By Ryan Flavelle – Published by Harper Collins
Review by 12570 Mike Kennedy
When I was a cadet attending BOTC 40 years ago, I remember a comment made one day by our platoon Warrant Officer that illustrated the disdain with which reservists were viewed by their colleagues in the Regular Force. “Just a bunch of Saturday morning soldiers” said the Warrant, a member of the PPCLI, rather dismissively. This from a peacetime career soldier who probably had never fired his own weapon anywhere else other than on a range, and who almost certainly had no conception of what it felt like to come under enemy fire.
It’s too bad our old platoon Warrant probably never had a chance to meet Ryan Flavelle. If he had, he would likely have come away from the encounter with a much greater respect for reservists, as well as a realization that that they could soldier just as well as any member of his own regiment. That’s exactly what Flavelle, a young signaler from Calgary’s 746 Communications Squadron, did for seven months in 2008. In The Patrol, he tells the story of seven days in his life, the period from July 14 to 20 of that year, during which time he confronted real-life combat situations that were as harrowing as anything that any other Canadian soldier in Afghanistan has experienced.
The story begins on Monday afternoon in Sperwan Ghar, with Flavelle receiving orders to “kit up” to be ready to accompany a patrol that is preparing to head out that evening. After meticulously organizing his gear and dispatching an e-mail to his girlfriend, Falvelle finds time to grab his dinner, followed by a few hours of much-needed sleep. At 1930, he awakens to find his legs covered in bites from the tiny blackflies that are pervasive in Afghanistan. Twenty minutes later he is standing in the assembly area, waiting to embark on what will eventually prove to be the most memorable week of his young life.
Flavelle’s book offers an intimate look into the lives of soldiers in combat, as seen through the eyes of Canadians in Afghanistan. One of the larger themes that emerges in The Patrol is the vital role that support trades play in helping those at the sharp end to take the fight to the enemy. In describing the nature of his work, Flavelle writes that “Signaling is an unglamorous job….mostly we just drink coffee and press buttons.” Maybe so, but when the bullets started flying he proved he could handle the pressure every bit as well as the hardest of the hardcore Patricia’s.
Throughout his book, Flavelle displays much of the self-effacing modesty that has long been an essential trait of the Canadian soldier’s character. “I do not claim to be a hero, nor even to have acted heroically” he writes. “Instead, I merely claim to have been there, and to have recorded what I experienced.”
It may well be that Flavelle does not think of himself as being a hero, but anyone who reads The Patrol will undoubtedly form a very different opinion of him. This young man from Calgary exemplifies the best of the “citizen soldier” that has been such a central part of Canada’s military history. His book is an important contribution to story of our involvement in Afghanistan, and it’s one that deserves to be read by all Ex-Cadets who have passed through the Canadian military colleges.