From Syria to MARS

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Acting Sub-Lieutenant Uzi Kamal (image courtesy of the Department of National Defence)

By Acting Sub-Lieutenant Uzi Kamal, Department of National Defence

When I was four years old, my parents made the decision to leave Syria and find a safer place to raise my brother and I. It was the early 90s and they were searching for a home where they wouldn't be afraid. A place where the government treated people with respect and dignity. A place where their children could grow up with the right to speak freely, with the ability to cast a vote, and with the freedom to practise their own religion. Time and again, Canada was suggested and recommended. They'd heard it was a place that was safe, where they could live without fear while seeing their boys educated without discrimination. With great courage, they left and found Canada to be everything they hoped for in a new home. Today my father is a proud Canadian and life in Syria is but a distant memory.

As I grew up, my parents regularly reminded me of the privilege I had of being raised in Canada. The peace and comfort that it had provided their family was not something they took lightly. It was this ingrained appreciation that made me want to give back to this extraordinary place. In 2012 I joined the Royal Canadian Navy at HMCS Prevost, the Naval Reserve Division in London, Ont. My parents were incredibly proud and extremely supportive.

It was not long afterwards that I experienced my introduction to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) while doing basic officer training at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, B.C. My acceptance in the group was without question. Whether I was born in Syria or Saskatoon made no difference; I was treated like everyone else. The leadership, discipline and respect that was demanded and given have made an indelible impact on me. Today, some of my closest friends are those I met during basic training.

As a Maritime Surface and Sub-surface Officer (MARS) in training, I fell in love with the ocean and the west coast. Standing on the bridge of an Orca training vessel during my MARS 2 and 3 courses was magical. I was intrigued with how we were taught to navigate in the open water, how to read and use paper charts, and how to recognize other vessels' lights at night. I particularly enjoyed serving as officer of the watch whenever we were at sea, and I will cherish these memories every day of my life.

Today, I have embarked on another career. I am in my second year studying to be a Doctor of Dental Medicine. I find myself constantly applying what I learned on the bridge of a naval vessel to what I do in the clinic or in the operating room. The skills and training which I learned in the navy have not only made me a stronger individual, but also a leader amongst my peers. Regardless of what my future holds, in my personal life or professional career, my experiences in the CAF will always be a part of the stronger person I am. I will always love and serve Canada for the safe haven, home and opportunities it gave this one small Syrian child.

Editor's Note: Acting Sub-Lieutenant Kamal is currently studying dentistry in Indiana, and will be leaving the Navy to focus on his studies. He hopes to return to Canada upon completion.

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