June 30: Windsor, ON - A Man of Many Hats

Cst. Mike Akpata accompanies Mrs. Theresa Charbonneau
to view her son Corporal Andrew Grenon.

To suggest that Windsor Ontario’s Mike Akpata is a man of many hats is a bit of an understatement. 

We first met Mike at a truck stop just outside of Windsor this afternoon.  He rolled up in his Windsor Police Department vehicle and immediately took command of the police escort that had been arranged for the dozens of North Wall Riders and CAV members who had gathered to lead the Portraits of Honour convoy through the streets of Windsor to Charles Clark Square.

With the help of two police motorcycles and several cruisers, Mike and his colleagues got us through the busy Windsor rush hour traffic in quick time, allowing us to set up and get prepared for a very special sunset ceremony that the local Windsor Kinsmen Club, and particularly Kinsmen Tony Van Kempen, had planned.

Once settled, we bid Mike and his fellow officers goodbye and turned our attention to getting ready.

Less than an hour later, we saw Mike again, but this time he had traded in his tactical uniform and holster for a crisp blue and red tunic, slacks, ceremonial cap and white gloves of the Windsor Police Honour Guard. 

While the official ceremony wasn’t slated until 8:00pm, we needed to perform a ceremonial unveiling for the media in time for their 6pm newscasts.  We called upon Mike to join representatives from the North Wall Riders (Vietnam Veterans) and CAV (Canadian Army Veterans) to unveil the mural.

It was here that we learned that Senior Constable Mike Akpata is also known as Master Corporal Mike Akpata, a proud member of the Essex & Kent Scottish Regiment.  From January 2007 to August 2007 MCpl Akpata served overseas in Afghanistan during Operation Athena’s Roto 3.   He can point out over 20 men and women whose faces appear on the Portraits of Honour and tell you with crystal clarity what day they died and the circumstances around their tragic death.  He is not too proud to allow the tears to roll freely down his face.  He’s a strong and brave man.

As the sunset ceremony began, two corporals in parade dress, carrying their green service rifles assumed posts on either end of the stage, their rifles pointed down, their heads bowed forward in silent remembrance of our fallen.

Dozens of uniformed personnel filled the rows of seats provided.  The military was well represented by members of the Essex & Kent Scottish Regiment, Windsor Regiment, HMS Hunter, 31st Battalion and Royal Canadian Regiment.  Windsor Police sent their honour guard – many of them are also veterans who served in Afghanistan like Mike – and several members of the Canada Border Service Agency also attended to pay honour to their co-worker, Theresa Charbonneau, mother of Windsor native, Corporal Andrew Grenon. 

It was an overwhelming experience for Mrs. Charbonneau as her friend Mike Akpata escorted her onto the stage to see her son’s portrait for the first time.  She is a strong and resilient woman and soon traded her tears for laughter and a broad smile as she described her son Drew, as his military buddies referred to him, as a gregarious type eager to make people laugh. 

On his military helmet band, Drew inscribed “Talk is Cheap!”, his way of saying actions speak louder than words.  His family wore t-shirts honouring their son with the slogan, “it’s kickoff time”.  It’s what Andrew told a reporter just prior to his second deployment to Afghanistan when asked if they were ready.  His Mom said he couldn’t wait to get back.

Soon it was time to pack up the trailer to head to London, ON to get ready for Canada Day celebrations and before the team could complete their task, Cst. Akpata had returned in his regular patrol uniform, eager to help us get out of town to the highway by providing one final police escort.

Before we left we joked and said it must have felt good to get out of his hot tunic.  He admitted it was but quickly added that he’ll be wearing it all day tomorrow during Canada Day celebrations and the following day he will wear it to honour one of his brothers, at the funeral of Newmarket police officer Garrett Styles who recently died on duty.

Mike doesn’t think of himself as special and he would be certainly perplexed as to why we chose to focus today’s article on him.  Well, each day we talk about heroes.   Each day we meet members of the Canadian Forces.  Each day we meet members of our law enforcement community and many days they escort us to show their respect to our fallen heroes and to honour them.

Today, we got to meet a guy named Mike who fit all three categories.  He’s a guy that wears different hats and today, it’s our turn to tip our hat to him and his fellow officers and soldiers.