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Wroxton native remembers service with Canadian Forces in Afghanistan

On Saturday, former Wroxton resident Sgt. Austin Hovrisko will be among representatives of Canada’s armed forces attending the Remembrance Day service at the Gallagher Centre in Yorkton.

            On Saturday, former Wroxton resident Sgt. Austin Hovrisko will be among representatives of Canada’s armed forces attending the Remembrance Day service at the Gallagher Centre in Yorkton.

            A full-time reservist now living in Yorkton, Hovrisko joined the Canadian military about 17 years ago, trained, volunteered for service in Afghanistan, returned, and now works full time at the Yorkton armoury.

            A son of Alexander and Sharon Hovrisko of Wroxton, Austin is an older brother of Adrian, who is employed at the Kamsack Hospital and is a regular performer with the Kamsack Players theatre troupe. He talked to the Times recently about his service.

            “I joined the Army in the summer of 2000 and then went to CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Shilo, Man., for my initial training and then returned home as a reservist,” he said, explaining that a reservist is different than a regular serving person in that he or she also has full-time civilian work, which must be put aside when called up to serve.

            As a part-time reservist, Hovrisko spent time in Regina, was on parade duty a couple weekends a month, participated in field exercises and took various courses, if he had time.

            In 2008 he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan and the next year he, along with Jordan Guenther, left Canada after having had additional training at Shilo.

            “We trained on larger artillery weapons and vehicles that reservists usually don’t use,” he said, adding that the soldiers were flown via Dubai to Kandahar air field, a main muster point in Afghanistan.

            Until May 2010, Hovrisko was with the artillery, deployed as a gun detachment member, operating the Howitzer 155mm and 81mm mortars.

            “We were on call at a forward operating base, ready to answer,” he said, explaining that during the winter months things tended to “quiet down.” But almost every day during the spring and fall, he had to fire during his missions.

            “During my time overseas, the Canadian Army was a well-oiled machine, and we were ready as trouble-shooters.”

            Hovrisko said that although initially he had been so anxious that his head felt as though it had been on a swivel, in time he got so used to it that by the end he was acclimatized and a mission was seen as routine.

            Rather than fear of injury, he said he was more afraid of screwing up, especially when others were counting on him to complete a job.

            “Our mandate, the Canadian force’s mandate, was to assist the United Nations forces and push out the Taliban and reach the “hearts and minds” of the locals by helping them build schools, grow crops other than opium and basically help the Afghanis stand up for themselves.

            “We were well taken care of,” he said. “We had access to satellite phones so were able to keep in contact with our families.”

            A performance review of Hovrisko’s work in Afghanistan said that he had demonstrated good leadership potential when given a task and effectively organized soldiers to complete tasks or jobs with ease.

            “Bdr. Hovrisko demonstrated this while coming into action…with troops working under him,” the review said. He possessed a good level of knowledge and was able to act when required.

“He conducted fire missions as the number one with very little supervision. He was able to prepare ammunition and record the gun without assistance from his detachment commander.

“(He) possessed a very good understanding of what had to be done on the gun position which made him a strong asset. He demonstrated the ability to learn new skills and apply them with very little difficulty.

“He proved to be an extremely reliable and professional soldier who ensured that he carried out all assigned tasks to a high standard as displayed when he was tasked with sorting ammunition.

“Even while deployed in Afghanistan, Hovrisko maintained a high level of fitness, taking it upon himself to keep in shape so he would continue to perform his job at a high level. (His) dress and deportment were above average for his rank level.

“Hovrisko displays outstanding leadership potential as a junior leader and above average technical ability. (He) accepted the extra responsibility and proved to be a capable junior leader who continues to develop technical knowledge. This strong performance demonstrates his leadership potential.

“(His) communication skills are at a high standard, evident through his interactions with both his peers and superiors.”

            Returning to Canada, Hovrisko was back in the reserves. He obtained his primary care paramedic license, got instructor’s and sergeant qualifications and became an instructor.

            “Now I mentor young people,” he said, explaining that while working at the Yorkton armoury he has been deployed for a number of domestic operations including avalanche control in British Columbia, fighting forest fires in northern Saskatchewan, helping during floods along the Red River in Manitoba and did training in the Arctic.

            Currently a coach for high school wrestling, Hovrisko, who had graduated from the Yorkton Regional High School in 1999, teaches Olympic weightlifting and begins most days at the gym for an hour of physical training before getting to work at the armoury as a full-time reservist. He was a University of Regina western Canadian wrestling champion for a number of years and was a junior Canadian medalist in weightlifting.

            Hovrisko describes his job to be similar to that of a quartermaster and his duties include looking after the stores and equipment, assuring that the armoury’s stocks are where they should be. He ensures that if courses are coming up, a call list is updated to see who might be available and he organizes the transportation where required. In the evenings, he instructs at the Yorkton Martial Arts Club.

            “I like to get back to Wroxton at least once every couple of weeks,” he said.

            What goes through his head during the annual Remembrance Day service, he is asked.

            “There’s a moment of pride,” he said. “Pride over the fact that we’re doing our job, and then I start thinking that I was lucky that I received no injury although I did know people who didn’t make it.

            “It could have gone either way,” he said, adding that the Canadian leadership did well. “They, along with lots of luck, helped keep us safe.”

            “We are very, very, very proud of him,” his father said last week.