If you see Dan MacKenzie working at a government office downtown, you wouldn’t guess he’s a veteran and long-time reservist.
By day, the 34-year-old Victoria man is the director of data insights for the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology. But MacKenzie is also a 17-year infantry reservist, a sergeant who volunteers three hours a week and one weekend a month with the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s), a light infantry regiment that supplements the regular armed forces.
When people learn MacKenzie is in the military, they look at him differently.
“They will remark that I have this whole other life … ‘you don’t look like a soldier,’ or something like that,” he said. “Some people find it uncomfortable, or at least they find it surprising.
Born into a Saskatoon family with a strong military tradition, he joined as an infantry reservist when he was 16, excited at the prospect of using guns, working with tanks, and “all kinds of masculine things.” It was a good-paying summer job and he wanted to serve his country and community.
The military still plays a role in his life, but not quite in the same way as when he did a tour overseas.
In 2008 he was deployed to Afghanistan after almost two years of full-time training, putting his education at the University of Saskatchewan on hold where he was doing an honours double major degree in history and political science. He went to the province of Kandahar with a battle group to establish an operating base, to search for the Taliban and take them out.
“Our main job was to hunt the Taliban,” MacKenzie said. “Clearing” Taliban, he said, secured an area for other teams to come in and rebuild the war-torn communities.
In Afghanistan, he saw things many don’t see in their lifetime, like the Afghan father and son he befriended who worked at the base who were killed by the Taliban, their bodies left to be found by Canadian soldiers.
Coming back to Canada and adjusting after a tense and dangerous tour was difficult for him and for many others. Something as small as not recognizing pop culture references in conversation can make returning veterans feel out of place.
“When [your tour is done], you turn in your rifle, spend a couple days in Greece in decompression where you get it out of your system, drink a lot of booze, tell a lot of stories.
“When you get home, seeing everybody you haven’t seen in a long time, they’ve had to keep living their lives without you. Things are different,” he said. ““I lost some friends to suicide. I lost some friendships due to mental illness, but other guys are doing really well.”
So MacKenzie continues working in Victoria for the provincial government, but he still volunteers for the reserves.
“I have been doing it for a long time and it’s a big part of my identity. I continue to be active in the military, it’s still a big part of my life.”