A trained paratrooper, Jonathan Tremblay did more than 1,000 jumps during his military career, and after retiring he performed at several air shows. He met his wife, Rose, at the Abbotsford Air Show. (submitted photo)

A trained paratrooper, Jonathan Tremblay did more than 1,000 jumps during his military career, and after retiring he performed at several air shows. He met his wife, Rose, at the Abbotsford Air Show. (submitted photo)

Retired veteran finds purpose with Chilliwack ANAVETS

Jonathan Tremblay has taken over as manager and has made an immediate impact on membership

There’s no doubt Jonathan Tremblay has been great for the Chilliwack’s Army Navy & Airforce Veterans Club.

Since taking over as manager in 2022, the recently retired military veteran has increased membership and injected new life into ANAVETS Unit 305. But if you ask Tremblay, he’d say it has breathed new life back into him.

“When I was first retired I was home by myself, fishing or hunting alone. Doing everything alone,” said Tremblay, who did three tours in Afghanistan. “This place, it brought me back socially. There’s a kind of friendship and camaraderie when you see two veterans talking. It doesn’t matter who you served with or when you served. Seeing other veterans who speak and think the way I do, it’s easy to come here and talk to these guys about anything.”

The 40-year-old had no idea what ANAVETS was until he stumbled across it on a walk through downtown Chilliwack (it’s located at 46268 Yale Road). He went in, had a few drinks with a Vietnam war veteran, and signed up as a member because right away, he felt it was a “safe place.”

Before he long he was on the ANAVETS executive, and when a manager was needed he stepped forward.

“I needed to do something, and helping veterans helped me at the same time,” he said. “When guys retire they think, ‘I have nothing now,’ because they can’t go back to their base, and the first year or two of my retirement I was thinking, ‘Who the heck am I now?’

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“ANAVETS, and the Legions, are designed so you have a place to go where you can have camaraderie and be with people who understand what you’ve passed through.”

From when he took over, membership has risen from 130 people to over 200, 30 per cent of those military veterans.

The ANAVETS club has given Tremblay a sense of purpose and belonging that he sorely missed after retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces on Nov. 8, 2019. From the time he was an 11-year-old cadet growing up in north Quebec until the day he left, Tremblay has been immersed in military life, and you can’t just walk away from it.

“Everything military, I was like a fish in the water,” he said. “All of it came easy to me.”

From cadet at age 11 to reservist at age 16 to active duty right out of high school, Tremblay quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant. His Afghanistan tours came between 2004 and 2010, first as a driver, then as Heavy Weapons Detachment Commander and finally as Section Commander.

Then it was over.

Sort of.

He is no longer an active soldier, but parts of the job never leave you.

As he talked, a big dog named Mia wandered over and flopped on the floor next to him. Mia is his almost five-year-old service dog, there to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

You don’t serve three tours in Afghanistan without seeing things humans aren’t meant to see. He described his third deployment as “more rough,” without going into details, other than to say, “I lost a guy.”

Tremblay suffers from nightmares and anxiety, and probably always will. A trip to Costco is difficult, because of all the people, and Mia keeps him from spiraling into a bad place.

“Now it’s less, but I still have panic attacks when it’s a big crowd,” he said. “In Afghanistan you need to be aware of everything around you, and in a busy place like Costco I can start panicking. Mia will come in front of me and make me focus on her. Or she will put her paw on my shoulder like she’s saying, “I’m here. Focus on me.

“When I’m home and I have nightmares, she’ll jump on the bed and she’ll wake up me. In traffic it’s really easy for me to become angry, and she’ll lick my face and change my mind. I know if I have frustration I can go throw the ball with her and that will change my mind.

“She’s a good friend.”

Between ANAVETS, Mia, his wife Rose and his newly arrived baby (around two-and-a-half months old), Tremblay is now in a good place.

He’s laser focused on getting ANAVETS to a good place too, and that means getting more people through the doors.

Particularly younger veterans facing the same challenges he has.

“I want to bring back this unit to the way it was in the past, and apparently there used to be a lineup outside to the end of the street because this place was packed,” Tremblay said. “The biggest challenge is to reach a younger generation of veterans, like me, and if we do that we can keep this place going for many years to come.”

Find the local club on Facebook by searching Chilliwack “Sappers” Unit 305 ANAVETS or email anavets305@shaw.ca


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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