Soldier On: supporting members of the Canadian Armed Forces through physical activity
ABOVE: A Soldier On orienteering event at Ottawa's Hylands Golf Club led by CAF veteran Michael Raz.
Founded in 2007, Soldier On is a unique organization run by the Canadian Armed Forces' Morale and Welfare Services. The program uses sports and recreational activities as a recovery tool to help Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
What makes Soldier On unique is that the program is open to current serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, in addition to veterans.
The program believes in creating a safe environment for the participants among military comrades. The goal is to help ill or injured Canadian Forces personnel return to active duty or to civilian life after their service has ended.
Regional Coordinator Krista Seguin, a Navy veteran herself, said that the idea is to get exposure to sports that the participants might not have previously done so that interest is developed. Often many veterans will continue with sports discovered in the Soldier On program in their personal lives. Activities hosted include woodworking, ice fishing, golf, running, orienteering, as well as volley ball and activities like the annual Army Run.
An orienteering event on in early March attended by Ottawalife Magazine showed the best of what Soldier On has to offer. Hosted at the Hylands Golf Club, a military owned facility, active members of the Canadian Armed Forces and retired veterans sat chatting before the activities kicked off; the sense of community was apparent. A relatively unknown sport in North America, the event ran in co-operation with Orienteering Ottawa.
Michael Raz, the instructor for the outing and a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces himself, explained as the participants strapped on their snowshoes that in places such as Scandinavia and the Netherlands orienteering is a popular sport that thousands of people take part in. The sport is played by taking a microchip device and touching it to different premarked positions on a map. The day we played everyone needed snowshoes for the nearly waist-high snow, but the sport is also played in the summer.
Conversation between participants was cheery and smiles were everywhere — the trekkers were among friends. The outing was just over two hours long and served as a basic introductory course with Raz keenly pointing out that Orienteering Ottawa often host events for which they are always looking for new participants. The military does teach map reading and navigation but orienteering uses different maps and techniques, so there is a bit of a learning curve.
Penny Woodhead, a serving member of the Armed Forces for the last seven years, stated that Soldier On has helped her deal with her medical issues, making her continued service in the Canadian Armed Forces easier. She went on to say that the sense of community, support, friendship and talking to veterans and other current active duty participants has also been positive.
New members who may wish to participate can register at Soldieron.ca. The site also contains a donations portal to raise funds for the activities the group does. There have been 7000 participants in the program, and in 2020, the group hosted 37 events despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
With all that serving members and veterans of the armed forces have done for us, Soldier On would appreciate Canadians doing a little for them by donating to help support future outings.