(Note: While Ambassador Jacobson is taking part in the Nijmegen March, he’ll be Tweeting about his experiences. Follow the Embassy on Twitter to see what he’s doing, and watch this post for all his latest Tweets!)
(Note: While Ambassador Jacobson is taking part in the Nijmegen March, he’ll be Tweeting about his experiences. Follow the Embassy on Twitter to see what he’s doing, and watch this post for all his latest Tweets!)
Today was the first day of the march, but I want to tell you about the night before. Headed for bed, I passed a woman from the Canadian forces. She was standing outside in the rain and mud polishing her boots. That is pride and it took my breath away.
Sleeping through the excitement was hard. I couldn’t wait for the 4 am wake up. In fact, I didn’t. Woke up at 2:30. Music on loudspeakers didn’t help.
With a 5:10 am salute from bagpipes, we were off! The weather was not bad. I never thought I’d be so happy to see light drizzle, and I was hoping for it to stay that way. Padre said a prayer for no rain. In my book, he deserves a battlefield promotion.
In every town the people were out. There were bands playing and lots of high-fives all around. It’s hard to describe the energy and excitement in words. There were hundreds of thousands of people — maybe more — all along the route. It’s a huge party. One town near the halfway mark had 30,000 people out, I was told.
We took our first break after 30 K. Every kid in Nijmegen is giving away candy, licorice, and cucumbers. I brought embassy pins and I’m handing them out to the kids.
As we got closer to the end, I was walking with a team of U.S. soldiers. They asked who I was, and I told them I was the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. They said “yeah, sure!”; my teammates had to vouch for me! The line that summed up the day came 500 meters from the finish. I asked a U.S. soldier next to me how he was doing. “Nothing a beer won’t cure.” Sounds just right.
And so, I’ve finished Day One. Forty-six kilometers in nine hours and two minutes. Hey, it was so much fun, I think I’ll do it 3 more times!
We landed last night in Lille, France with fireworks going off in the sky all around us. I thought it was for us, until someone reminded me it was Bastille Day. It was still a nice welcome.
Today we took the thirty minute drive to Vimy Ridge.
There are two parts to a trip to Vimy. The remnants of a war that took place 95 years ago, and the memorial. The former is an unmistakable horror. The latter is a testament to beauty, hope and peace.
Even a civilian like me can understand the strategic importance of Vimy Ridge. It extends for kilometers and overlooks the valleys on both sides. It crests at the famous Hill 145 — the key strategic point and the site of the monument.
The first thing that shocks you is the landscape. There a craters everywhere, mostly from artillery shells that rained down on the site for a week before the battle. Some are from exploding mines. Some very deep ones are tunnels that collapsed. They are not spaced out. They are everywhere.
Then you see the tunnels. They stretch for kilometers. They begin behind the lines and extend to the front. Today they have concrete steps to get in and out. In 1917 there were mud hills. Today the floors are concrete. Then they were swamps filled with mud, rats, darkness. Worse, as our guide explained to us, the tunnels were the fancy part of Vimy. At the end of the tunnels were the trenches. Open to the elements and filled with water. Today it rained most of the day. It was cold. I simply can’t imagine what it must have been like in 1917 to live there for months during the winter with bombs and bullets everywhere.
The front trenches of the Canadians and the Germans were about 25 meters apart. They could talk to each other. The killing and maiming was catastrophic. In the small region around Vimy (described to me as roughly the size of Ottawa) 600,000 people — military and civilian from all countries — were killed. The devastation is almost incomprehensible.
After a tour of the battlefield we went to the monument. It is gleaming white marble. It is peaceful. Hopeful. I had seen the plaster models of the statues at the Canadian War Museum. And I had read Jane Urquhart’s great book, The Stone Carvers, about the construction of the monument and the carving of the statues and the names of the soldiers who were never found. But I did not understand the size or the power of the monument.
We had a ceremony where several of us laid wreaths. I was honored to have a chance to say a few words:
We are gathered here today in the shadow of this great memorial. A place dedicated to the 11,285 Canadians killed in France during the First World War whose final resting place is unknown. So this is their resting place.
I have read about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I have admired the courage of those who fought here for the values Canada and the United States shared in 1917. And still share today. I’ve been told of how the national identity of Canada was forged on this very spot — as the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force came together on April 9, 1917. I have seen photos showing the power and the beauty of Walter Allward’s design. Its yearning for peace.
But until you stand here. Until you see this memorial. Until you experience the enormity of this place. You cannot understand what Vimy Ridge means to the Canadian people.
I am very excited at the prospect of the Nijmegen March. I am very excited to march shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends in the Canadian Forces. But whatever comes hereafter, this visit to Vimy has made my journey to this continent one I will never forget.
The day has finally arrived. Finished packing this morning. Learned just how many pairs of boots and how much tape will fit in one suitcase. Then we took the three hour drive to Trenton to meet up with my team. Going to try to get a good night’s sleep before we fly to Europe.
Today I went to the send off ceremony at the War Museum for the Ottawa contingent that is going to Nijmegen. I had on a suit. The rest of the marchers were there in their uniforms and combat boots. The weird thing was that I found myself staring at the well worn boots and being able to identify the manufacturers: Swat, Magnum, Rocky, Bates, etc., etc. Never thought I’d have that skill. The ceremony made it all feel very real. I guess I’m really going to go.
Having foolishly agreed to go on the Nijmegen March I decided I had better train for it. Now, 773 kilometers later I am pronouncing myself ready. I hope.
I started last March as the snows melted going three kilometers. Then five. Then ten. During the first several walks it was dark out. So I went to Canadian Tire and bought one of those reflective vests people wear at construction sites and airports. I wore it over my parka. It was quite a site. Very diplomatic. My wife had much to say about “my new look.”
My greatest friend in this process has been books on tape. It can get kind of boring walking for hours. For a while music was fine. But as the walks got longer music just wasn’t enough. Books on tape were more distracting. So I got a lot of them. Long ones. Books I wouldn’t ordinarily read. I listened to War and Peace. Then Crime and Punishment. I listened to business books. Then I started on biographies (I highly recommend Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs and Robert Caro’s most recent volume on Lyndon Johnson). I listened to so many books I wore out my iPod. Had to get a new one.
When I wasn’t by myself listening to books on tape I was with my 11 person Nijmegen military team. They are all great. Except for one thing. They seem to enjoy starting the hikes at 4 am. After an hour or so and a couple of stops at Tim Horton’s (they always map out the Tim Horton locations on the route) I was able to overlook the early hour and begin talking. It did give me the chance, however, to see a few spectacular sunrises.
Pretty soon I could go for four or five hours (20-25 K) without too much trouble. Then – in accordance with the military rules – we did back-to-back 30 K walks. And finally back-to-back 40 K’s. After that I was pretty sure I could make it. That is until I went on a trip with Prime Minister Harper to North Bay. During the trip I managed to fall down a flight of steps. As I was lying up-side-down on the cement the first thing that went through my mind was NOT: “Gee the United States Ambassador really looks foolish.” It was “Oh, no! All that training for nothing.” While I was kind of banged up, I wasn’t deterred and after a couple of days, I was back up on my feet. Literally.
My team includes a couple of real Nijmegen veterans. For one, this will be his tenth; for another, his eighth. They have some great tips for the rest of us novices. The only problem is they usually don’t agree on advice. One says walk every day, the other says walk three times a week over very long distances and then recover. One says eat frequently, the other says don’t. One says wear two pairs of socks, the other says wear one. The two things they do agree on, however, are that Nijmegen is a great experience. And do what works for you. Then don’t change it!
Speaking of socks … I have tried them all. Someone sent me to Mountain Equipment Co-op because they have a good selection. I got there and – sure enough – there was a whole wall of socks. I bought one of each pair and mixed and matched them until I found the ones I liked and then stocked up.
Then there were the combat boots. Combat boots have a bad rap. I thought they’d be heavy and uncomfortable. The modern ones are light and very comfortable — when you get the right ones, that is. That took a while of trial and error and a closet full of discarded models. As an Ambassador, I’m supposed to promote business; chalk this up to doing my part for the footwear industry. Once you have the boots and the socks you have to start experimenting with insoles, tape, powder, creams, etc, etc, etc.
Having tried just about everything on my feet, I thought I had it figured out. That left just one thing. What to wear on the rest of me. The others on my team – being in the Canadian Forces – would wear their uniforms. At first we thought I should wear a U.S. uniform. Then we decided that since I wasn’t in the military I should wear civilian clothes. But which ones. If it had been up to me I would have worn those red shorts I wear on the golf course. The ones that embarrass my family. But it turned out they also embarrassed the Canadian Forces. So I settled on some olive drab colored hiking pants and grey long sleeved shirts. Sort of look like a rag tag soldier. But I do have a beautiful camouflage Tilly hat and a camouflage pack. Can’t say as I look like I’m exactly ready to go to war. But at least I’m comfortable.
Last night I started to make up my packing list. Tonight I have to cut it in half so I have some chance of fitting it into the one suitcase I’m allowed.
Tomorrow we go to the Send-Off Parade at the War Museum. Can’t wait.
Some of my neighbors have probably wondered why, for the past four months, they’ve seen me trudging through the Rockcliffe Park neighborhood at the crack of dawn, wearing combat boots and carrying a military pack. Given this year’s ongoing commemorations of the War of 1812, someone’s probably wondered whether I’m out to prove Thomas Jefferson’s famous assessment that success in Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” Or, more simply, whether this American has lost a few marbles.
Well, happily, neither is true. What I’ve been doing is preparing for the Nijmegen March that begins next week.
For those not in the military, a little background: Since 1909 the Dutch military has held a four-day training exercise in Nijmegen, a city of about 160,000 in the eastern Netherlands. What started as a small local event has become an extravaganza attracting some 50,000 marchers from around the world. About 10,000 are from militaries, the rest are civilians. I am told the event attracts close to 1,000,000 spectators. There are different distances for different groups; the military groups march 40 kilometers a day for four consecutive days – about 8 to 9 hours each day.)
I am going with a group of about 250 members of the Canadian Forces who have been long-time participants. Canada has an honored place in the march as a result of the role they played in the liberation of Holland during WWII.
I have been asked by many people — most often by my wife, Julie — “why are you going to the Netherlands to walk 40 K a day, in the summer heat, in combat boots?” (She’s leading the contingent that thinks I might have lost a few marbles, by the way).
The story is actually very simple. I was having breakfast with Laurie Hawn, the MP from Edmonton who is a retired Air Force pilot, and several senior officers in the Canadian Forces. They were all talking about having done Nijmegen and what a great experience it had been. In a moment of exuberance I said: “Gee, that sounds like fun. I’d like to do it some time.” A few days later I received an invitation from the Canadian Chief of Staff, General Walt Natynczyk, to join the Canadian Forces for this year’s march. How could I say no?
I often talk about how the extraordinary relationship between Canada and the United States is unlike any in the world. That is particularly the case between our two militaries. Americans and Canadians in uniform have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan, Libya, NORAD and elsewhere around the world. This is my chance, in my own small way, to stand (and march) shoulder-to-shoulder with my friends in the Canadian forces.
Tomorrow I’ll talk a little about the training and my recent obsession with socks and insoles.
Guest Blogger: Luis CdeBaca, United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
On this date in 1793, the First Parliament of Upper Canada passed the Act Against Slavery, making Upper Canada the first British territory to enact an abolition law. John Graves Simcoe, the colony’s lieutenant governor, was moved by the story of a young woman in slavery who had been forced to leave Canada and sold into slavery in the United States. But when he heard this story, he didn’t just dismiss it as a problem that couldn’t be fixed. He decided to do something about it. Even though several of his colleagues were themselves slave owners, Simcoe didn’t relent until an agreement was reached that would begin to phase out the system of legal slavery in Canada.
History is peppered with similar stories, of leaders whose drive and courage finally tipped the balance in favor of a freer and more just world. In the United States, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the end of legal slavery in our country, we honor those who fought and died to secure freedom for those who were enslaved and for future generations.
But looking around the world today, we see that the adoption of laws and policies banning slavery did not necessary result in theendof slavery. Indeed, as many as 27 million men, women, and children live in a state of modern slavery, what we sometimes call trafficking in persons. This crime takes many forms—women promised jobs as domestic workers only to find themselves trapped and abused; men on fishing boats forced to labor long hours for no pay; children prostituted in brothels. Whatever the form it takes, human trafficking is a crime and an offense to all the efforts throughout history to eradicate slavery. And just as so many courageous leaders over the centuries said slavery was intolerable, modern abolitionists in governments around the world are recommitting themselves to this struggle.
That’s why over the last 12 years, so many countries have adopted laws designed to fight slavery in its modern form. The U.N. adopted the Palermo Protocol, which laid out the 3P’s of fighting human trafficking—prevention, prosecution, and protection. As the United States’ annual Trafficking in Persons Reporttells us, we’re making real progress in this struggle. More victims are being identified, more trafficking cases are being prosecuted, and more innovations for protecting survivors are being put to use.
The United States is proud to partner with Canada to lead this fight. On a recent visit, I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of leaders in the Canadian government who are committed to eradicating this scourge once and for all. And with the announcement of a new national action plan, Canada is showing the international community what an effective anti-trafficking strategy looks like. This sort of commitment is precisely what’s needed to advance in this struggle.
The progress we’ve made should give us great optimism that the vision of John Graves Simcoe—the vision of so many people throughout history who fought against slavery—is within reach. Their accomplishments and sacrifices must continue to inspire us as we move forward with this work, and we must be driven by a common commitment to build a world free from slavery.
Today is – of course – a very special day for all Americans. It’s the 236th anniversary of the Independence of our country. It is a day when all Americans celebrate the values that make our country great. A time to thank those whose foresight and determination shaped the course of our nations’ histories. To thank those who defined freedom as a virtue and equality as a goal.
It is a time to thank the men and the women of our armed forces around the world whose service and sacrifice has protected those values that were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence 236 years ago today.
On a personal level, it is a time for me and my family to thank the Canadian people for the grace, the kindness, and the hospitality they have shown to us since we arrived as guests in your country three years ago. For your warmth and for your friendship we will be eternally grateful.
We are celebrating what George Washington referred to as “the experiment entrusted in the hands of the American people.” That experiment has served us well in times of peace and in times of war. In times of plenty and in times of want. It has been the answer to the cynical, to the fearful, and to the doubtful.
And celebrate we did.
We started with two very special events courtesy of our Canadian friends. First thing in the morning we went to a ceremony at City Hall hosted by, His Worship, Mayor Jim Watson, where the American Flag was raised and the Governor General’s Ceremonial Band played the Star Spangled Banner. Then Mayor Watson presented us with a very special gift. In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy travelled to Ottawa for his first trip outside the United States as President. We were given a set of photos from the city’s archives of President and Mrs. Kennedy’s trip. They are very special to me as President Kennedy has been a hero of mine for a long time. And his connection to Ottawa is special.
Then we went to Parliament Hill to be guests at the Changing of the Ceremonial Guard. This time, the band (with bag pipes!!) played several American songs including one of my personal favorites, the Washington Post March (no it’s not named after the newspaper).
Then we went home for our traditional celebration. This year we were trying to replicate a back yard picnic, like the ones Julie and I had growing up. The biggest difference was this one was a little bigger than the ones we had when we were kids – bigger by about 4000 people. Fortunately we have a very big back yard.
I have always done a lot of press on July 4. And this year was no exception. But one interview stands out. This year, I did the weather on a live remote with J.J. Clarke of CTV Ottawa. When it was my turn, I allowed as how this was the first time I had ever done the weather, that it was warm and sunny outside, and that I could now boast I was the only weatherman in history who had never gotten a forecast wrong!! I am now retiring from the weather business with my record intact. Kind of like the Rocky Marciano of weathermen.
We were joined by Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia and his wife Sandra who are in Canada on a economic development mission encouraging trade and investment between Georgia and their largest trading partner – Canada.
A special treat was the musical entertainment. RCMP Corporal Craig Kennedy sang the Canadian and American national anthems with great emotion. Then, as has become the tradition, the Governor General’s Band of the Ceremonial Guard entertained us for half the event. Next the Nepean All-City Jazz Band entertained the crowd. This incredibly talented group of young people was recently featured at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. They have earned Musicfest’s National Gold Awards for the past 25 years straight – which ought to allow them to retire the trophy. They were great.
It’s been a long and exciting day. And I believe we have honored the 4th of July in Ottawa as the day deserves.
As we celebrate Canada Day and July 4 this week, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the state of our bilateral relationship.
In short, I believe the relationship between the United States and Canada has never been stronger.
On so many fronts we are working together to achieve our shared goals: managing our border for greater efficiency and greater security; expanding trade for greater prosperity; and enhancing peace and security around the world.
The past couple of weeks have – quite frankly – been exceptional.
These achievements took place against the background of political and military cooperation between our two countries in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, this hemisphere, and elsewhere around the world. Canada and the United States work together to foster the values we both celebrate on our National Days.
On the trade front the good news continues. From 2009 to 2011, trade between the United States and Canada increased by 37.8 % or $188.7 billion. Just last year Canadian exports to the United States increased by $41 billion (13%) or more than 10 times the increase in Canadian exports to China.
Canada remains the overwhelmingly largest foreign supplier of every form of energy to the United States. You send us virtually 100% of the electricity we import; 85% of the natural gas; and stunningly 27% of our foreign oil. The next highest foreign source of oil is Saudi Arabia at 12%!!!
None of this is to say that everything is perfect or that we do not — on occasion — have some bumps in the road. The economic challenges we face, particularly in my country, have, at times, caused strains. And it’s inconceivable that two sovereign nations with the largest economic relationship between two countries in the history of the world, two countries with the longest shared border in the world, would not have issues from time-to-time. But like the friends we are, we address those issues and we try to resolve them forthrightly.
As we honor these special days in our two nations I can say, on behalf of President Obama and the American people, that we are very lucky to have Canada as our neighbor.
Happy Canada Day. Happy 4th of July.