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People

Walking Tall

by ETHAN BARON

 

With the blood of Canadians spilling once more in a far-away land, we are a nation at war, peacekeepers no more. The ghosts from wars past now have much younger company.

Those fallen soldiers who so recently walked among us will inhabit the mind of Maj. Harjit Singh Sajjan as he marches with his fellow soldiers on parade to remember the fallen.

Recently  back from a perilous, eight-month tour in Afghanistan, the soldier and Vancouver police officer carries memories of some of the Canadians whose lives slipped away in the fight against the Taliban.

"It's not a perfect world," says Harjit Singh, 36, a British Columbia Regiment reservist and Vancouver police detective. "That we couldn't prevent all the deaths, that's something that a lot of us will have to slowly deal with."

The marching soldiers who thus honour the sacrifices to date,  give Canadians an opportunity to consider the threads that run from today's soldiers to the veterans of long ago.

"I'm hoping that they don't see it as Canadians in war, but more as Canadians making a difference in another country, working to take the personal risk and make sacrifices in another land, just like Canadians in the past," Harjit says.

It's impossible to draw direct comparisons between the fighting in the world wars and the battles of Afghanistan, but it's clear that today's soldiers have faced, in southern Afghanistan, conflicts of equivalent ferocity, he believes.

"With the amount of sustained fire and bombardment that they were receiving, it was about as intense as it can get," states Harjit.

He, too, came under fire numerous times, as he travelled from hot spot to hot spot on behalf of Canada's Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, the then brigade commander in southern Afghanistan. As a special projects officer, Harjit Singh was tasked with using his military training and police expertise, particularly in the area of organized crime, to aid war and development efforts in Kandahar Province.

"The security situation was deteriorating in that area, and we had to figure out why that was so," he says.

Fraser wanted to know what was going on in the village centres, the domestic compounds, the farmers' fields, and in the minds of Afghans.

"He goes, 'Find me the ground truth.' I'd go out and find out the ground truth from the people." The truth, Major Sajjan adds, was that the people wanted peace and stability.

"They said, 'Will you please go in and kick the Taliban out of our villages. We want to go back to our homes. We want to go back to our fields.' "

As in his police work, Harjit found that treating people as equals and listening to them drew the information most useful for winning over the populace.

"They'll tell you what security means for them, what they really want in terms of government, what they want from the police. In the end, real security comes from the grassroots level.

"We tried to use every non-combat avenue to fix the problem first. We only used combat when we had to. Security does not come from having a person with a gun there. Security comes from a person who is happily living in a village and does not support the insurgent activity."

Harjit would take the citizens' responses to Fraser, who would then meet with the provincial governor and raise issues identified by the people.

Fraser was more than happy with the Major's work.

"Not only did he display a rare high level of intellect and experience in his analysis, he also demonstrated remarkable personal courage in his collection efforts, often working in the face of the enemy to collect data and confirm his suspicions, and placing himself almost daily in situations of grave personal risk," Fraser says in a letter to Vancouver police Chief Jamie Graham.

"His hard work, personal bravery and dogged determination undoubtedly saved a multitude of Coalition lives."

But it's not lives saved that Harjit will be thinking of in the days to come.  It's the lives lost, especially during Operation Medusa, when he became involved in the fierce battle for control of the Panjwayi area, and Canadians took heavy casualties.

"It just really made everybody work a lot harder to look out for one another," he says. "You think you could've done more."

And he will be thinking of the Canadians who fought and survived in Afghanistan, and those who fight there still.

"Our soldiers are second to none," he declares. "How fast and quickly they moved without any regard to their own safety  -  you're just in awe. You're just proud to wear the same uniform as them."

With public support faltering for Canada's mission in Afghanistan, Harjit remains committed to the effort. The words of one man at a meeting of local leaders, in a country tormented by three decades of war, stick in his mind.

"It just comes back to that elderly gentleman saying, 'Don't we deserve a chance for peace?'

"There are many academic reasons why we should or shouldn't be there, but when it comes down to it, I just think about the local people."

[Courtesy: The Vancouver Province]

Photos: top -  During her recent state visit, with Queen Elizabeth (and Iano Campagnolo, Lt. Governor of British Columbia, Canada). Third from bottom -  while serving in Afghanistan. Second from bottom  -  while serving in Bosnia. Bottom  -  in ceremonial uniform, to receive an award.   

 

Conversation about this article

1: Bicky Singh (Orange, CA, U.S.A.), June 27, 2007, 9:43 AM.

I really enjoyed reading this article: makes me proud! I wish we had more turban-wearing Sikhs in American law enforcement circles as well. I know of only one - Jagjit Singh - in the Los Angeles area. It's an important career stream that should be considered seriously by those so inclined, in the Sikh-American community.

2: Amrik Singh (New Delhi, India), June 28, 2007, 5:09 AM.

It is wonderful to see how quickly our young Sikhs become part and parcel of the new lands where they've made their homes, and do so with their heads held high. Truly, each young man and woman is the equivalent of a "savaa lakh" - a legion!

3: Jatinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 29, 2007, 4:35 PM.

I'm very happy to see him serving with the Forces. He makes our community proud.

4: Shindy K. Kaur (Malaysia), June 29, 2007, 9:16 PM.

I'm proud of you, my brother.

5: Harpreet Singh (New Delhi, India), June 29, 2007, 10:06 PM.

Really, he is an international brand ambassador, and pride of our community.

6: Jagmeet Singh Dhariwal (Adelaide, Australia), June 29, 2007, 10:11 PM.

Feel great after reading and seeing one of our brothers making us proud. Really appreciated, mate. Keep it up.

7: Harpreet singh (Melbourne, Australia), June 30, 2007, 1:28 AM.

That's really a great achievement for Sikhs all over the world. Harjit Singh ,keep it up! You have made every Sikh so proud.

8: Jasveer Singh (Singapore), June 30, 2007, 4:57 AM.

This is great:)God bless you, Harjeet.

9: Simranjit Singh (U.K.), June 30, 2007, 5:57 AM.

Harjit Singh is an inspiration to us all ... a reminder that we can achieve anything and everything, without compromising on or diluting our values and principles.

10: Karnail Singh Sarao (Hong Kong), June 30, 2007, 6:29 AM.

Reading your story, feel very proud of you. Would like to see more Sikhs in uniform.

11: Sukhbinder Singh Brar (Malaysia), June 30, 2007, 8:50 AM.

Veer, you look great, saabat surat and dastaar! Sikhi di Shaan!

12: Harminder Pal Singh (Union City, U.S.A.), June 30, 2007, 11:31 AM.

Feel very proud to see a gursikh, saabat surat, doing what he does best.

13: Rajwant Singh Kalsi (Florian√ɬ≥polis, Brazil), June 30, 2007, 5:11 PM.

We all pray that Waheguru keep your determinations still higher and keep you hale and hearty.

14: Col Tarjinderpal Singh Sekhon (Yuba City, U.S.A.), June 30, 2007, 5:30 PM.

Feel very proud to see a Gursikh in uniform in Afghanistan. This reminded me of the late Sardar Bahadar Capt. Kesar Singh, who went there in 1877.

15: Balwinder Marwaha (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), June 30, 2007, 6:42 PM.

This is an excellent example for our youth. I actually had the opportunity to golf with this gentleman and had no idea at all of his achievements. Well done, Sir.

16: Jessie Parmar (Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada), June 30, 2007, 7:29 PM.

Thank you very much for sharing the stories of our real heroes, such as Harjit Singh. Keep up the good work, Major: we are very proud of you.

17: Amarjeet (Canada), June 30, 2007, 7:52 PM.

We are proud of you. Our best wishes are with you.

18: Navdeep Singh Randhawa (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), June 30, 2007, 8:40 PM.

Absolutely awesome to see Harjit Singh represent the entire Sikh community in such a positive way. His accomplishments are the pride of Sikhs everywhere. Gur Fateh!

19: Avtar Singh (Ipswich, England), June 30, 2007, 10:46 PM.

Great to see a fellow-brother doing us proud with all of these great achievements. May god bless you.

20: Inderjeet SIngh (Delhi, India), July 01, 2007, 2:55 AM.

Veerji, you are Chardi kalaa personified ... keep up the good work. May God bless you!

21: Narinder Singh (United Kingdom), July 01, 2007, 3:14 AM.

Khalsa mero roop hai khaas! What a great article! Sikhs should feel proud of this great Canadian and son of our great community.

22: Harvinderpal Singh (U.K.), July 01, 2007, 3:45 AM.

Khalsa mero roop hai khaas. GurKirpa to you, VeerJi!

23: Ari Singh (Reykjavik, Iceland), July 01, 2007, 9:56 AM.

We are proud of you!

24: Jagdeep Singh Wadhwa (Mumbai, India), July 01, 2007, 10:53 AM.

Felt great on reading the article. Harjit Singh, it is a matter of pride for the Sikh community and your parents to have such a capable son. To live in Canada as a Gursikh and in the Khalsa uniiform makes us all look up to you. Young Sikhs have a wonderful role model in you to follow.

25: Jasdeep (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), July 01, 2007, 1:40 PM.

I congratulate your parents who, it appears, have been your guides and inspiration.

26: Jatinder Singh (Singapore), July 01, 2007, 11:28 PM.

We really feel proud of you. This is an excellent example for our young generation. We hope to see many Sikh boys with turbans in the Forces. We can achieve anything without diluting our principles. Parmatma tuhanu chardi kala wich rakhe!

27: Hardeep Singh (Los Angeles, California), July 01, 2007, 11:45 PM.

You stand tall for the whole Sikh Nation.

28: Charanjit Singh Vagree (Sandwell, England), July 02, 2007, 12:40 AM.

Major Harjit Singh, you do us proud.

29: Harminder Singh Dhinsay (Warwickshire, U.K.), July 02, 2007, 3:06 AM.

Veer ji, this is a great job you are doing: you have made Sikhs around the world very proud. May we all live by your example. God bless.

30: Capt. Baldiv Singh (Singapore), July 02, 2007, 3:10 AM.

We salute you for your good service to the betterment of the human race, brother.

31: Bikram S. Bhamra (Birmingham, U.K.), July 02, 2007, 4:51 AM.

Simply great. Sikhs like S. Harjit Singh put the whole Sikh community on the world map. No doubt, we all have to work for a living, whether it be in a factory, in an office or in business. But to join the defence forces of the country of your adoption, lifts ours heads even higher. I hope young Sikhs, both boys and girls, will follow his example and continue the great tradition of our Faith and its rich history. S Harjit Singh ji, Waheguru sada tuhade ang sang sahayee rahe. Keep it up.

32: Inderpal Kaur (Canada), July 02, 2007, 7:35 AM.

May you ever derive your inner strength through Sikh principles in your journey and stay in chardi kala for ever.

33: Hardeep Singh (Arusha, Tanzania), July 02, 2007, 10:48 AM.

Veerji, Chardi Kalaa ... and God bless you.

34: Jaswinder Singh (Barcelona, Spain), July 02, 2007, 11:34 AM.

Veer ji, proud to see you in saabat surat and chardi kala.

35: Pearl (Ottawa, Canada), July 02, 2007, 5:19 PM.

Good work ... Are you married? Handsome :+)

36: Pritam Kaur (Singapore), July 02, 2007, 10:53 PM.

Wow! I can't take my eyes off you! Sikhs like you are such role models. I am reminded of a Sardarni, Shanti Kaur of Akal Security - also full of confidence and spirit!

37: Puneet Pal Singh (Melbourne, Austraia), July 03, 2007, 12:28 AM.

Nice to see you in the complete Sikhi saroop. In fact, you are really doing something for the recognition of Sikhs worldwide. May god fulfill all of your desires.

38: Nirvair Singh (South Korea), July 03, 2007, 1:24 AM.

Veerji, chardi kala ... God bless you.

39: Nirmaljit Kaur (United Kingdom), July 03, 2007, 2:12 AM.

I really enjoyed this article. Proud to read about your successes within the path of Sikhi. Chardi Kalaa.

40: Gunwant Singh Anand (Baltimore, USA), July 03, 2007, 4:31 AM.

Veerji, Sikhs like you make us all so proud. Great is your mother who had the honour of giving birth to such a brave and courageous son. I salute your parents for giving you such values and inspiration in life. Gurfateh.

41: Jasmeet singh (Toronto, Canada), July 03, 2007, 6:49 AM.

Thanks for the pictures. We're really proud of him.

42: Diljit Singh (Canada), July 03, 2007, 9:29 PM.

Khalse da sadaa chardi kalaa.

43: Jagjeet Singh Sidhu (Auckland, New Zealand), July 04, 2007, 3:42 AM.

Proud of you, Veere, for your service in Afganistan and Bosnia, and all the honours you've received so deservingly.

44: Jatinder Sudan (Edmonton, Canada), July 04, 2007, 7:56 AM.

Well done, Veerji, you are a shining example for the whole community.

45: Hardie Singh (Johannesburg, South Africa), July 05, 2007, 6:10 AM.

Well done. Another example of determination and self-discipline. Waheguru bless!

46: Dalabar Singh (BA, FIJI.), July 05, 2007, 5:12 PM.

Khalse di chardi kalaa! You have proved to be a true Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. Waheguru ang sang hovey! You really "walk tall"!

47: Chandan Singh (Delhi, India), July 05, 2007, 11:29 PM.

We are really happy to see young Sikhs in the Canadian Army. Sikhs live to make the world a safer place for all to live in, and to create better understanding amongs all faiths.

48: Ram Singh (Windsor, U.K.), July 06, 2007, 2:02 PM.

Great.

49: Narjeet Singh (India), July 11, 2007, 3:40 AM.

Looks like all I want to say has already been said ... I endorse it all. You make me proud. My best wishes to you and your family.

50: Hardeep Singh (Charlotte, NC, U.S.A.), July 15, 2007, 7:26 PM.

Remarkable achievement. "Jo lare deen ke het sura sohi ..."

51: Parmjit Singh (Canada), July 20, 2007, 11:49 PM.

Harjit is an absolutely beautiful and chardi-kalaa personality in his dual roles as a soldier and an officer of the law. Knowing him well socially, I can say that he is soft spoken, humble and empathetic. Yet, given his achievements, he is obviously a poised and ready warrior on many levels. A rare combination of all the qualities that heroes are made of! If all those who are in the ranks of his chosen professions were like him, the world would indeed be a far better place. I do struggle, however, with the role of Canada and the West in Afghanistan, but without hesitation, knowing what Harjit is made of, am so proud of his representation therein as a Sikh, a Canadian, and a human being.

52: David Brady (Glagow, Scotland), July 25, 2007, 6:03 AM.

Harjit, thank you and well done to you and all the other Canadians working for the good of people like that old man. It is good to work with friends such as yourselves ... brothers-in-arms!

53: Amarpreet Singh (India), December 18, 2007, 2:22 AM.

Looks like a real king ... He is a true motivator to all of our brothers and sisters.

54: Jeff (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), January 30, 2010, 2:42 PM.

Amazing ... One of the most accomplished Sikhs in Canada! This man deserves all the Stars and Stripes. This is a man all young Canadians should look up to. Well done, Major Harjit Singh Sajjan!

55: Sonal (Chandigarh, Punjab), September 14, 2011, 1:58 AM.

Congratulations.

56: S. Singla (Mohali, Punjab), November 07, 2011, 12:45 AM.

I like the way you write. Awesome. Keep it up.

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