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Special notes from home

Christine Grimard
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 29, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - A book carrying messages of love and praise passed through Yellowknife Aug. 27 as part of a national tour to get notes from Canadians to send to soldiers in Afghanistan.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Master-Cpl. Renay Groves stopped in Yellowknife Aug. 27 as part of her cross-country tour gathering notes from Canadians to send to soldiers in Afghanistan. Groves will bring the book, entitled "Notes from Home," to the soldiers next month. - Christine Grimard/NNSL photo

Canadian soldier Master-Cpl. Renay Groves started her campaign by going around Ottawa collecting notes in a book to bring with her when she goes overseas. After receiving some publicity, the book has now turned into a national project.

Groves got the idea after repeatedly being thanked on the streets of Ottawa while going around in her military uniform. She decided last November to get people she encountered to write down their messages in a book.

"Everywhere you go people say, 'thank you for Afghanistan,' but I've never been," said Groves.

Visitors wishing to send their messages to soldiers came to sign the book, entitled "Notes From Home" at the Joint Task Force North headquarters (JTFN) and the Military Family Resource Centre Aug. 27.

The book received national attention after Groves brought the book to Parliament Hill last January. In addition to the 2,000 signatures that were already there, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other political leaders scribbled messages of their own.

"It's irrelevant what government you're from when you're writing directly to the solider," said Groves.

With the book now in the national spotlight, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier helped launch her cross-country tour. After visiting major military cities in Ontario, including Trenton, Petawawa, and Kingston, Groves and the book travelled out east to cities like St. John's, Newfoundland, and Gagetown, New Brunswick.

For people like Marika Pagotto, the book is an opportunity to show support for soldiers overseas. Pagotto learned the hard way how close the war in Afghanistan is to home when her friend Cpl. Jordan Anderson - whose parents live in Yellowknife - was killed by a roadside bomb July 4.

"You think more about the people that are there," said Pagotto. "Now it seems more realistic because you can relate even more."

Since 2002, 69 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan.

Randy Caines also knows the direct effects that a war so far away can have on his life. His brother Capt. Paul Caines already served one tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"Anything that can happen there can directly impact your life," said Caines. "It made me much more aware because it's close to home."

In addition to producing the book, Groves is also working to get the soldiers' stories on paper. A sister book is being passed around at the Canadian base entitled, "Notes from Afghanistan." Upon completion of the Canadian mission, both books will be kept at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

"Future generations will only understand if you take the time to get your notes down," said Groves.

She has also sent several thousand diaries to soldiers in Afghanistan so they can write down their wartime experiences. Groves said the books will help put together an account of the war.

"God only knows what history's going to hold when this is done."

Groves will be serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan in early 2008.