People of Georgian: Veteran shares ‘ups and downs’ of air force career

Remembrance Day is Saturday, Nov. 11. We spoke with Jason Kerr, a 15-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force and a part-time coordinator, military-connected college at Georgian, about his experiences, what he learned, and what advice he would give someone interested in joining the military.

People of Georgian: Meet Jason Kerr

I’ve done all kinds of operations with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

I remember flying into Alert, Nunavut for the first time – the most northern inhabited outpost in the world. It was freezing cold with a lot of snow. It was interesting to see that side of the world.

Two people in aviation gear take a selfie inside a helicopter with the back open.
Jason, right, takes a selfie inside a Chinook helicopter.
Two white foxes stand outside on a snowy landscape.
Jason saw wildlife, like these arctic foxes, during his time at Canadian Forces Station Alert in Nunavut.

Landing boots on ground in Afghanistan in 2010 was also quite a different experience.

We were working out of a place called Kandahar Airfield, and it was wild going from your regular life to landing in the middle of a desert. Then you drive the perimetre and it’s the first time you see this minefield and realize you’re in a war zone. It finally clicks – this is real.

A long building with a curved roof has an oversized Canada flag draped over its side.
Jason took this photo of the Canadian gym at Khandahar Airfield in 2010.

My first couple days deployed in Mali were also really memorable because I participated in an angel’s flight, which is a repatriation of soldiers who have died to their home country.

We picked up 10 Chadian soldiers who were ambushed the day before, and our crew were on the airfield for their repatriation ceremony. Their caskets were brought in and then we flew them to back to Gao, Mali. To be part of that was quite an honour to say the least.

One other cool memory is flying Emmanuel Macron, President of France, to the G7 Summit.

A line of Chinook helicopters sitting on the ground, with a blue air force flag in the foreground.
Chinook helicopters at a G7 Summit camp. Photo courtesy Jason Kerr.
Pink sky above a mountain with a flat top.
Flat-topped Mount Dundas near Pituffik Space Base, formerly Thule Air Base, in Greenland. Photo courtesy Jason Kerr.

Seeing the world with the air force

I’ve done all kinds of operations in Canada, including flying fuel from Greenland to Alert, and bringing support to crews fighting fires and floods.

I’ve been everywhere from Afghanistan, Dubai, Scotland, Senegal and Mali, to Greenland, Newfoundland, Winnipeg and Nova Scotia.

A view outside the back of a helicopter, showing a bright sun at the horizon and a river running through a wooded area.
Jason captured this view of the Petawawa River from the back of a Chinook helicopter.

‘I’ve learned that life is very fragile’

During my time in the air force, I learned to trust the process, whether it comes to life or fixing aircraft. I’ve also learned that life is very fragile.

There are a lot of things in Canada that we take for granted. I’ve seen the worst of places and now realize how good we have it here. When grocery shopping, for example, you realize you’re buying junk food and someone out there has no food. So, I try to buy an extra bag of food for the food bank.

For anyone considering joining the military, know that the military is not for everyone; it’s a different lifestyle because your job always comes first. But it’s also a very good career option where you get to support Canadians and gain lots of life experience.

If you join, keep track of your mental health, too. Don’t let poor mental health sneak up on you because that happens. A lot of people put mission above self. It happened to me for sure. I was in the air force for 15 years and it took me 17 years to get help.

A person sits in an ice bath in a metal tub sitting outside in the snow, as a dog walks by.
As part of his mental health care, Jason has an ice bath every morning.

If someone’s interested in joining, come in and talk about it – with me or any other veterans who work or study at Georgian.

It is a rewarding career with its ups and downs – bad aircraft pun not intended.

Jason Kerr, a 15-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, as an avionics technician and flight engineer, and a part-time coordinator, military-connected college at Georgian.

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