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Grassroots: supporting our soldiers any way they can.

Canadians may have conflicting views about the war in Afghanistan, but one thing most people have in common is unwavering support for our troops. Canadian men and women are putting their lives on the line every day overseas, and here at home Canadians are taking their support to a whole new level.

Toronto artist Joanne Tod has painted the faces of 111 fallen Canadian soldiers to date. Painted on 6" x 5" birch panels, each face brings home the reality of war and the cost our soldiers and their families pay for serving their country. Tod plans on creating a mosaic of the fallen in the shape of the Canadian flag.

"It's like a quilt in a way; each piece will incorporate elements of the Canadian flag that is like a mosaic," says Tod, who also teaches art classes at the University of Toronto. "I'm trying to rally some students together to help me paint the Canadian flag."

A lot of thought went into her work and symbolism is evident in each decision she has made.

"There's the symbolism of the panels looking like a little box, the front is like a solid element, a reference to a burial," says Tod. "And because it is a commemoration, the birch itself is a typical Canadian wood so it's appropriate."

She almost didn't believe she would be able to finish her work. After Major Michelle Mendes died Apr. 23, 2009, Tod felt like giving up.

"There were two women in a row and then I started to feel a little bit angry because this is a very ambiguous situation in Afghanistan as far as most people are concerned," says Tod. "They don't like the idea of people dying, our Canadian boys and girls dying. I just thought 'Oh God,' but then I decided, no I have to keep on pursuing it. I just have to because it will become a document and it is something that will be right in your face. These are the faces; these are the people that died."

Her inspiration came from her uncle, someone she never had the opportunity to meet. Her uncle James was killed in Sicily just before the end of the Second World War.

"It was a wrenching terrible thing for my family because everyone expected him to come home," she says. After her aunt passed away, Tod travelled to Winnipeg to the home her aunt shared with her uncle James.

"I came across all of these pen and ink drawings that are beautiful that my uncle had done as a young man," she remembers. "I was overjoyed to see this trove of stuff. He might have been my mentor and I didn't know a thing about him."

She found the letters her uncle had written to his mother and became fascinated with his experiences, which gave her a new interest in military culture. She began investigating the soldiers who had been killed overseas in Afghanistan, identifying with them as she did with her uncle. She began painting the portraits three years ago.

Her goal is to find people or companies to sponsor the paintings, or a section of them, and donate the money to military families. So far, she has had no luck and intends to keep pursuing her goal.

"I hope I don't have to paint any more of these individuals and that the war really will end soon," says Tod. "This is a commemoration, but it's a lament as well."

Alice Sinclair is a Canadian musician who has sang in Ireland, across the United States and Canada. She was contacted to be a part of "CD 4 The Troops," a collaboration of international artists who donated their time, tracks and talent to the CD.

The CD was organized by B.C. group INIRA, the International Network of Independent Recording Artists. Their goal was to raise money through the sale of the CD to donate to Canadian, American and British families of fallen soldiers and those returning from active duty with life-altering injuries.

Sinclair, whose husband William is a member of the Canadian Forces and is stationed at CFB Wainwright, sang the track, Don't Turn Away, which was written by her partner Buddy Gale.

"Buddy wrote this song about the end of August and I put the music to it right away," says Sinclair, who is a member of the Canadian Country Music Association. "This song was about a six-week wonder. That doesn't happen very often."

Sinclair says Gale wrote the song because "A lot of the generation today looks away and they don't care about people that go to war and die or lose limbs. The song is called Don't Turn Away because in the chorus it goes, 'Don't turn away, and say not me. Die if you want, while I stay free.' Those two sentences are very powerful to me. He's written many songs for the military, about the military and freedom. He's got some great songs coming. I'm very proud to be able to sing for our soldiers and our forces."

Sinclair says her husband was so pleased with her contribution to the CD that "he contacted over 10,000 engineers across Canada and around the world - all different kinds of military groups that he knew," says Sinclair. "That was just what one man could do. I was just so proud of him that he did that. We're still pretty excited about all of it."

Now working on her second album, Sinclair is in the studios recording new music.

"I've written a song called My Heroes Will Always Be Soldiers," says Sinclair. "It's going to be coming out in the spring. My husband is supposed to retire in 2010 and I asked him if we could go across Canada, take my CD and promote awareness for the Canadian Forces and for appreciation of what they do. And my husband has agreed. This is my dream because the song I wrote is the truth; they've always been my heroes even before I married one."

Even though nothing has been said, she is hoping there will be a second volume of "CD 4 The Troops."

"All this is just part of who I am, it's very important to me," says Sinclair. "I can't be a soldier but certainly I can support them."

In the fall of 2008, Leslie Natynczyk accompanied her husband, Chief of Defense Staff General Walter Natynczyk, to Washington, DC. While he attended meetings, she visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a rehabilitation site for wounded American soldiers.

While there, she heard about Segs4Vets, an initiative to provide Segways - a self-balancing personal transportation device on two wheels that runs on battery power - to injured soldiers. Natynczyk liked the idea and proposed it to a number of Canadian Forces members on her return to Canada.

Seven soldiers received Segways on November 5, 2009 at the Holland Armoury in Ottawa. They were donated by Wounded-Warriors.ca. The Segways give more freedom and independence to soldiers who have been injured.

"I was kind of skeptical at first," said Major Mark Campbell, in an interview with The Maple Leaf, who lost both his legs above the knee in an IED blast last year in Afghanistan. "I thought it looked more like a play thing than a means of mobility. In all reality though, this is going to make a tremendous difference to my personal mobility and, through that, to my independence."

The Segway comes in a variety of configurations to suit the different injuries sustained by Canadian Forces troops.

"Segways have the potential to enhance the quality of family life and long distance mobility for wounded soldiers," said Natynczyk on Wounded Warriors.ca. "The unwavering support, generosity and enthusiasm from Wounded Warriors.ca, Segway Canada, the Canadian Forces casualty support staff and the military rehabilitation team have been fantastic."

It doesn't take a lot to demonstrate support for Canada's military members; yellow car ribbons, wearing red on Friday, or saying thank you to a past or present member of the Forces are all ways to show solidarity.

However, if you or someone you know has begun an initiative to show support for our soldiers and you would like to see the story appear in Esprit de Corps, please contact jessica@espritdecorps.ca.
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Title Annotation:PROFILES
Author:Cunha, Jessica
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:1380
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