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Video of Lieutenant(Navy) Melanie Aqiqi delivering a speech intended for mature audiences

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Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this Veterans' Week. My name is Lieutenant Navy Melanie Aqiqi. I'm proud to serve as a regular Forces Public Affairs Officer in Ottawa.

Normally, my day is spent engaging with people like you, members of the public, and members of the media to make sure that we answer the questions that are important to you.

But today, I have the special honour of speaking to you about the remarkable sacrifice that our military members have made for Canada and for each of us. There's no greater sacrifice than someone risking their life for ours. Our veterans have done that and those of us who serve today have been inspired by their example to make the same commitment.

It's important that we remember their stories of courage and selflessness because our veterans have made possible the freedom and peace that we enjoy.

Telling their stories shows our gratitude and contributes to the important work of passing their legacy on.

There's a very long and rich history of service and sacrifice by the members of the Canadian Armed Forces. But because this is a significant year, I'm going to focus on three milestone anniversaries we are commemorating in 2019.

It's the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy; the 70th anniversary of the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and this year also marks the 5th anniversary of the end of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Today, I'd like to tell you about some of the people who served Canada and fought and died for Canadian values during these times.

Let me introduce to you to Arnott England. Arnott was from Tabusintac, a small quiet town in New Brunswick. But 75 years ago, in the early morning hours of June 6th, at just 21 years of age, he was crossing the English Channel into France in a massive amphibious attack that is famously remembered as D-Day.

Imagine being Arnott, not knowing how or when the brutal Nazi occupation of Europe would end. Could he have known the course of the Second World War would turn on this one day? The Allies had spent years carefully planning this surprise assault. They had invested so many ships and planes on D-Day that the Channel was full of vessels and the air above Arnott screamed with shells and warplanes.

A staggering 150 000 Allied troops were involved. 14 000 of them were Canadians like Arnott. Arnott and the others knew this was a no-fail mission. Anything less than success would mean disaster for the Allies.

They knew that the Canadian British and American contingents each had a sector of France's Normandy coastline to take back from the Nazis that day.

And they knew that many of them would not be coming home. Arnott was heading for Juno Beach where the Canadians had to breach the Germans' stronghold.

Imagine knowing that on the other side of the water was a wall of the Nazis' defences: landmines, barbed wire, artillery, machine guns and thousands of enemy soldiers.

The challenge was clear. Two years earlier, a largely Canadian force had tested the Germans' defences at Dieppe and suffered horrible losses. This time, Arnott and the other Canadians would show the same kind of courage and achieve an outstanding victory.

Some began the assault drenched and seasick from the high waves that rocked the landing craft. Some waited on to the beach through neck-high water under heavy fire, desperately trying to hold their guns overhead to keep them dry and working.

All of them pushed forward despite bodies of fellow soldiers, sometimes men they knew floating in the water or lying on the sand.

359 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice that day. While Arnott and his fellow soldiers were pushing the Germans back from the beach, other Canadians were attacking from the air.

This is Jan de Vries who had immigrated from 1930 from the Netherlands with his family to Scarborough, Ontario, in order to live a better life in Canada. But on D-Day, he was back in Europe. Can you imagine being a 20-year-old parachuting out of an airplane into Nazi territory in darkness with 80 pounds of equipment on your back?

Despite heavy losses, Jan and the other 450 men of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion protected the Eastern flank of the Allied invasion from German counterattack.

For Arnott and Jan, the next step of the invasion was the grueling Allied push further inland to take back the region of Normandy from the Germans. Both men survived, but over 5000 Canadians were killed and 13 000 injured.

On D-Day, Arnott and Jan and the other Canadians succeeded in helping turn the tide of war. It was the beginning of the end of the Axis powers and the liberated countries of Northwestern Europe still celebrate the Canadians who helped them reclaim their freedom.

By the time the Second World War ended, over 1 million Canadians out of the total population of only 11 million had served in the fight against tyranny.

45 000 Canadians lost their lives, families across the country were plummeted into grief. So many Canadians helped bring peace. It was their sacrifice that allows us to live in peace today. The battlefield success of Canada's military during Second World War earned Canada's respect and a bigger role in the world.

Canada's next major engagement to defend the cause peace and freedom began only a few short years later once again in Europe. It may surprise you to hear this lasts right up until today.

It's difficult to capture the story of seven decades with just one or two pictures, but I think these two photos do a pretty good job.

On the left is Private Christopher Gregory Holopina and on the right is Commodore Josée Kurtz. They are part of Canada's history dating back to a few years after the Second World War because that's when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO was founded in 1949.

And both of them have made significant contributions to NATO on behalf of Canada.

NATO came into being 70 years ago this year because of democratic countries of Europe found themselves into militarized standoff with the Soviet Union and its Communist allies.

Faced with this complex and dangerous Cold War, the North American and European democracies banded together in a collective defence pact.

NATO countries agreed to protect their common values of democracy, individual liberty and rule of law to maintain stability and peace in the North Atlantic region. We've been doing that important work ever since. We are all safer when our allies and neighbours are secure. We know that threats to our security have no borders. That's why Canada has participated in every NATO operation up to and including the present day.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians soldiers, sailors and aviators served in Europe alongside NATO colleagues during the Cold War.

And after the Cold War, Canadian military personnel were called on to face new challenges to peace, freedom and democracy.

That brings me back to Private Christopher Gregory Holopina from Russell, Manitoba.

He was one of the ten of thousands of Canadians sent through NATO in the 1990s to stabilize the former Yugoslavia after it collapsed into ethnic warfare. Sapper Holopina, a Sapper is military term for Bomb Disposal Expert, was in Bosnia on his way to rescue 11 British soldiers trapped in a mine field when the armoured vehicle he was travelling in overturned and he was killed and six other soldiers were injured.

I think Sapper Holopina belongs beside this picture of Commodore Josée Kurtz.

Commodore Kurtz from Joliette, Quebec, is currently commanding Standing NATO Maritime Group 2. This is a naval task group made up of multinational warships including our own 240-person frigate HMCS Toronto. The appointment of Commodore Kurtz to the NATO command demonstrates Canadian Armed Forces operational effectiveness and leadership which draws on the strengths of Canada's diverse population.

They are patrolling the Black Sea and deterring aggression as part of Operation Reassurance to keep Central and Eastern Europe stable and secure.

The reason I put them together as models of what NATO is about is because in his year-long career and in her 21-year career, they both dedicated themselves to Canadian values of peace and freedom, including through their exceptional service in NATO.

They are our fellow Canadians who have helped make NATO the most successful military and political alliance in history in the past, now and for the future.

The third important anniversary we are commemorating this year stands from the September 11, 2011 attacks. After those attacks, Canada joined the mission to eliminate the terrorists' threat in Afghanistan and bring peace and stability to its citizens. It was the biggest deployment of Canadian troops since the Second World War ending just five years ago.

Captain Nichola Goddard was one of the 40 000 Canadians who served in that mission. She always had a keen sense of duty and she was devoted to the mission. Her role was Forward Observation Officer. She would spot targets from the top of this armoured vehicle that you see here. Can you imagine the courage that that takes?

It's one of the most dangerous jobs in the army. During an ambush on her convoy, Captain Goddard called for artillery support and in doing so put herself and her troops at great risk. It was unfortunately also during the ambush that she was killed by enemy fire.

Again, in Afghanistan, our troops, like Captain Goddard, performed their duties with a level of bravery that has earned Canada appreciation among our allies and respect on the world stage.

Think of what it took for Sergeant Patrick Tower to take charge of a platoon that was under enemy attack.

Caporal Christopher Reid, Caporal Bryce Keller, Sergeant Vaughan Ingram and Private Kevin Dallaire were killed in the attack and Sergeant Tower's comrades, including nine injured were pinned down. It was up to him to step up and lead under constant small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire and scorching heat with 70 pounds of gear on his back, Sergeant Tower ran across 150 metres open ground to get to his fellow soldiers.

They were vastly outnumbered, but he kept them coordinated in defending their position until armoured vehicles arrived to take them to safety.

For his exceptional service, Sergeant Tower rightly received Canada's Star of Military Valour. How well deserved.

In our Acts of Remembrance this year, many currently serving Canadian Armed Forces members like myself and many of the families and friends of our military personnel and veterans who served in Afghanistan will have that mission of front of mind on Remembrance Day.

The Canadian Armed Forces lost 158 service people in the war in Afghanistan. We also lost 7 Canadian civilians and 40 American soldiers who were serving under Canadian command at the time of their death.

This year, as in past years, some of us military personnel will stand with ten of thousands of other Canadians at the National War Memorial in Ottawa to remember these and all of our veterans during the Annual National Remembrance Day Ceremony.

Many Canadians will participate in the Write to the Troops program to thank our veterans for their service in past or current operations abroad or for assistance during disasters at home like floods and wildfires. Teachers across the country will incorporate Remembrance Day and our military history into lesson plans. Some students will even borrow a combat boot that was used to commemorate Canada's iconic victory at Vimy Ridge during the First World War.

Many Canadians will visit war monuments and museums across the country and across the globe to lay a wreath or have a personal moment of silence.

There are many ways to remember the sacrifices of our veterans and keep their legacy alive.

What really matters is that we do make the choice to remember and that we never forget.

Thank you for choosing to remember our veterans with me today.

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