Les Jones was a member of the Canadian military before embarking on a 30-year career with Sarnia Police.
These days he is president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 62, and an advisor to Sarnia’s emergency management team during the pandemic.
As such, he is helping coordinate hundreds of volunteers and overseeing logistics at the Clearwater Arena vaccination clinic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You were deployed for a six-month peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, from 1984-1985. What was that like?
A: We had a quiet tour, meaning that not a lot went on. But it was very interesting, and that’s one of the reasons I joined the military – to travel abroad.
Q: Were there any dicey situations?
A: The Canadian contingent over there controlled basically the centre that runs through the city of Nicosia. In a lot of parts of the city, the Greeks and Turks are just a matter of feet away, the width of a small road … You always have a sense of alertness, but in ‘84 it was relatively calm. Once the peace treaty was signed, that’s when everybody stopped. It really is unchanged to this day.
Q: How did that experience shape your outlook?
A: I enjoyed my time in the military. It was a very difficult decision to leave, but I wanted to be a police officer. If I hadn’t been hired on (by the Sarnia Police Service) I would have gone back. It’s a very rewarding career.
Q: Do you bring a military perspective to the Clearwater Arena vaccine rollout?
A: Absolutely. The incident management that I actually teach was developed in the 1970s by the military to assist civilian organizations and NGOs to be able to coordinate a large event. Whether it’s a disaster or a huge parade or whatever. So that everybody is on the same page. The military has been doing this for eons. They had a very standardized procedure to make sure that the situation can be coordinated, with logistics, planning, and sustainability.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge?
A: The huge scale of it. You’re dealing with a lot of staff; you’re dealing with a lot of volunteers. The sheer number of people involved, and just the hard logistics.
Q: How long have you been with the Legion?
A: Off and on since the early ‘80s, but most recently I joined the Sarnia branch and have been there since 2016.
Q: Why is that important to you?
A: I agree with their mission. Part of the mission is to take care of veterans and their families any way that they can. Part of their mission is remembrance. So we hold a Remembrance Day service. I think it’s very important that we never forget our history, and we never forget the men and women that not only served, but that made the ultimate sacrifice. The last thing is commitment to the community.
Q: And the Sarnia Branch?
A: We have a Veteran Services Officer locally. We can assist any local veteran … Maybe it’s financial help, assistance with medical needs, medical devices. We also contribute to homeless veterans. We have helped a considerable number of veterans, able to take them off the street or assist them to maintain their homes.
We’re big supporters of the Cadet Corps in the city (Air, Sea, Army). We also provide money to Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul. We made a large contribution to Pathways last year.
Q: And people can stop in for a drink …
A: So, the Legion has changed over the years. You no longer have to be a current or a former member of the military to become a member. You can actually hold office at any level of the Legion, even if you haven’t served in the military or are currently serving. We’ve had to change with the times because of us losing our (Second World War) veterans. If you look at the future, five years from now we could be down to the last few …
One of the biggest problems is just getting people in and making them understand it’s not just a bunch of old men. This is an organization that helps veterans, and we want to help our communities. It’s a great place to come to volunteer and give back.