submitted by Captain Jeff Manney, Land Task Force Pacific Public Affairs.
She got to shake the hand of the Prime Minister, but for Sergeant Naomi Okimawininew, a Morinville, AB mom missing her kids, it was Justin Trudeau’s daughter that really made her day.
“It was just nice to see her,” the 16-year military vet said in Williams Lake, where she’s deployed on Operation Lentus 17-04 helping in the effort to combat forest fires. “When I’m away from home and I see kids I just want to give them a hug. It makes you feel like you’re still in a normal environment.”
With the evacuation of Williams Lake rescinded, normalcy is slowly creeping back into the city of 10,000 in British Columbia’s Cariboo region. Okimawininew, a maintenance planner with 1 Combat Engineer Regiment in Edmonton, along with 300 fellow soldiers are helping them get there, working side-by-side with the RCMP to ensure the safety of citizens as nearby forests continue to burn.
As with any member of the Forces, normalcy is something Okimawininew is expected to produce, but sometimes also asked to forfeit. A mother of two, she’s endured long absences from her two boys, a 3-year-old and a 12-year-old. She’s completed two six-month tours of Afghanistan, travelled for training, moved around the country. The separations are hard, but her boys understand why.
“They always miss me, but they know their Mom is doing something to help their country,” she says. “They’re proud of me, but they’re missing their Mom so they’re sacrificing too.”
In Williams Lake, small gestures from a grateful community go a long way to softening that sacrifice. ‘Thank you’s and handshakes are everywhere, and it seems like someone is always picking up the tab for coffee. Seeing the generosity of people touched by hardship reminds Okimawininew why the time away from home is time well spent.
“It’s important to show my kids that what we do overseas is really good for the rest of the world, but that, sometimes, we have to do the same for our own community.”