Being in the CFB Petawawa Drill Hall was more than a bit strange for me. The military occupied two exclusive spaces in my family when I was growing up: It was both a threat to my parents and a threat to be used by my parents.

My parents weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the volumes of the Weapons and Warfare encyclopedia set I collected in my early teens. I think they worried that my fascination with military hardware, inspired by a neighbourhood friend my parents were not enthusiastic about, suggested I was going down a violent path. Ironically, it was only a few years earlier that my parents routinely threatened to send me to military school when I was out of line. That threat was real enough to make a misinformed impression on me me at the time.

I was distracted by those memories as I held a coffee in one hand and bagel in the other during the Executrek welcome briefing. Scenes from Private Benjamin and Stripes danced around my head as I waited in one of the many lines organized alphabetically by last names for kit assignment.

The line for our kit. OPERATION COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT, CFB Petawawa, September 21, 2017.

The first in a series of awakening moments occurred when I arrived at the front of my line. The young soldier seated at the other side of the table, likely 25 years my junior, looked me up and down and made some notes on a piece of paper. A moment later she called out sizes for pants, a shirt, vest and helmet. A team of runners reached into different boxes further beyond the tables and returned moments later with my kit. With the exception of the helmet which had to be replaced because is was a touch too small for my head, everything she called for fit me perfectly.

All Executrek participants, well over a hundred of us, were fully kitted-up for the second briefing. The bleachers, which had earlier featured an array of colours and styles, were now a sea of CADPAT and flecks of coloured duct tape—blue, green and yellow—identifying team assignments.

As sea cadets, my daughters had been wearing uniforms for several years, by this time. They, and their fellow cadets, were proud of their uniforms. They washed and ironed them, sewed rank badges on them, and polished their boots individually and at “boot polish parties” they organized themselves. The cadets looked sharp and stood tall in their C1s and work dress. I remember how outwardly indignant they all were when a policy was instituted in 2014 banning serving members and cadets from wearing their uniforms in public except under certain circumstances. It was, thankfully, a short-lived policy in the aftermath of the tragic killings of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

This was my first time in a uniform. It felt good. I wasn’t part of a borg. I belonged to a larger group of people, of different interests and backgrounds, brought together by at least one common purpose: to better understand the Canadian Armed Forces and the men and women who serve.

Participants in OPERATION COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT being briefed while in full kit. CFB Petawawa, September 21, 2017.

By contrast, my CLaS coordinator collected measurements a few weeks ago. Where an army base is large and can warehouse uniform pieces of all shapes and sizes, a ship has finite space. Our kit has been assembled for us and will be provided at the hotel tomorrow morning after breakfast. Like all members of the ship’s company, we will have to be in uniform before we board.