VIDEO: Vanderhoof veteran passes on 40-year arms drill expertise

two Vanderhoof Air Cadets formed this year’s new Remembrance Day honour guard under the tutelage of veteran Shawn Burtenshaw.

Retired lieutenant colonel Shawn Burtenshaw adjusts the position of air cadet Sgt. Michael Bleeker

Retired lieutenant colonel Shawn Burtenshaw adjusts the position of air cadet Sgt. Michael Bleeker

Armed with decommissioned World War II rifles, two Vanderhoof Air Cadets formed this year’s new Remembrance Day honour guard under the tutelage of retired lieutenant colonel Shawn Burtenshaw.

Burtenshaw last touched a rifle 36 years ago, when he was part of the 15 Medicine Hat Air Cadet squadron.

“My body remembers, and I was able to do it and instruct it to the cadets,” said Burtenshaw, civilian instructor of the 899 Vanderhoof Air Cadet squadron for the last five years. “That memory of drill is why I get called upon as parade marshall.

“I know what the orders are, as an innate part of me, when I learned as an air cadet at 13 years old.”

It’s the first time for air cadets Flight Cpl. Joe MacKinnon (right) and Sgt. Michael Bleeker (below) to perform drills involving nine-pound service arms.

MacKinnon was inspired to volunteer for the opportunity as his grandfather took part as the honour guard in the Royal Canadian Air Force 50 years ago. For Bleeker, it was a way to do something new, as well as honour those who have fallen and his grandparents who were part of the war effort as a scout or in the front lines.

They agreed that the hardest part of the role was standing in the required position for a long time.

“It’s when you’re standing that all your little itches that wouldn’t appear would appear,” Bleeker said.


From Prairies cadet to NATO headquarters


As Vanderhoof’s parade marshall four times out of the last five years, Burtenshaw attributed his drill training and ability to give orders to 150 people to not only his cadet beginnings, but also his time with the military as he joined the Canadian Armed Forces.

In Medicine Hat, Burtenshaw eventually became a senior cadet in charge of annual inspection. When he was 19, he enrolled in the Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, where he was issued a designated rifle to participate in drill training that incorporated air, army, and navy forces.

“Being in [military] college you spent a lot of time doing drill,” Burtenshaw said. “Those things stick with you, when you spend that much time on the parade square doing drill.” His drill expertise continued to be recognized later as he became parade commander at several postings in Canada over the course of his military career.

Though his initial hopes to become a pilot with the Canadian air force were stumped when he failed his pilot training, Burtenshaw earned a degree in chemical engineering and found his niche in air navigation — a speciality that took him to Europe and South America.

In 1981, he was assigned to anti-submarine warfare helicopter Sea King Tactical Navigator at Canadian Force Base Shearwater in Nova Scotia — a posting that included a six-month tour with the Standing NATO Force Atlantic, now known as the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1.

“SNFL, or sniffle for those in the know,” Burtenshaw said. “I went from having a small world insular view of things to going to places I never imagined I’d go to.

“I had the opportunity to do some touring by car in Iceland, and in that same trip, we ended up in Venezuela, as part of that six month tour.” He also visited West Germany and Greenland with SNFL.

After five years with Sea King, his career took him to other parts of Canada such as Winnipeg, Toronto, and Vancouver Island, as well as the United States Naval Air Development Center in Pennsylvania. In 1998, posted at Shearwater again, he was involved in the search and response of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax while on its way from New York City to Switzerland.

His next overseas posting took him to Brussels, Belgium in 2002, as he became part of the Canadian Forces Military Representative Staff at NATO Headquarters, taking part in developing Canadian policies related to NATO activities and the reorganization of NATO headquarters.

He showed his Canadian colours while traveling on the European continent.

“From one meeting in Czech Republic to another in Warsaw, Poland, we ended up driving, in true Canadian fashion,” Burtenshaw said. “The Europeans were flabbergasted, a six-hour trip.”

On a vacation to Kosovo, he drove three hours to visit a colleague’s family — whose nearby relatives never visited because “it’s too far.”

“I’m raised in Medicine Hat, and we would travel to Calgary for a day-trip shopping, three hours there and back,” he said. “We had no idea how close things are in Europe.”

As he retired from his 33-year career in 2009, he finished with a reservist position in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the appointed commander of the Canadian Forces liaison staff to public safety. He moved to Vanderhoof

“I’m proud to be a veteran and pass on some of what I know to the cadets,” Burtenshaw said. “From what I consider humble beginnings, I’m amazed at the job opportunities I had.

“I’m very happy to be in this position to give back.”