Corporal Craig Andrew Sparks researched Rideau Hall in Ottawa in preparation of receiving his Operational Service Medal (OSM) on Dec. 6 from Governor General David Johnston.
“I was nervous, and not sure what to expect,” said Sparks, one of the first 50 recipients of the OSM. His research included going to the Cable Public Affairs Channel’s website to find an image of the hall’s ballroom. “Before we came in, I managed to peek through the doors and was assured it was the same room.”
The medal, created on July 5, 2010, recognizes Canadian military personnel, civilians under the authority of the Canadian Forces (CF), members of allied forces integrated within the CF and Canadian police officers who have taken part in important overseas missions (New Medal For Overseas Operations, November/December).
There are six different OSM theatre ribbons: South-West Asia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Sudan, Humanitas and Expedition. To date, Humanitas eligibility refers to the earthquake relief effort in Haiti from January to May 2010, and Expedition relates to service with the United States Security Co-ordinator in the Middle East.
“The medal is not only an acknowledgment of what you have done for your country, but also a responsibility to inspire others to service,” said Johnston, who is also commander-in-chief of Canada. “I think Canadians will see your dedication and be motivated to take steps to help others, not necessarily overseas as you have done, but rather in their own communities, volunteering and giving what they can to help their neighbours—barn raising, if you will.”
Sparks, a military mechanic, received the OSM with dark green ribbon for his participation in Operation Augural in Senegal. The operation was in support of the African Union Mission in Sudan. Canada helped build capacity in the areas of strategic planning, air operations, contracting, logistics, operational planning and land operation with Canadian armoured vehicles.
“Canada donated some armoured vehicles, so we had to train the people over there how to drive them,” he said. “I maintained the vehicles during the training portion.”
Sparks was skeptical the award would be created since he had been hearing rumours of it for the last five years. Still, he said he was honoured to be one of the first to receive it. “It was quite a surprise, and when I found out it was going to be presented by the governor general, I immediately said yes, before I told work,” said Sparks, who is currently stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
His wife, Melanie, and eight-year-old son Jacob, watched Sparks receive his award. “This is a big deal,” said Melanie after the ceremony. “He deserves it as he has worked hard. We are very proud of him.”
Private Theresa Grace Sapara received the OSM for her participation in Operation Halo in Haiti in 2004. She was deployed as a clerk to conduct finances, but since the Canadian Forces were among the first on the ground, she initially helped engineers build the camp.
She called the hype about the award a long, but exciting, wait. “To be selected as a representative of just shy of 1,000 people from this theatre is quite an honour,” she said. “It’s also nice to have some closure to the tour.”
Sapara, originally from Saskatchewan and currently stationed in Ottawa, said the day’s event meant a lot to her family. “They were quite overwhelmed to watch me, especially to be invited to Rideau Hall as no one in my family has ever done that,” she said. “The ceremony was perfect, in the sense that it was to the point, provided the needed detail and the briefness was enjoyable.”
During his speech, Johnston commended all recipients for being ambassadors for Canada. “Whether it’s in Sierra Leone, Haiti, the Middle East or Sudan, whether it was helping keep the peace between nations or helping out after a disaster, you’ve shown the world that Canada stands firm in our commitments to help those in need.”
He continued to explain the great pride he has for Canadians working overseas by recalling a conversation he had with an American military official. The official told Johnston that from a professional point of view the Canadian military is second to none.
“He said ‘there is a capacity in (Canadians) in uniform to relate to civilians in the most constructive, inclusive manner imaginable and, for whatever reason, Canadians in uniform seem to get on with this business of civil reconstruction in a way I have never seen before in a military theatre’,” said Johnston.
Future OSM recipients will receive the medal through the usual chain of command.