Standing on guard: the National Sentry Program officially launched for 2015 in Ottawa

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Article / June 18, 2015

By Alycia Coulter

It is fitting that 9 April is the launch date each year for the National Sentry Program as it is also the day Canadians commemorate those who fought during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

This defining event in Canadian military history is remembered through the National Sentry Program which honours all Canadians who served, from the First World War to the present.

The National Sentry Program reinforces the Canadian Armed Forces’ commitment to remember Canada’s longstanding tradition of military excellence,” said General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). “It honours the sacrifices of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who have fought to ensure peace and security at home and abroad.

A sentry is a soldier posted at an area to keep watch. At the National War Memorial, the sentries are mounted beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – a structure that contains the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier from the First World War.

Since 2007, sentries have been posted during the summer as part of the Ceremonial Guard’s Public Duties tasks. The task was expanded last year to operate for seven months a year until 2020 and was named the National Sentry Program (NSP).

This is a whole Canadian Armed Forces effort – it is the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Canadian Special Operations Command. There will be an opportunity for regiments, squadrons and ships to honour their history, which will extend a connection to all parts of Canada,” said Major-General (MGen) Christopher Coates, Canadian Joint Operations Command Deputy Commander Continental.

The first two sentries to stand post on 9 April – Corporal Gaël Danguy-Pichette and Private Nicolas Zuluaga-Vaillancourt – were selected as their regiment, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal from the 2nd Canadian Division in Quebec, holds a Vimy Battle Honour.

It was a great experience to be one of the first sentries to stand post, and also on behalf of the members from my regiment who served 98 years ago during the Battle of Vimy Ridge” said Cpl Danguy-Pichette. “As a sentry, I am honoured to be tasked to guard the Tomb for all those who have fallen, and to reinforce the commitment to remember them.

The sentry positions for the NSP are selected from members of the CAF who volunteer. Each contingent consists of 23 sentries and pipers who are tasked to the program for 30 days.

As the unit responsible for the execution of public duties in the National Capital, the expanded NSP remains under command of the Ceremonial Guard.  The Ceremonial Guard provides the planning, coordination, training, logistics and command structure for the execution of this important task.

Sentries will be posted daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm until 10 November. When the sentries are posted at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the pairs rotate with other sentries from their contingent and are on duty for one-hour shifts. “We want Canadians to interact with their servicemen and women, ask questions about the site and their service, as well as pay proper respect to the Tomb,” said Colour-Sergeant (C/Sgt) Timothy Perry, the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the NSP. “Sentries are also there to demonstrate and demand respect for the site, as we must remember first in order to lead by example for the rest of Canada.

As the sentries cannot speak while they are on guard, there is an additional guard posted in the area to answer questions and provide information about the program.

It provides an opportunity to animate and bring to life this memorial. It provides an excellent connection for the Canadian people to see what it means to actually have their military here,” said MGen Coates. “Young soldiers standing guard at their forebearer, the Unknown Soldier, are a connection to today’s Canada.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen from across Canada will come to Ottawa this year to participate in the NSP.  Together, they will all take part in one common goal: to reinforce the commitment to remember all Canadians who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, in the past, present and into the future.

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