MONTMARTRE, Sask. — Paul Nichols is out to change how people view veterans one kilometre at a time.
His cross-Canada horseback ride started in Victoria on April 13 and he hopes that by the time he reaches Canada’s East Coast in November, the word “veteran” will have a new meaning.
“People in Canada love and support their troops, but they don’t know who we are,” said the 46-year-old veteran, citing the common misconception that veterans are only those who fought in the two world wars.
Nichols said some modern day veterans feel unrecognized and disrespected.
Murray Allan of Vibank, Sask, agreed. He spent 36 years in the service.
“A year ago, I was sitting with a fellow and we talked about how incredible the WW 2 veterans were and how much they did for the country, then he said, ‘I guess our generation missed out on that,’ ” he said.
Allan said today’s veterans have fought overseas and made significant contributions to the security of Canadians and others around the globe.
Nichols served in the infantry and was deployed to the former Yugoslavia for a six-month tour in the early 1990s. He left the military to settle into a civilian life in Quesnel, B.C.
“I struggled to find my way because there was no support and no one understood what I had experienced,” said Nichols.
His world changed when a woman in a Vancouver store recognized Nichol’s military crest and told him how her life had been saved by Canadian soldiers during the Bosnian conflict.
“She said they were starving and facing daily sniper fire and then Canadian troops broke the siege and got her out. She was crying, I was crying and the people all around us were crying and I realized in that moment that what the military had done was making a difference and there was power in that story,” said Nichols.
That prompted him to launch his ride to raise awareness about the value of the modern-day soldier. He left his Quesnel ranch in the care of his 20-year-old daughter and headed out on the road with his wife and 18-year-old daughter by his side.
With seven horses in tow, he rides 30 to 40 kilometres per day and invites veterans along the way to join him.
“We have had about 100 veterans riding with us and by the end of the ride we’ll have about 700. Our goal is to change the face of Canadian veterans,” said Nicholls.
Nichols is in Manitoba this monthand he is hopeful that sponsorship and donations will flow in as all funds raised are to be shared with existing veteran-support groups. For more information, or to donate or host a stop, visit communitiesforveterans.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-668-3338.