weren't attached to me for that bit did more general duties, they did cleaning, they did laundry for nine or 10 hours a day. The home had something like 20 or 30 brand new hospital beds that the staff didn't have time to build, so my guys built them. They took apart the air conditioners and cleaned them; maintenance, general cleaning, helping out the health-care personnel that were there."

The experience was a definite eye opener for Young, being so close to the frontlines of a sector of the province's population that was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19.

"It's been like this for years, and the report Gen. Mialkowski penned was a real eye opener. I honestly feel bad for the staff that had to experience those conditions," said Young. 

"A lot of them wanted to work, they wanted to help, but a lot of them are in that age range where they're susceptible to COVID-19, so they're scared for themselves. The pandemic certainly shone a light on this, and I don't blame the staff who didn't show up in that time."

Young enlisted in the army reserves in 2006 during the height of the conflict in Afghanistan and was deployed there for six-and-a-half months. His experience overseas prepared him mentally for his most recent tour of duty here at home, and while world's apart, Young said there were similarities between his deployment to Afghanistan and to an Ontario long-term care home.

"If Afghanistan helped me in any way, it's how to compartmentalize my feelings with what's going on at home. We were still away, we couldn't break quarantine, and it ended up being 97 days since I had seen my family. I've got two young kids. We were isolated as best we could, but we couldn't go anywhere or leave the confines of the camp," said Young.

"Never in my life did I think in 2006 that we would be called to a domestic operation to help Canadians domestically."

While Young was working domestically, a group of nearly two dozen Sudbury reservists were training and on-call throughout the course of the pandemic. The Irish Regiment's weekly parades were brought to a halt in March, and Sept. 3 was the first time they were able to gather at the Sudbury Armoury, albeit under a new set of circumstances.

"It's impressive — a reserve infantry unit like the Irish Regiment exists for the sole purpose of meeting what the government needs it to do when it's called," said Lt. Col. Alex Haynes

"When Sudbury was called, it answered. Oftentimes, reserve soldiers are described as twice the citizen because they live in this community and have day jobs, and then when called upon for emergencies, be it floods or forest fires or in this case, a pandemic, they answer, and it's great to see."

Sept. 3 was Haynes' first trip back to Sudbury since March, as the regiment paraded once again, masks included.

"This is a new normal. Back before the pandemic hit I, would drive up to Sudbury frequently, but for the unit itself, it's a resumption of our normal Thursday night parading," Haynes said.

"It's important that we get back to work. We need to keep training and keeping our soldiers ready so if and when there's another call from the government, Sudbury soldiers are ready to answer."

The regiment's honorary colonel, Kevin McCormick, spoke with pride about the response from the army reserves across the country and here in Sudbury.

"The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Irish Regiment of Canada specifically rose to the occasion during COVID-19 and continue to be there," said McCormick.

"Domestic operations are an incredibly important part of the Canadian Armed Forces, and we're very proud of Warrant Young and the others that prepared to go when called upon to help our nation during these unprecedented times."

Matt Durnan

About the Author: Matt Durnan

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