Some great media coverage of Firefight

I was interviewed by Chris Doucette of the Toronto Sun and John Moore (Moore in the Morning) of CFRB over the past few days about my experiences and the stories in Firefight. Check out the results!

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Rick Kurelo TO SUN

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(Listen from 17:46 – 25:11 minutes):

If you’re interested in buying Firefight, it’s available in print and eBook format at the following sites – just click on any of the links below to order the book online.

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

Excerpt: War Hero (1st Canadian Parachute Battalion)

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As commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day is taking place, I wanted to share one of my favourite stories from Firefight. It’s about my very privileged encounter in 1989 with one of the heroes from that important Second World War battle. It was one of those life experiences that I’ll never forget.

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In the summer of 1989, as a new Canadian Airborne Regiment soldier, I was assigned to be full-time driver for a visiting VIP. As I drove to the airport to pick him up, I assumed that he was just some dignitary with an honorary title to be escorted around town. Little did I know that Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser Eadie was a decorated paratrooper from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in the Second World War.

I picked up the Colonel at Pembroke Airport and began heading toward CFB Petawawa. In his seventies or so, my passenger appeared fit and distinguished, sporting grey hair and he was well spoken. As we were driving along he asked me to make a stop at the Canadian Airborne Forces Museum. He said he had not been there in a long time and that it used to be one of his favourite spots to visit, where he could become absorbed in our history.

We arrived at the museum about fifteen minutes later and headed inside. He was dressed in casual civilian clothing and I was in uniform as we walked together down one of the museum’s halls. There were not many others around, so our footsteps and voices echoed as we strolled along viewing various exhibitions dating back to the Second World War. We stopped in front of a framed photograph of a confident-looking younger man wearing his maroon beret and with a pair of binoculars lying against his chest.

The Colonel studied the picture for a long time and squinted at the text beside it engraved on a small bronze plaque. Standing next to him, I could just make out some of the text over his left shoulder. It said something about the soldier being a Second World War veteran with all kinds of recognition for bravery.

“Did you know him, sir?” I asked.

“I sure did,” he said turning toward me with a grin. “Still do.” He tapped his thumb against his chest. “He’s me.”

That was when I realized that I had been assigned to chauffeur a genuine war hero. We stood there for a long time as I asked Colonel Eadie about his experiences, and he told me gripping stories about what it was like as a paratrooper during the war.

He was part of Canada’s very first elite airborne regiment, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He talked about how the Canadians fought there for weeks alongside the British, helping to break the German army in France.

He also told me how his commanding officer and friend, Lt.-Col. Jeff Nicklin, had been killed during a landing in Germany in 1945. As second-in-command, Eadie had taken on leading their troops at that point, and he was later promoted to Lt.-Col. and commander of the battalion. He recalled how he and Nicklin had not only been fellow officers, but had also been good friends and athletes in Winnipeg before the war. Nicklin had been a renowned Winnipeg Blue Bomber and two-time Grey Cup winner, while Eadie had been a hockey player with the University of Manitoba and the Chicago Blackhawks. They had both decided to join the airborne regiment after it was created in 1942.

As the war was coming to an end, Eadie said that he and his troops marched eastward and captured Wismar, Germany, which was the furthest point east reached by any Commonwealth troop.

While talking about all of this, the Colonel was both serious and lighthearted as he recounted some of his fellow soldiers and what they had all gone through together. He remembered many of the guys as well as their hometowns and at one point said, “It’s so important to know your men well and to look after them.”

Eadie also talked about how different the military was back then and how it had changed over time. He mostly referred to how little support our forces were receiving from the government and, even the Canadian people, as the defence of our country and its values did not seem as urgent in 1989.

“But other things haven’t changed,” he said. “You guys are still tough as nails and I’m impressed with the pride you have in serving your country.”

As we walked out of the museum, he put his hand on my shoulder. “I understand you have a girlfriend.”

“Yes sir.”

“Get to see her much?”

“Not so much. Duty is important.”

He laughed. “So is love. What day is it today?”

“Friday, sir.”

“Not much chance to spend time together, is there?”

“No sir,” I said. “But I’m committed to serve my country first.”

He laughed again. “That’s noble. But I think I can take care of myself for the weekend. I tell you what. Drop me at the base and I’ll see you on Monday.”

I told him I didn’t understand. I was supposed to accompany him every day.

“Take the weekend,” he said. “It was technically mine, but now I’m giving it to you. Go spend some time with your girl. If you’re really dedicated to serving your country, you better dedicate some time to remembering what you’re fighting for.”

I thanked him for the amazing and unexpected gift and marveled at the fact that I had just spent the afternoon with a true hero and leader. Col. Eadie had shown me how important it is to balance duty with family and this was a lesson I often remembered during my times overseas in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Editor’s note: Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser Eadie (1917-2003) served as Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Airborne Regiment from 1989 to 1994. His service during the Second World War in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was recognized with the Distinguished Service Order, 39-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Class, War Medal 39-45 and the American Silver Star.

War Hero is an excerpt from Firefight  ©2014 By Rick Kurelo, CD. 

Firefight is available in print and eBook format at the following sites – just click on any of the links below to order the book online.

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

Photo:  Lt.-Col. Fraser Eadie, National Archives of Canada PA 169240

Firefight, a Memoir by Rick Kurelo, CD

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Firefight is a compilation of Rick Kurelo’s personal accounts as a professional firefighter in Canada and as a Canadian Forces soldier in Afghanistan and Bosnia. Ninety-seven stories and forty-five photographs document Rick’s experiences at scenes of chaos and conflict, where he and his teams encounter one dangerous scenario after another. They convey the deadly tensions, pressures and risks that can arise at any moment, as well as the poignant human connections that often occur.

Firefight is a memoir that brings to life the human experience – the tragic, touching and humorous – that we all share.

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

Excerpt: Coffee Break in Afghanistan

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In honour of the 50th Anniversary of Tim Hortons®, I wanted to share this story from Firefight about how important our Timmies was to us while deployed in Afghanistan. The coffee was a comfort and the symbolism of Tim Hortons was even more important as it helped us remember our lives and loved ones back home in Canada.

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“Anytime we could get it in Afghanistan, Tim Hortons coffee was our extra special treat. When I was at the main base, I was always amazed at the number of people from other countries who queued up for our good Canadian coffee. For us, it was our lifeblood and a connection to home.

One day as I had just gotten back to base from a long tour in country, I was waiting in the Tim Hortons line. A high-ranking Canadian officer was behind me. His neatly pressed uniform was in stark contrast to mine. My hair was long, I had grown a moustache, my gun had been beaten up by the elements and I had a sling of ammo draped from my shoulder. No wonder the officer kept looking at me – I must have looked like a Mexican “bandito.”

He said to me, “Your weapon’s looking a little tired there, soldier.”

I explained that the gun looked like it had seen better days, but that I had kept the inside of it immaculate according to specs. I broke the gun down to show him.

“I’ve been on patrol outside the wire for a long time, but I’d never neglect my weapon.”

He laughed and said he admired my dedication to regulations and the care of my gear.

Once we both had our cup of “Timmies” in hand, we struck up a great conversation including tales of combat. There’s nothing quite like coffee to encourage the sharing of stories and to make people feel more connected.

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Due to my role as a PSYOPS specialist, I often travelled from the main base to forward operating bases throughout the region by helicopter and with an unusual degree of autonomy. This allowed me the privilege of being able to bring some of the comforts of home with me to the troops in those remote areas. I would bring mail, cigarettes, food or special orders such as razor blades. One thing I always brought was a tin of Tim Hortons coffee.

I was usually flying in on a CH-135 Chinook with two door gunners and a rear load to help get our gear onboard. The chopper might stop at two or three different locations before I would get off at my forward operating base. Sometimes, I would make a drop at these bases too. We would radio ahead to a contact there letting them know we were coming.

Just like a scene from a television commercial, we would land with sand flying all around us. I would stand at the end of the loading ramp, holding tightly onto my chest rig so it wouldn’t blow off, and throw the tin of Tim’s down to our waiting buddy below.

It was quite something to see a tough, dirt-covered combat veteran look up at us with the delighted expression of a six-year-old on Christmas day. I wasn’t the only one who made these special deliveries, but it sure felt good when I got to do it.”

Coffee Break is an excerpt from Firefight  ©2014 By Rick Kurelo, CD.

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

 

Photo: Rick Kurelo visiting the universally popular Tim Hortons at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, 2008.

 

 

Excerpt: Madness

DrunkDriving

Some aspects of my work as a firefighter can truly make me angry. I have seen the carelessness that led to deadly fires. I’ve witnessed the aftermath of suicides with families left smothered by tragedy. I’ve encountered vandalism and arson that resulted in innocent people pointlessly losing their lives. However, nothing gets under my skin as much as drunk driving, and my team and I have come across way too many cases to count.

The reason this gets to me as much as it does is perhaps because it’s so preventable. Or because a completely innocent and unsuspecting person can be killed doing nothing other than driving home or crossing the street in the path of an irresponsible idiot.

There have been anti-drinking and driving campaigns going on for decades, but people still go out partying without ever giving the ride home a second thought. So many of the victims and perpetrators are young men and women with their whole lives ahead of them. It’s such a waste.

The worst part about these accidents is that first moment when we arrive on the scene. There will be two wrecked cars. Glass is everywhere. There are puddles of blood and the pungent odour of gas, hot metal and burning rubber.

There will often be someone moaning from inside one of the cars, begging for help. And there will be someone else standing beside their own broken vehicle. That person will most often be the drunk driver – the one without a scratch. The one who will have to live with what they have done, but at least they will live.

Meanwhile, my partner and I will make a beeline toward the poor victims who never knew what hit them and whose lives will never be the same. That is if they live at all.

That’s the scenario that has played out on too many occasions. It’s what we encountered when we arrived late one night to the scene where one car had “T-boned” another.

The car driven by a young man had run a red light and slammed into the side of the other vehicle driven by a young woman who was unconscious, yet still breathing. Both appeared to be in their early twenties.

The male driver who had run the light was smoking a cigarette and standing beside his car. I could tell he was impaired by his slurred speech and inability to stand up straight, but I did not have time to think about him.

We rushed to the injured woman’s car and began the delicate, urgent task of extracting her. When the paramedics arrived they did their best to stabilize her, but sadly they could not. She had suffered too much physical trauma and died there on the scene.

With tight fists, I started heading toward the young man, but my partner grabbed me and pulled me back. He saw the anger in my eyes and was cool-headed enough to stop me from doing something I would later regret.

Later that night, I lay awake in bed at the fire hall, tossing and turning. I was unable to get the images out of my head of that poor young woman and the drunk driver who stood there smoking while she took her last breath.

I got up to get a glass of water in the kitchen. I felt such rage and frustration. It was 2:30 am and I knew that her family had likely been notified about their daughter’s tragic and pointless death. I heard their cries in my head and visualized them crumpling to the ground as they were given that dreadful news.

I have seen that deceased young woman’s face since then and not just in my mind’s eye. Her parents make sure her picture appears every year in the “in memoriam” section of the local newspaper. She was their only child and had been studying to be a lawyer. I cannot imagine what her mother and father must go through every single day.

There are countless injustices in the world. One includes people with limitless potential who die far before their time. Another involves those who irresponsibly and callously take their lives from them.

Madness is an excerpt from Firefight © 2014 By Rick Kurelo, CD. Firefight is available at FriesenPress.com

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

Photo: Stacie Stauff Smith / Shutterstock

 

Excerpt: A song is worth a thousand words

Six years ago today, my sweetie, Marlene, drove me to CFB Petawawa for deployment to Afghanistan. That’s when the story “A Song is Worth a Thousand Words,” was born. To mark that occasion as well as celebrate the release of Firefight, I thought I’d share that story with you here as well:

Mounted patrol near FOB Wilson, Zhari District, Afghanistan.

Mounted patrol near FOB Wilson, Zhari District, Afghanistan.

It’s funny how something as simple as a song can bring back memories in an avalanche of images, sounds, and smells. It’s probably why everyone likes one kind of music or another. There are certain things that are universal. We love. We fear. We eat, sleep, dream, make love. And we make music.

When you come across that special song, the one you know you will never forget, it literally sings to a place deep in your heart. For me, that song is, “Suds in the Bucket.”

It’s about a girl who runs off with the man she loves. It’s a sweet and silly song, full of countrified angst and the folly of youthful rebellion. Shocked parents find their pony-tailed girl has grown up to be a young woman and taken off to Vegas with her “prince in a white pickup truck.” She leaves “the suds in the bucket and the clothes hangin’ out on the line.” The hearts of her mom and dad are broken while their little girl’s heart is just beginning to bloom.

We played this song as I was heading up Highway 41 with my fiancé Marlene on the tail end of a five-hour drive. She was dropping me off at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Petawawa where I was set to deploy for my ten-month tour in Afghanistan. Marlene and I were both nervous about being apart and about the mortal dangers I would be facing.

This was not a business trip. There would be no briefcase and no taxi waiting to take me to a conference at the Hilton near the airport. I was about to embark on a mission into some of the roughest, most hostile territory in the world. I would be in the line of fire to help a country in crisis.

My sweetheart and I drove in silence at first, listening to the wheels on the road and the easy hum of the engine as the car took us closer and closer to the spot where we might be saying our last goodbye.

It was a sunny day, that kind of day where you wish you could just pull off to the side of the road, stop and do nothing except listen to your tunes, hold hands with your girl, and enjoy living in the moment. However, real life has a way of intruding on those kinds of fantasies, so I had to be content with cruising along with the windows down and the steady beat of the wind breezing through the car.

Marlene and I made small talk. I commented on the motorcycles we saw zipping along the highway, about how I might deck this one out or add some chrome to that one. I have always loved bikes and was excited at the sight of them out on the open road, thundering along like chrome and steel horses. It tugged at something adventurous and free-spirited in the core of my being.

Marlene likes bikes too, but that afternoon, she mostly talked about the way the sunlight hit the trees and made the leaves glitter like diamonds. I saw that she was right, and the fact that there was so much beauty – natural and man-made – all around us made us appreciate all that I would be leaving behind.

We chit-chatted and reminisced about the times we had spent together. We did not talk about my deployment or the tough job I would face once I landed in Afghanistan. Nor did we speak about how often we would write or call. We definitely did not talk about the possibility that I might be coming back changed, or not at all.

We were partners in the truest sense, connected by a common past and a shared sense of both hope and fear about the future. To try to set up some kind of artificial connection with scripted words between us would have been pointless.

The car stereo had been keeping us company during our silences. Then Marlene inserted the Sara Evans Restless CD and pressed play. When “Suds in the Bucket” came on, Marlene laughed and cranked the volume.

“I love this song!” she squealed.

Not that her favourite song had been a secret or anything. Anyone who knew Marlene was aware of her soft spot for Sara Evans.

The first notes of the song filled the car like helium – making us both giddy and lightheaded – and it suddenly felt more like we were flying than driving. We laughed and sang along together.

When the tune ended, she replayed it and we listened to it again several times. Each time the song ended, Marlene hit replay and we laughed and sang along like it was just the first time. Marlene tapped the steering wheel in sync with the steel guitar and I tapped out the beat on the leather armrest between us.

As we approached Petawawa, we listened to that song together for what we knew would be the last time in a long while. This time we did not sing along and we did not laugh. We just held hands and let the music and lyrics wash over us like rain.

Marlene stopped the car in the parking lot and I could see that her chin was quivering. She turned her head a little to the left and I knew she was crying. I could not blame her. I was looking forward to serving my country, but this separation was going to be hard.

I told Marlene, “I’m just going to war. I’m not going away.” I held her face in my hands and pressed my forehead to hers. “I’ll never leave you and hey, while I’m over there, I’ll be singing along with you the whole time.”

We kissed and held each other close. Every time one of us made a motion to move apart, the other took it as a sign to hang on tighter.

Finally we could not prolong it any longer. It was time for me to head overseas. We got out of the car and began the long walk across the lot to the army base’s registration office. The music played in our hearts as we said goodbye.

A few weeks later, I had forgotten about “Suds in the Bucket,” though never about Marlene. I had been busy getting acclimatized to being in a warzone in the middle of the desert a long way from home.

When I had first landed at Kandahar Airfield, the sirens, people rushing around everywhere and the intense heat were startling. The first thing I saw was four Dutch soldiers loading body bags into a light-armoured vehicle – an unnerving scene that felt like it had been taken right from the movie Platoon.

It did not take long, however, to become immersed in life on the base. I had settled into the barracks and began preparing to go “outside the wire.” My days were filled with security briefings, orientation training, weapon readiness, and handover sessions with the PSYOPS specialist I would be replacing. There was no time left to feel homesick.

Then before I knew it, I was getting ready for my first mission. I found myself at New Canada House, a kind of recreation hall on the main base where Canadian troops could relax, watch television and unwind between missions. I was sitting outside at a wooden picnic table, mentally preparing for my upcoming assignment – a four-week stint at the Governor’s Palace in Kandahar City.

As I sat and listened to the music being piped outside through two large speakers, I began thinking about what was ahead of me as well as what I had left behind. I was excited, yet nervous, as I had been hearing stories all week about the high risk of kidnappings, ambushes, and suicide attacks in and around the exact area I had been assigned to patrol.

Later on in my tour, after many near misses and months of constant exposure to mortal danger, I would start to develop a kind of mental toughness that carried me through the most dangerous circumstances. These were still early days, though, so the prospect of diving headfirst into one of the most perilous warzones on earth was giving me the shakes.

A driver had been assigned to pick me up at a small hill near New Canada House and drive me to the airfield. When the jeep arrived, I stood up and began to slowly approach it. That’s when I heard it. Our song had started to play on the loud speakers. It was Sara Evans with that smooth southern drawl singing “Suds in the Bucket.”

I laughed at the timing and held up a finger to my driver, saying, “Just a minute.” Then I sat back down.

As the song played, my memories of Marlene and the love we share instantly replaced all my fears of the danger that lay in front of me. I knew her love would carry me through whatever this hostile country had to offer. Some people come back from combat for rest. Some come back to heal. Some come back for glory. I would be coming back for Marlene. Like Sara Evans says, “You can’t fence time, and you can’t stop love.”

A song is worth a thousand words is an excerpt from Firefight © 2014 By Rick Kurelo, CD.

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

Photo: Rick Kurelo on mounted patrol near FOB Wilson, Zhari District, Afghanistan, 2008.

 

Firefight is ready!

Wow! We just had to share the great news that Firefight is now available for purchase on the FriesenPress website! We’re so excited that Rick’s book is finally reality.

We hope you enjoy reading Firefight and would love to hear your thoughts, questions and engage in discussion about any of its content whether about Rick’s tour in Afghanistan, his experiences as a firefighter or his earlier days in Bosnia and with the Airborne Regiment.

You can always share here in the comments, or via Twitter: @Firefight2014 or Facebook: Firefight by Rick Kurelo.

Thanks so much for your interest in Firefight. Cheers!

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

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The importance of commemorative events

Ontario Police Memorial

Today is full of public activities and media coverage commemorating a host of historical events and organizations that are very close to my heart.

May 4 marks the annual International Firefighters Day, which celebrates the dedication of all the men and women who serve their communities each and every day as professional or volunteer firefighters.

Ontario Police Memorial events take place each year on the first Sunday in May to honour fallen police officers. This year the names of 254 were read aloud, including most recently added PC John Zivcic, of Toronto Police Services, who died in December, 2013.

BOA May 2014

The first Sunday in May is also reserved to remember the heroism and sacrifice of the Royal Canadian Forces in the Battle of the Atlantic, which was the longest battle in the Second World War. Many towns and cities across the country are hosting ceremonies and activities honouring veterans who participated in this ongoing and pivotal wartime effort.

Soldier On May 4 2014

And as Canada prepares to hold its National Day of Honour this Friday, May 9, a group of 19 ill or injured veterans from the Afghanistan conflict kicked off the Soldier On Afghanistan Relay – a relay to salute the Canadians who participated in the Afghanistan war as well as the Canadian public for their support. Their trek was launched at the Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial at CFB Trenton and will finish in Ottawa in time for the Day of Honour commemorative events at the end of this week.

Each of these events, and all those who participate, are a stark reminder of the importance of remembering our history and the efforts of all those who have served – whether in civilian or military roles.

Buy Firefight online at:
FriesenPress.com
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Chapters Indigo
Barnes & Noble

You can also ask your local Canadian or international bookseller.

Photo 1: “Officers paying their respects to the 254 fallen officers, including PC John Zivcic,” Laurie McCann, @thecoffeecop, Twitter, May 4, 2014.

Photo 2: “Honoured to lay a wreath on behalf of today for . We will remember their sacrifices at sea.” VAdm Mark Norman, @Comd_RCN, Twitter, Sunday, May 14, 2014.

Photo 3: “Standing on guard at Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial in Trenton to kick off Soldier On relay,” Claudia Cautillo, Claudio@CTV, Twitter, Sunday, May 4, 2014.