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Ian Sweet

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An officer stands with head bowed

Two soldiers stand beside each otherIan Sweet had an early start to his military service. At the age of 12, he started as a cadet. His father was running the local Canadian Legion branch at the time, and encouraged him to join. He was hesitant, worried about fitting in, but immediately fell in love with it. By the time he was 15, he was jumping as a parachutist with the cadets.

At 17, he was in Europe serving as reservist with the Canadian military.

"I pretty well had it figured out that this would be my future as soon as I was finished high school," said Mr. Sweet. "When I turned 19, I joined full time."

He went to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, for 11 weeks of basic training.

Following basic training, he went to Base Borden to be trained as a medic.

"I initially wanted to join as air crew, as my family has a history with the Air Force," he said. "My grandfather was a pilot, and my father was in the Air Force."

However, his eyesight kept him from following this dream.

At 25, he became a Master Corporal and when he received his commission, he was offered the opportunity to become an Officer.  Following another basic training in Chilliwack, British Columbia, in 1987, he became an officer.

"I initially went in as a Naval Officer, but after a year's training, my eyesight again became a problem and I was deemed unfit for sea duty," said Mr. Sweet, who eventually had to have eye surgery.

He returned to his role as a medic, and worked as a Health Care Administrator until his retirement from the military at 38-years-old.

"The experience that affected me the most during my time with the military was my mission in Haiti, from June through December 1997," recalls Mr. Sweet. "Canada's involvement in Haiti was twofold. It was a military mission to create a safe environment within Haiti so the government could become effective and also to medically care for all the UN personnel, including civilian UN police and UN staff."

"The country was in complete anarchy - literally. There was no functioning government or police force. The UN's role was to enable safe elections, overhaul the justice system and ensure a well-trained and honest police force.  As the medical component of the UN mission, our job was to look after all the UN people medically. There was a lot of violence there, which was mostly drug-related," he said. "It was difficult to be in the UN and have to be impartial, and see this catastrophic degradation of human life. We were dealing with four to six deaths a day, every day."

One of the harsher moments took place shortly after Mr. Sweet's arrival in Haiti.

"We found the remnants of a 'house cleaning' of orphans, where either the government agencies or gangs had gathered up street kids from the streets and killed them."

In addition to their official work, the medical team took on humanitarian work with the people of Haiti.

"The need was so great, but the resources, so limited," said Mr. Sweet. "You bring home those memories, especially those of the dead children. It's not something Canadians are accustomed to - nor should they be."

Along with the difficult experiences, there were some wonderful memories as well.

"No matter how bad things were, the Haitians always had a smile," he said. "These people have nothing, but they carry a quiet dignity. They are so grateful for anything they are given."

It was hard for Mr. Sweet to leave the people of Haiti.

"In all likelihood, and without sounding too dramatic, they are all dead," he said while looking at photos of himself standing outside a residence in Haiti, surrounded by children. "They would have either died a violent death or starved. There's no doubt in my mind."

The experience has made him more appreciative of what we have in Canada. "People don't realize how good we have it. We live in a country where when we turn on a tap, we have water. When we call 911, we have police officers, firemen and EMS workers we can trust. We have a government that answers to us," Mr. Sweet said. "In Haiti, people risk their lives to vote."

Following his return to Canada, while stationed in an office, he decided he wanted to broaden his horizons and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. While in school, he stayed in the reserves, and during the summer, commanded all Canadian Forces reserves medical staff while undergoing training. After he was called to the bar, he had to make a choice and committed himself to his law career.

Mr. Sweet now practices law from his Newmarket home. He is also heavily involved with the Canadian Legion, of which he's been a member for 29 years.

"The legion has been good to my family," he said. "The work I do for them as a military officer and a lawyer is payback for all they have done for my family. It's fulfilling work, and it keeps me grounded."

Mr. Sweet's 11-year-old daughter, Haley, knows military life well, growing up with two parents in the service. At seven, she told her father: "I want to help," and proceeded to back up boxes of toys and dolls to be distributed to Afghan kids, who, like the Haitians, have very little.

"She's a military kid," he adds. "She knows about the harsh realities of life in a war zone. When you're in the military, your whole family is in the military."

Needless to say, Mr. Sweet is fiercely proud of his daughter, who is clearly the light of his life.

Ever humble, Mr. Sweet feels uncomfortable being labelled a veteran.

"I was never a war fighter and I don't think I earned it."

With all Mr. Sweet has witnessed, and all he has done to promote freedom and safety for others, he's surprised to be called a hero, and admits the strong emotion that it invokes within him.

"There are too many guys who have gone to their grave without hearing that - without someone saying thanks and calling them a hero," he said. "It really means so much when people say thank you."

"As Canadians, I don't think we brag enough about how good our soldiers are," said Mr. Sweet. "Canadians have a view of our soldiers of being peacekeepers, but what our soldiers do is so much more. The Canadian Military is working to bring freedom to the people of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this freedom comes at a price."