Captain Juli-Ann MacKenzie was honoured in the Parliament Assembly by MP Erin O'Toole, Leader of the Official Opposition, during a speech to kick off Veteran's Week (as shown in the screen shot above). One of the first people that O'Toole met in the military was MacKenzie, who grew up in Weyburn.
O’Toole said he had many great memories of Capt. MacKenzie, during a phone interview with the Weyburn Review. “I have spoken about her a few times in the past, at my local cenotaph, since Juli was one of the first people who I had met when I first entered the military.”
He has always felt it was important to honour military personnel of recent generations who have served for their country, as typically most Canadians will think of the men and women who have served during the First and Second World Wars.
“As a military veteran myself, I felt it was important to personalize one story during my speech, of the hundreds and men and women who have served and died for our country,” said O’Toole.
Capt. MacKenzie and O’Toole were both in the 15 Platoon during basic training, during the 1991 summer boot camp in Chilliwack, B.C. The platoons were small numbers of between 25 to 30 people. O’Toole noted that the six women that were in the 15 Platoon were stationed in a barracks that were above where he was, so they were in the same part of the building during that summer camp.
“Juli was so generous. She adapted the fastest to the change,” said the MP. “She was so mature and professional. She was always there to help and encourage others. She had an inner strength and discipline and had really hit her stride.”
O’Toole said it was an incredible summer when they formed the platoon, and after the basic training was complete, they felt like family. A connection had remained even after O’Toole left for the Royal Military College in Kingston, and Juli-Ann moved on to Royal Roads Military College in Victoria.
“I was a navigator and seeker in the helicopter division, so Juli-Ann and I would encounter each other. Her career was going as she had hoped it would,” said O’Toole.
In 2002, Juli-Ann and Colin Sonoski paid the ultimate sacrifice when their Griffon helicopter crashed on a rescue mission from their base in Labrador. “I will never forget that moment when I heard of a helicopter crash … it was heart-breaking when I learned that Juli-Ann had lost her life.”
In air force circles, both Juli-Ann and Colin were honoured for doing their best to control the crash, effectively saving the lives of the people who were in the back of the CH-146 Griffon. “I will always remember her as being proud of her Saskatchewan roots, as a piper, as someone who was always there to help others around her. I believe that in her last moments she was still doing everything she could to help those she served with.”
O’Toole was involved in the dedication of Capt. MacKenzie’s photo in the memorial staircase at Kingston. The RMC honours and guards the memories of all cadets who have served and fallen for their country. This includes any cadets of the Royal Roads Military College, which no longer exists as a school.
He said it was a powerful moment to have her photo added to the memorial staircase.
“Juli-Ann was one of those trail-blazing cohorts that prove that it doesn’t matter your background, your race, your gender or where you live if you want to serve your country. She was an exceptional woman leader,” he said.