The Buddy System – The Sentinel Program

Early in my military career I was trained to perform the role of Ships Diving Officer by the Fleet Diving Unit – Atlantic.  The training was rigorous and of the 30 candidates who started the course, only 9 finished the program, which was apparently the norm.  Though challenging, I loved the experience of suiting up and entering the underwater world where there was adventure as well as risk.  Because of the risks, every diver was teamed up with a “buddy,” and the primary task that we had was to make sure our buddy was safe – always.  To drive the message home, we practiced sharing one tank through “buddy breathing,” we worked on underwater tasks in pairs and there were times when were literally were tied together at the wrist, particularly during night dives.  Having been trained as a lifeguard prior to joining the military, I had an understanding of the value of the buddy system, but those night dives raised the concept of the buddy system to a new level.  At first, being tied together, was awkward, it slowed me down when all I wanted to do was to complete the task, the mission that I had been assigned, but it was the way we were to do things, so I followed the procedure.  Eventually, being in close proximity with my buddy became second nature and I found myself instinctively always checking my buddy every 10-20 seconds or so, and rarely being out of arms-reach.

Years later, I introduced my oldest son to diving.  He was a natural, “a chip off the old block.”  On one dive we were particularly adventurous and dove on a wreck in the Saint Lawrence River down to a depth of 120 feet.  We hadn’t intended on diving that deep when we started out, but we were so enthralled by the wreck that we neglected to check our depth gauges until we arrived at the bottom.  Upon realizing our depth, we immediately began our assent, but we figured that we needed to make a decompression stop at 50 feet, just to be on the safe side.  We found a ledge on an outcropping and were just looking around, when I caught a glimpse of something falling beside my son, who was about three feet away from me.  I looked directly at him and saw that his weight belt had just fallen off and he was ascending.  I reached out and grabbed his ankle and held on like a pit bull.  At almost the same time I reached down to the ledge and grasped his weight belt.  I then pulled my son back down to the ledge and handed him his weight belt, which I then helped him cinch tight!  We finished our decompression stop and ascended to the surface.  That was a close one!  When we got back on shore, we emotionally decompressed and I was grateful for my training that stressed being within reach of your buddy.  Had I not been able to grab my son’s ankle, he would have ascended rapidly and uncontrollably risking injury to his lungs and even death.

In the book of Luke, chapter 10, Jesus is recorded as explaining to a lawyer what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself.”  The explanation Jesus gave is known as the story of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus’ explanation is similar to the buddy system I had been trained in.  As a follower of Jesus, we are called by Christ to look out for our buddy.  According to Jesus, we are not to be observers, but we are to be actively engaged in assuring the well-being of our neighbour, our buddy.  “Who is my buddy (neighbour),?” the lawyer asked. Jesus’ response was whomever you see in need.  “But, there is so much need that I see!”  Start with the person who is within reach, he is your buddy.

So, nice story, but what can you do practically.  The Commander of the Canadian Army issued an operations order on 9 December 2015 to launch a program called “Sentinels.”  The program leaders are the chaplains, and the program’s purpose “is to strengthen unit cohesion in the collective effort to prevent and identify psychological distress that can affect the well-being of [military] members.”  My read of the Commander’s intent is he is calling out for men and women who will be “Good Samaritans” to their fellow military members.  While designated as the leaders for the program, the chaplains must rely upon you who are in uniform to be what the Commander has called “Sentinels.”  My view, is that the Commander’s call is an opportunity for Christ-followers to love their neighbour as themselves.  So, what can you do… contact your unit chaplain and volunteer to be a “Sentinel.”

The Commander of Heaven has called each of us to be a Good Samaritan, a good buddy, and the Commander of the Canadian Army is inviting you to do that which Christ has called you to within the military.  Please let me know as well as the MCF prayer team when you have signed up and we will pray for your effectiveness by joining the mission.

Until All…

Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’)
Military Christian Fellowship of Canada/

Fraternité Chrétienne Militaire du Canada.

Link to Additional Resource from CAF website