Canadians learn Honor Guard ropes at the U.N. Command in South Korea
Stars and Stripes March 26, 2008
SEOUL — It looked and sounded like a scene from basic training: Stand at attention with your feet closed. Mark time with your left foot first. Don’t pick your knees up so high when you turn.
But these Canadians were seasoned soldiers with a big mission — become part of the high-profile, United Nations Command Honor Guard drill team in just three days — something even U.S. soldiers spend two weeks learning to do.
“It’s a steep learning curve for some of these guys,” said Capt. Joe O’Donnell, one of 11 Canadians assigned to the U.N. Honor Guard Company through April. “Totally different weapons, different weights on the weapons. They’ve never done this before in their lives.”
The Canadians’ visit was timed to coincide with the 55th anniversary of the cease-fire that ended the Korean War.
Each of the 17 countries that signed the 1953 armistice with North Korea is required to send representatives to the U.N. Command on a rotating basis, said 8th Army spokesman Maj. Jerome Pionk.
Like Canada, some countries send augmentees to the Honor Guard that is permanently staffed by approximately 80 Americans, 100 South Koreans, and a dozen Thai and Philippine soldiers.
By Monday morning, the Canadians had spent just three hours learning how to march and carry their weapons. Their first performance was to be the next day, at a ceremony honoring a South Korean military official.
One French-speaking soldier lagged behind the rest of the mostly English-speaking group, still struggling to hold his rifle and bayonet correctly.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Wilson pulled him aside, advising him to chill out.
“It’s stage fright, a natural reaction,” Wilson said.
Canadian Sgt. Brent Short said going to South Korea was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“To go see where Canadians fought in the Korea War — it’s something you’ll cherish for a lifetime,” he said.
That didn’t mean it would be easy. The Canadians had to learn to respond to different calls, like “about face” instead of the Canadian “about turn.” When they turned, they had to remember not to do it Canadian-style — with one leg parallel to the ground, and their thumbs tucked into their fist.
Even standing at attention with their feet together — not apart — was different.
“We feel it’s awkward to be like this,” Short said.
Bombardier Kendall Hartjes, who delivers ammunition in Canada, was the first non-American assigned to the UNC color team.
When asked Monday morning what he had to do during the next day’s ceremony, he shrugged — his first practice wasn’t until that night.
But he wasn’t worried, and he said he liked the change of pace that going to South Korea brought.
“It’s just something different. Back home, we were in the field all the time, so it’s kind of nice not to be in the field,” he said.
For O’Donnell, this assignment marked the first time he had touched a saber and his first time on a drill team. He said soldiers had practiced drilling at night with shower rods because they weren’t allowed to take their weapons home.
“We’re putting a Canadian face on the honor guard,” he said. “Just to show we’re a part of it.”