For Cpl. (ret’d) Michael Hanlon, reliving the memories of peacekeeping missions like Operation Cavalier has become part of daily life since he created a Facebook group established to unite members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group that served in the former Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1993.
Operation Cavalier was Canada’s commitment towards the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFORCE) that served in the former Yugoslavia after the outbreak of civil war and the ensuing genocide in the country. The goal of the operation was to provide humanitarian relief and aid to displaced civilians. But once the battle group arrived, like for many others serving in the area, the operation became much more than just peacekeeping.
“It became very political and fulfilling our mandates in the areas we were supposed to became quite a challenge,” said Hanlon who served two tours in Yugoslavia, one as part of Op. Cavalier and later returning in 1997 as part of a stabilization force.
The challenges were enhanced with the fighting factions distrusting the UNPROFORCE often believing the forces were there to spy or were supplying arms to the other side.
“They would get quite aggressive sometimes. There were combat situations from time-to-time,” said Hanlon.
Hanlon, who was then an 18-year-old private, says his time there was unlike anything else.
“If I had to sum it up, in certain situations, it felt surreal. It didn’t feel real. You see things like that in the news, but when you were faced with those situations, it was quite surreal I must say,” noted Hanlon.
Hanlon retired from the infantry in 2003 but his experiences remained with him and earlier this year he decided to create a Facebook group for other Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members that served in the former Yugoslavia at that time.
“My goal is to get guys to share their pictures, but then once I see everyone is more interested, which they already are, I’m going to ask for hardcore experiences from people and myself, and I’m going to turn those experiences into graphics that are shareable,” explained Hanlon.
The page has grown rapidly in the last few months with 151 people now part of it. Hanlon says people are sharing their pictures and stories and reconnecting with one another, in some cases for the first time in more than 20 years.
Hanlon also dug up an old diary he kept during that time for his Facebook group.
“I was surprised at how traumatic that diary was,” noted Hanlon.
The page has made an impact on many especially, Hanlon says, since that time and the people of those peacekeeping missions have been swept under the rug.
“It’s also important for these younger generations to see ‘wow these guys saw some stuff too.’ I think that’s at least part of the reason why guys like to share their stories and share their pictures and centralize the whole thing,” stated Hanlon.
To join the Facebook group or to learn more click here.