Beyond The Uniform

Military personnel, veterans and business executives participate in all-female Baffin Island Expedition 

Since 2012, True Patriot Love Foundation (TPL) has been co-ordinating expeditions to remote destinations all over the world in an effort to raise awareness and funds to aid military members and veterans. One of the goals of the expeditions is to provide mentorship to Veterans who are transitioning out of the military. 

TPL recently co-ordinated an expedition that took a crew on an extraordinary adventure to Baffin Island. The group, a mixture of business people, military members, veterans, guides, and more, snowshoed across Baffin Island, starting at Qikiqtarjuaq, and ending their trip in Pangnirtung.

Civilian and military members are grouped together, usually three civilian business people to one military member or veteran. Julie Cowan, managing director at Scotiabank Global Banking and Market, and Natalie Forcier, a retired Master Corporal, took part in the expedition and were part of the same group. Both are in agreement that the expedition was a life-changing experience. 

“It is my first expedition. The first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” said Cowan, “I do like to get off the beaten path when I travel, but this is extraordinary. Whatever I say is going to underrepresent the amazing experience that it was, but I would just say it was extraordinary. Life changing for everyone, especially for our veterans and our soldiers.”

Forcier was in complete agreement. “From a personal perspective, what True Patriot Love does is incredible. It’s hard to put in words, hard to even imagine before even stepping into it, what kind of impact (the expedition) would have on your life. We were all struggling in different ways, but we’re able to do it all amicably, and with a big smile on our faces for the most part. I’m super grateful to True Patriot Love for putting it together,” she said.

What made this expedition different from previous expeditions was that it was an all-female crew. TPL commented that having an all-women expedition would be a great way to showcase and celebrate the strength and resilience of women in Canada’s military and corporate workforces. “It was really amazing to spend time with our military women,” Cowan said, “so that was special.”

Forcier also found it unique being with an all-female expedition. “It was a totally different energy being with a group of women. So the thing that stood out the most is that we were all struggling with it at our own levels, in our own ways, but at the same time we have that sensitivity, the understand we were struggling, and nobody got upset with each other. We were all super supportive. There is this underlying energy that we’re all rooting for each other, but we were all like shoving at the same time – meaning that it was cold, our bodies were sore, and the sleep was not the greatest and a really calm comfort amongst the discomfort,” she said.

For an expedition to as remote a place as Baffin Island, there is a physical toll as well – both before and during the trip.  

“As soon as we were out of that element, and back into our comfort zone, you noticed your pain or discomfort. Your whole body is sore, but you didn’t have the time to notice it on the expedition. It was a routine of figuring out how to get out of your sleeping bag without getting too cold. And that just your day was such a rush, but it was never super rushed because it took a few hours before the water was boiled, and we had eaten, and put our tents away, and prep and then took off. There was not really those moments where you could sit there and go, oh, my body really hurts. I think I’m going to step this one out,” said Forcier.

One of the biggest takeaways Cowan commented on was what a gift it was to be able to disconnect from everything. “I felt like the phrase to use is disconnecting to reconnect. And so I think that natural break is motivating me to be more intentional, and set big goals again in other areas of my life,” she said.

 

Both participants had comments to make about their training for the expedition – especially one specific exercise. The general advice is what one would expect – get to know your gear, break in your footwear, hike, and snowshoe. They were also told to train by doing the exercise they would be doing on the expedition, which both agreed that while it was excellent advice, it was not easy. The exercise involved pulling a tire behind them while hiking.

“I tied a rope to an old tire, then tied the rope up to my backpack, and twice a week would pull the tire around for 5 km. That was in the fall before we had any snow, so lots the friction on the sidewalk and it was very, very difficult,” said Cowan.

Though both Cowan and Forcier are still processing their experiences on the expedition, they both acknowledge that there has been an impact on their lives. 

One of the biggest takeaways Cowan commented on was what a gift it was to be able to disconnect from everything. “I felt like the phrase to use is disconnecting to reconnect. And so I think that natural break is motivating me to be more intentional, and set big goals again in other areas of my life,” she said.

Cowan also commented that it helped her understand how isolating it can be to be a veteran. “I guess it showed me how isolated our veterans can be… They have performed very difficult jobs that most Canadians wouldn’t want to do or take on to really protect and ensure that we can live in our bubble and have the life that we have. Then they come back, and they can be very isolated. So, seeing them thrive in the team environment, enjoy working towards achieving a goal, was eye opening and inspiring. They are truly focused on the team before themselves. It’s just something we can all be better at,” said Cowan.

For Forcier, she had a great deal of anxiety before the expedition, especially when she first meeting the other participants. Forcier commented that she would minimize her own experience, often feeling very small and not know what to say. That changed on the expedition.

“Throughout the expedition itself, I felt transformed, for lack of better words. There was this even ground amongst us all that we’re all getting through this together,” said Forcier. “And just being reminded that what I’d done within the military in my past, that it wasn’t to be minimizing – that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.” 

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Deborah van der Linde

Deborah is a librarian who is passionate about books, storytelling, and writing. Thanks to her husband Adam’s military career, they have had the great fortune of living all across Canada. Deborah and Adam have two delightful children and a dog that thinks he’s one of the kids.

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