Eric Hjalmarson comes home

Long-time residents of Tumbler Ridge will remember Eric Hjalmarson. He was a millright and machinist who was born on Vancouver island in 1950 and moved to Tumbler Ridge to work at the mines here. 
 
But when the mines closed down, Hjalmarson didn’t go looking for another job at another mine. Instead, Hjalmarson joined the army. 
 
It wasn’t Hjalmarson’s first experience with the military. In 1995, he joined the Canadian Forces reserves as a Cadet Instructor, and rose to the rank of Acting Captain and Commanding Officer of the Air Cadets. But that wasn’t enough for Hjalmarson. Thinking that this would probably be his last chance to do something he had always dreamed about doing, Hjalmarson decided to join the army.
 
“I relinquished my commission as an officer and joined the regular Canadian Armed Forces as a private,” says Hjalmarson. “I did my basic training at Saint John QC.  Then Battle school in Wainwright, Alberta.  I turned 50 in battle school.” He asked to be put into the Infantry, where he served with men and women, most less than half his age. He quickly earned the nickname “Gramps.”
 
After graduation, Hjalmarson was posted to the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry  (PPCLI) in Edmonton A Company RED DEVILS 1 Platoon. 
 
I served on operation Grizzly (the G8 summit in Kananaskis AB) Operation Peregrine in 2003 (BC wild fires) 2002 operation palladium roto 11 in Bosnia, and in 2004 headed over to Afghanistan where he would serve three tours of duty until he turned 60 and was forced to retire. “”I put in a memo asking the Commanding Officer if I could stay until 65, and he approved it, but when it got to the Brigade Commander he said ‘no, we’ve got to many guys already, and they’re trying to cut back,’” says Hjalmarson. 
 
 “I loved what I did. The time I spent in the army was the best time of my life. If they called me and told me that I was going on tour tomorrow, I’d pack my bag tonight.”
 
These days, Hjalmarson lives in Edmonton, where he is still in the reserves. He says that it was hard to adjust back to civilian life. “Everyone has their flashbacks and dreams and stuff like that, and I’ve had my share.”
 
While on duty, Hjalmarson always carried with him pictures of his father and grandfather, who also served as soldiers. His son, also named Eric, also served in Afghanistan, becoming the fourth generation to serve in the military. 
 
While in Afghanastan, Eric’s Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. He wrote about the experience on the website Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Story. Here’s an excerpt from his story. 
 
It is the 9th of February 2006 I am on my second tour of Afghanistan. We have drawn are kit and done our training for the last two weeks. Now we are outside the wire on our first patrol. Headed to a small village called Gumbad where we will set up a patrol base.
 
We have been traveling down the wadi’s and dusty roads since 0800. We stop at a small village about 10 km from Gumbad to put on a show of force for the villagers. So they can see the power firepower that we carry.
 
As we come down a small hill and into the low ground, the LAV commander is using his night vision goggles to help direct the driver as we‘re driving in blackout mode and I’m using my night vision monocle to scan the hills on the left side.  
 
I start to turn, to scan in front and then the right side, there’s a bright  flash, and an ear splitting explosion. The front of the LAV is lifted in the air and as it comes down, I feel my legs and knees being smashed against the controls in the turret. I am now in a crumpled lump on the gunner’s seat. 
 
I am also tangled up in the two belts of machine gun ammunition from the ammo bin on my left side. The concussion of the blast is knocked the wind out of me. As I gasp for air. All I can taste is cordite and dust from the explosion. The engine is dead and turret controls will not work. The LAV Commander is yelling “IED IED” over the radio. I reply “I know I know”.
 
I grab my tac vest and  rifle from the side bin and evacuate over the back of the turret down through the family hatch and out the back door. My head is foggy, my legs and elbows are stretched bruised and beat up, I find it hard to walk. I take up a fire position in the ditch on the left side and rear of the vehicle. watching as the ANA and a section from the other LAV sweep the hills looking for the perpetrators. Luckily, there is no more to this attack. The medic comes by and asked me if I‘m okay. Yes I‘ll be fine. I said, and asked how the others were. He said everyone was shaken up but will be all right.
 
We spend the night on the side of the road next to our vehicles and wait for the EOD to arrive by chopper the next morning to evaluate exactly what explosives were used and how it was detonated. I was later told that it was two antitank mines and a bunch of armoured piercing rounds piled on top, remotely detonated. 
 
By early afternoon with our destroyed LAV in tow we continued on to set up our patrol base. This was the first LAV III to be struck by an IED in Afghanistan.