By CAMERON KILFOY
Special to the Appalachian
Gary Jesso is a war veteran who not only found a brotherhood in the Canadian Reserves, but found his place in the world. From 1974 to 2012, Jesso served in multiple tours throughout the world.
Joining the military showed Jesso his true purpose.
“Belonging to a group and being a part of something is one of the main reasons I joined. When you’re young and looking for direction, it can give you that, it teaches you discipline and all kinds of skills,” said Jesso.
He did see action on the battlefield, and Jesso describes the time he served as a typical experience.
“The only way to describe it is – that was my work,” said Jesso. “You’re there for a job. You’re trained to do this type of job. Basically, on tour your main duty is to protect your fellow soldiers.”
His first tour was in 1982 in Syria. Jesso was a private for a United Nations Peacekeeping mission and remembers ‘not being able to feel scared’.
As he continued to serve during tours in Cyprus (1990), The North Pole (2000), and Dubai (2002), he learned how to better deal with the emotions that came with the work every day.
Jesso has witnessed tragedies during his service, but maintained that it is best to leave it all on the battlefield.
“It was all experience and you dealt with every situation differently,” said Jesso. “You kind of dealt with it right there, carried on and continued your job. There were times you weren’t sure if you would make it out of there, but that was it. Coming home you don’t think or talk about it. You leave it behind and I believe it is better that way.”
Jesso compares post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to eye colours – some people have green, some people have blue. Some experience PTSD and others don’t. It all depends on how you cope.
“I just didn’t need to speak about it,” said Jesso. “I would just put it in another realm, tucked away. You just gotta have hope – hope you will be okay.”
Jesso still says the good surrounding his chosen profession still outweighs the bad. After a tour in Libya (2012) he decided to retire. He had grown tired of the lifestyle and in need of a change, and the decorated officer did what was right for him.
Being a part of the military gave Jesso something he will always be thankful for.
“It gave me the confidence that I have today,” said Jesso. “I would recommend to any young person who is looking to build self-confidence, and be able to know they can do anything they want to do and go anywhere. That helped years down the road. You can accomplish anything once you’ve accomplished these missions.”
Since his retirement, Jesso has been living a more relaxing life. He added that it was tough at first.
“Veteran life has been good,” said Jesso. “But when you first get out you’re kind of at a loss. You’re used to being in uniform and being part of an organization. At first it’s nice not to go back to work, but then you miss it.”
In 2018 Jesso moved back to Newfoundland. He had been missing the bonds that his military career offered.
“When I moved home three years ago I joined The Legion,” shared Jesso. “It was the first time I felt like I was back in the military again. I was part of a group. Everyone knew who you were and what you did. It was beneficial.”
Jesso added that retirement from the military is actually a fast process. He referred to it as a ‘quick drop’ that caused, in his experience, a withdrawal. Finding the Legion helped give him back his identity.
“It helped; just the sense of community it brings,” said Jesso. “The people do become your family. It is a different environment but it is a good different.”
Through his work at the Legion and given his career history as an officer, Jesso says Remembrance Day is an important holiday that stirs many emotions for him.
“I have had several military friends pass away from post-traumatic stress,” said Jesso. “You remember that. You remember the places you went. It pulls at your strings a bit.”
In his 40 years of wearing a uniform, Jesso says he has only missed one Remembrance Day parade and only because he was posted at the North Pole. He believes the ceremony is beneficial to everyone.
Jesso feels honored and humbled to see the recognition for his work every year on November 11th.
“You don’t look for appreciation. When you go on tours, you serve your country and come back home,” said Jesso. “There’s no banners or parades. I mean you don’t want that. Having that recognition in November is appreciated and it is a nice feeling to be surrounded by.”
Having a strong career as a military man is all Jesso has ever desired. His heart belonged to the armed forces and he gave his all to help protect and serve his country.
Jesso hopes that sharing his story will help inspire others.
“People can be whatever they want to be or whoever they want to be,” said Jesso. “The military gave me a sense that I can accomplish anything and I just want people to find their version of that.”