“Our parents were born there; go and help them out”

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Article / December 17, 2013

By: Captain Josée Bilodeau, Public Affairs Officer for the Disaster Assistance Response Team

ILOILO, Philippines – Leave or stay, that was the moral choice facing Master Corporal Erik Estrada and Sergeant Éric Gauthier when they learned that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was about to deploy in support of relief and stabilization operations in the Philippines.

MCpl Estrada is an Aviation Systems Technician from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based in Edmonton.  “Seeing the pictures of the devastation distributed by the global media, I was profoundly touched. As a CAF member first of all, no question about that, but also as a Canadian citizen of Phillipino origin,” he pointed out.

He volunteered almost immediately. But then he had to tell his loved ones, which wasn’t easy with a wife more than 28 weeks’ pregnant. “The decision was heart-wrenching for both of us”, he went on, deeply moved. “But Rachel understood that I was going there to do something good, she knew that’s why I enroled”, he continued. “The most difficult thing was telling her that I probably wouldn’t be there for the birth of our child. My wife was really great; she told me, ‘Our parents were born over there, I still have family there, go and help them.’

When she learned that DART would be operating on the island of Panay, MCpl Estrada’s wife told him that she had a cousin living in Capiz province.

When I got to Iloilo, I contacted her cousin as soon as I could. We wrote each other on Facebook to arrange a meeting at Roxas, where he was living with his whole family. I visited his home, I got to know his wife and children. And even though they’d been hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan, they were generous and kindly enough to invite me to a restaurant by the beach.

Rebecca Estrada was finally born on 2 December 2013, healthy and full of life, much to the delight of her father. She is the Estrada family’s second child, joining her brother Ethan, two years old.

Operation Renaissance wasn’t the first mission Sgt Gauthier had served on during his career. He works as a Traffic Technician with 2 Squadron 8 Wing, whose mandate is to carry out air operations and provide air transportation for deployments “anywhere in the world”.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone away on a mission,” he exclaims. “After 15 years of marriage and over six years in the Squadron, my wife has seen a few others,” he adds. “But this time it’s different, we’re expecting our first child. When I left my wife on November 18th, Nancy was more than 33 weeks’ pregnant. She’s due to give birth in January,” he points out. “Sure I’d like to be with her at Christmas and be here for the arrival of our child, but if the mission has to continue past the holidays, I know she’ll be in good hands with our parents and friends. I think of her often, we talk on a regular basis, we text each other”, he adds. “Just this week, she told me that the members of my unit had called her to get news and find out if she needed anything at all. With the sponsor program available to members and their families, I feel pretty confident about everything,” he concluded.  Every year, many CAF members from across Canada serve on foreign missions. Without the support and generosity of their families, friends and partners, these separations would be much more difficult.

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