• 2023
  • Feb
  • 14

In the Name of Freedom: A Veteran’s Experience

Tuesday February 14, 2023

By Sergeant Garrick Halinen, Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (retired)

As I patrolled Kent Street in the middle of the night I could smell the ice and snow, the fumes of diesel and generators. The lingering aroma of food from the twenty-four hour cook tent wafted through the air. I encountered threats that came out at night, intent to cause damage and havoc. I was doing my duty as I was trained to do.

I often wondered what the next day would have in store for us as the police presence ramped up. Wondered what their plans and strategies would be. Wondered what actions they were willing to take. I was concerned for the safety of the innocent citizens and supporters. My mind had returned to military mode, although I had only one mission in mind when I had prepared to go to Ottawa in the name of freedom.

All members of the Armed Forces take an Oath to protect our Freedoms and Rights - a signed blank cheque up to and including our lives. It had been a long journey to get to this first night of patrol on Kent Street. But let me step back in time and tell a story of what led to this moment. Let’s go beyond this to our National War Memorial and the moment I met Tamara Lich.

During service with the Canadian Armed Forces I encountered a number of traumatic events. I kept them bottled up, and they compounded over a period of twenty-six years. Eventually PTSD took me completely down. PTSD can be so severe it’s classified as a brain injury. It would take me up to ten minutes every morning to retrain my mind to make a simple pot of coffee. I lost everything and experienced homelessness. It almost cost me my life. I reached out for help and discovered it was available through Veterans Affairs, who classified me as a disabled veteran. They placed me on a permanent disability pension. I returned to my home town after being away for thirty-seven years. It is a quiet and beautiful region that has considerable healing power.

I had been back home for less than a week and not even unpacked when I felt the calling to go to Ottawa. I had been watching the convoy form up from the beginning and tapped into the social media sources. I attended a bridge in the Niagara region to wave the flags and support our truckers as they advanced to our nation’s capital. I was in continuous contact with a fellow veteran who was part of the original convoy. Which brings me to Vern. Vern Olsen was a Brother from my regiment while we served in Petawawa in the Special Service Force Brigade and then in Germany during the Cold War. We watched the Berlin Wall get torn down. We thought that was the most historical event we would ever witness. But I digress.

Vern is a trucker from Vancouver Island. He spent the first week with the convoy in Ottawa and then had to return home. But his wife and his boss from the trucking company told him to go back to Ottawa and don’t come home until the job to lift the mandates was complete. He returned and saved a parking spot for me. When I arrived the neighbours on Kent already know who I was and welcomed me in. Before arriving in Ottawa I had been a hermit for seven years. I had shunned human contact as much as possible. I had massive anxiety and couldn’t predict how I would act or survive in the streets of Ottawa. I felt the trepidation slowly wash away as the hours marched on with the Freedom Family.

I patrolled Kent Street that first evening until the wee hours of the morning. I had about three hours of deep sleep in my SUV. The next morning there was fresh breakfast and bottomless coffee. I was wearing my medals and beret and was thanked for my service many times. The hugs seemed to land endlessly. My anxiety and trepidation continued to wash away. It was time to march on to the only mission I had for my time in Ottawa: to go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stand vigil over my Brother in Arms who lies there.

I packed a backpack with a Sherpa blanket and a thermos of coffee, slung my camp chair over my shoulder, and proceeded to Wellington. As I walked through the convoy line many people thanked me for my service. I was shocked by the number of people who asked if they could share a hug. What I encountered on the streets was turning into a healing experience that I never imagined.

When I arrived at our National War Memorial it was still early and quiet. There were only a few people on the Cenotaph grounds and one veteran. We had a good chat and then I went to the Tomb, dropped by gear and gave a proper salute to our Brother. Then I bundled into the camp chair with a hot fresh coffee and the blanket to keep the deep freeze off of my legs. The numbers at the Cenotaph began to build. More veterans and Freedom Seekers arrived. People approached me wanting to talk, hug, share stories. The number of veterans grew, and some came to chat. That’s when I discovered that an Armed Forces retired Padre would be there to hold our daily service with two minutes of silence and the Padre’s prayer and sermon in Remembrance of our fallen.

Ten minutes before our ceremony began, somebody very special came quietly in. She was the rare inspirational voice that was being heard around the world. Tamara arrived.

I asked the veteran who was chatting with me to go over and ask if her name was Tamara. He went. Then he did an about turn and started walking back to me with a massive smile on his face. He gave me a thumbs up. My voice boomed out, “Ask her if she can come and have a chat.” He did an about turn. This time she looked at me with a brilliant smile and gave me the thumbs up. Five minutes later she came to where I was seating, looked down into my eyes, and said the words that many people would love to hear: “Can I give you a hug?” My response, “Of course Tamara.” I melted.

I stood and we embraced so long and hard we could feel the physical vibration going through our bodies. At one point I had to push her back a little and look into her eyes. That only lasted a few seconds. She latched on again with more energy. We were both shaking. The vibration was so high we both broke down crying at the same time. We could feel each other’s warm tears. I eventually moved her back a little bit and wiped the tears from her cheeks. I wiped my eyes. And we continued to hold the embrace and simply began talking.

The people at the Cenotaph went silent as Tamara and I chatted. We lost track of time as it no longer mattered.

It was time for our Veterans daily service to remember our fallen Comrades. I talked with the Padre to make a special arrangement. The Veterans formed up in a single rank on the top step in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At that time, I placed Tamara beside the Padre in the centre of the line and I took the right flank. We had our two minutes of silence. Our Padre delivered a heart-warming prayer and sermon and we dismissed. The onlookers at the Cenotaph erupted in applause and joy. You can only imagine how elated those in attendance were to meet and talk with Tamara. It was a warm embrace from across the country for her.

Filmed by Kristen Nagle on February 16, 2022. Click here to see more…

Eventually the crowd began to thin out. It was almost time for Tamara to move on. It was time to ask an important question which I felt was necessary. “Would you like to have a veteran minder and bodyguard through the streets of Ottawa to wherever you desire to go?” She melted and said yes. Her wonderful husband Dwayne, Tamara, and I began the journey.

This was Tamara’s first time to really break away from everything, and it was slow going. We travelled across Wellington for a number of blocks and then turned up another street. We entered a hotel lobby where I was ushered into an elevator and taken to the top floor and into a board room. To my surprise, it was filled with the Road Captains, Tamara’s lawyers, and a security team. As soon as they saw that I was a veteran the room erupted with cheers. We shared hugs and handshakes, did photo ops. And then it was time to settle into the team’s daily meeting to deal with the pressing issues that affected the survival and success of the convoy. I became the proverbial fly on the wall.

Once they wrapped up, I announced that I had one request. I wanted to be taken to Tamara’s ride that had carried her across the country. I wanted to take pictures of the truck knows as Big Red. It was arranged and I was driven out to the camp known as Eighty-Eight. The photos were taken, and word rapidly buzzed around that a veteran from Kent Street was on the ground. I walked into the massive tent that housed the commercial-style kitchen, dining hall, and supplies that supported the convoy. People were sitting in groups at tables and the tent hummed with daily planning and discussions. They didn’t notice me until I was halfway to the kitchen and boomed out “Hold the Line!” They had a bit of a meltdown.

It was a pleasure to deliver a detailed briefing directly from the streets of Ottawa. I spent of the day at Eighty-Eight and enjoyed an excellent fresh hot dinner. Then I was returned to Kent Street to continue patrolling well into the night.

The next day after helping shovel snow, I made the pilgrimage back to the Cenotaph. This time there were three times as many veterans and more than three times as many supporters. Tamara returned and promised to return every day that she was free to do so. The veterans formed three ranks for our memorial service. This time the Padre had to be front and centre at the bottom of the steps as we had too many veterans for him to be at the top of the steps. I placed Tamara and one of her Road Captains on each side of the Padre. Our service was held, after which the joy and spirit erupted beyond the top level of our Memorial. Many people embraced Tamara. They hugged, talked, and cried. They know she was a symbol and inspiration for freedom. And I continued guarding her closely.

Eventually we broke free and returned to Wellington for Tamara’s first true free day to be with our Freedom-Loving Canadians. Understand that walking across Wellington from the Cenotaph to Kent Street is typically a seventeen-minute walk. With Tamara it was a two-hour journey of sharing love and unity. It was a phenomenal coming together of Canadians from all walks of life and all corners of the world. One take away that I dropped on Tamara was that fact that the brothers and sisters from Alberta and Quebec came together and realized they loved each other. Hilarious but true. So much for borders.

It took almost another hour to escort Tamara, her husband Dwayne, and her girlfriend who was another organizer to where my vehicle and Brother Vern’s truck were parked. Vern wasn’t there, so I took the group to their hotel and then returned to warm up.

That evening Tamara and I messaged back and forth a few times. She had a light dinner and made a short video to release, after which she couldn’t resist the urge to return to Wellington. I watched the footage of this and continued to feel her inspiration. On her return trip to the hotel she was arrested. I was informed within two minutes.

The following day I returned to the Cenotaph. There was to be no Veterans’ service. The riot police had formed up in full force. I went to the front lines and talked with the officers in the front ranks. Then I took up position ten meters from the front and watched as it unfolded. I had to return to the Cenotaph to continue guarding it. I was fortunate enough to get across the line before the police force from Quebec closed the square preventing anyone from escaping the violence. I did manage to do an about turn and approach that police line to look the officers in the eyes. I simply shook my head. They got the message.

By five pm at the Cenotaph the sun was sinking and my body was freezing up. As I returned to the kitchen tent on Kent Street the high winds continued to drive my body temperature lower. I made it back and was given a fresh cup of hot coffee. Somebody vacated their seat beside the heater for me. I spent about a half hour there to regroup my thoughts. My mind was reeling. The music was blaring from the outdoor speakers. People were dancing on the street and sidewalk. They were enjoying freshly cooked food and coffee. They had no idea what was coming at them.

I had them shut down the music and dumped the tent. (What does ‘dumped the tent’ mean?) I gave a full briefing as to the violence that was rapidly coming for them. I know the tactics, and the police were fully armed and unstoppable. At the end of my briefing I cracked. I began shaking and crying uncontrollably. One man came out of the crown and embraced me in a bear hug. Then two more joined us. Suddenly there were thirty people in a human ball united in a healing hug.

By this time I was fully in the grip of my PTSD. But the ground around me helped calm me down.

I returned to my vehicle and found my battle buddy Vern. We agreed that a tactical withdrawal was necessary to save as many innocent civilians as possible. As the sun went down we departed Ottawa to a safe location that was waiting for us.

Years before the Freedom Convoy as I was spiraling into PTSD and homelessness, my sister and I discussed the idea of finding ways to put roofs over the heads of homeless veterans. I thought this dreams was gone and only a memory. Since my time together with Tamara I’ve realized that she had reignited this dream and inspired me to move forward. In the months since a fellow Freedom Fighter reached out and offered her horse ranch to build the Invictus Lodge: a healing center and tiny transition home community for veterans in need. We are partnering with organizations that will move us rapidly toward our goals of reducing veteran homelessness and provide them with medical services. I will always have our Freedom Convoy to Tamara to thank for this.

   The Convoy, we came, the message the same.
   Our words were sent like straight arrows unbent.
   Our heart and resolve to the world without pause.
   In the cold of the night we shall all take flight.
   ’Cross the black of the path and the ice frozen pass.
   To the heart of salvation wrapped in our Great Nation.
   We all stand Canadian. A place of salvation.
   The beacon of light to our worldwide plight.
   Through the dark of this night we remain and we fight.
   A voice to the globe to carry the load.
   To fuel up and go and carry this show.

In the end we have four words, my friends. Unity. Love. Peace. Freedom. Quote me on this. It’s from my heart.

Garrick Halinen is a Retired Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, and a Freedom Fighter.

To learn more about Invictus Lodge you can email Garrick at ghalinen@gmail.com.

  1. Real Canadian

    Monday March 6, 2023 - 17:49:05

    It’s funny how you so called freedom fighters fight for free speech and then erase comments that don’t follow their narrative .isnt that what they did in nazi germany.this guy is a disgrace to the canadian military and has never been or will be a hero.

  2. Tom

    Sunday August 20, 2023 - 14:19:00

    Garrick Halinen is a Retired Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, and a Freedom Fighter.

    Halinen is not retired. He doesn’t have the time required. He quit the military. He is also Stolen Valur fraud. Claiming decorations and accomplishments that are flat out false. He claims to have held three of our Brothers in his arms as they died. That is a disgusting, craven lie. He ran a real estate scam that bilked fellow veterans out of tens of thousands of dollars. $20,000 in one case. He started a charity(?) called Invictus Lodge. It is a scam. Claims affiliation with Habitat for Humanity, they never heard of him. No charity status with RevCan. He gives no receipts for donations. Now he’s doing the house painting scam. Takes a huge down payment to paint your house, then disappears. Do not trust him, involve yourself with him or fall victim to his scams. This poser is just a piece of shyte and I’m ashamed he was part of my beloved Corps.

  3. Steve I

    Friday September 1, 2023 - 09:07:47

    BEWARE of this scheming MF. Ideas grandeur!!! Lies, cheats and steals from anyone he can. He needs help and the services of a psychiatrist. Narcissistic blow hard who should be ashamed for donning his service uniform during the Occupation of Ottawa. I have met this whacko a couple of times in Niagara thru his failed scuba shop. All I say is “RUN FOR THE HILLS”!

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