War is never something to be taken lightly, especially for a person who has experienced it and despite the title, peacekeepers often found themselves in difficult times.
Sgt. Bob Dale served in the military for 30 years starting in 1976 as an infantryman in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in London, Ont. He comes from a military background as his father fought in the Second World War. Being unable to find a job, he originally signed on for three years. “I found out that I was good at it. I liked it.”
Dale eventually transferred to vehicle technician in 1980 and was posted to Camp Petawawa, Ont. It was in 1986 that Dale was promoted to sergeant in the 4th Service Battalion in Lahr, West Germany.
He developed a love for architecture in Germany and documented much of his time there with photos to remember. He also learned to speak German.
Events in 1994 changed his life; Dale completed two six-month tours as a United Nations peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia. He is proud of Canada’s place as a peacekeeper. “We tend to go in and find the middle ground. We’re negotiators.”
Being a peacekeeper is not a walk in the park, explained Dale. Canadian soldiers died while the sergeant served there. He said there was hate he had not expected to see.
“It’s a mark on your soul, it’s a mark as what we stand for as Canadians,” he explained.
While serving as a peacekeeper his gun became his “best friend.” Soldiers slept when they could with their gun right next to them.
He feels Canadians were referees in a high stakes hockey game except the opponents carried guns instead of sticks. “We have to stay neutral, we have to find balance…if you don’t deal with it then you’re supporting the other side.”
One of Dale’s jobs was to document, with video, some mass graves found in the area he was in where Serbians were on Croatian land. He told the story of Operation Medak Pocket — named after the Village Medak nearby — where the Croatian Army attacked Serbian forces. The operation ended after a skirmish with peacekeepers, many of whom were Canadian, and accusations of war crimes against Croatia.
Twenty years later his videos helped prosecute those who gave the orders, he explained. “I played a small part in it and I’m glad that it finally got justice for these people.”
It took a toll on his life though and after returning to Canada Dale’s life was different; he had post-traumatic stress syndrome and started drinking after about four to five months. There was no debriefing for soldiers then and he could see the effect it had on him.
“I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t sleep and I was drinking. I went to get help,” he said.
Family, friends and the legion helped him deal with his issues. “They connected me with other vets.”
Dale was able to speak to others who could understand his troubles. Despite the problems Dale would not do anything different. He feels the best way for Canadians to show their support is to take those two minutes on Remembrance Day to pause and show their support.
“Some veterans put their lives on hold for six years,” he said. “And they need to be remembered.”
Dale was posted to the Canadian Airborne Regiment, Service Command in 1988 and developed a love being a paratrooper and still says, “A bad jump is better than any good day at the office.”
He now works with a construction company in Lacombe teaching field safety. He was also awarded a lifetime gold card by the Ponoka Stampede and Exhibition Association for his service to Canada.