Written by Scott Romaniuk, Military Public Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
|MCpl Franklin outside of Kabul in winter 2004 with the Embeded Training Team|
On a low undulating plateau in southern Afghanistan close to where the rivers Daryã-ye Helmand and Daryã-ye Arghandab branch, is the site of intense engagement between Canadian Forces troops and the Taliban. Since its founding in the 4th century by Alexander the Great, many military elements have fought for control of Kandahar and the immediate periphery due to its strategic importance in south-central Asia. Owing to the fact that it is their homeland and their original stronghold, the Taliban is no exception to this trend. Master Corporal Paul Franklin is one of 25,000 Canadian troops who have safe-guarded Afghanistan against threats to its stability from increased Taliban-led activity since October 2001.
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Franklin's recent experiences include operational tours, military instruction in medical and military courses, and outdoor leadership skills. He served several tours of duty, which saw him perform in an Arctic Sovereignty operation at Inuvik, Northwest Territories in 2003, and provide aid during the 2004 forest fires at Okanagan Falls, British Columbia.
Having enlisted in the Canadian Forces in 1998 at the ripe age of 29, Franklin says "it was a decision that was bred with patriotism but realism," adding that "Pension, education, travel...all seemed to be truth behind my oath to Canada." Franklin loved working with the elite. His first tour in 2005 brought him outside of Kabul, atop a mountain looking down at villages nestled in the valley. Those villages haven't changed much since Alexander III sauntered the nearby fields.
Not long after becoming a reservist, MCpl Franklin moved to Regular Force, completing two months of basic training in Wainwright and 14 months of medical training. He received his initial posting in Edmonton, Alberta with 1 Field Ambulance as a Medical Technician. After serving in Kabul for two and a half months with the 23 Kandak Heavy Weapons Company he was southbound for Kandahar. There he served as part of an infantry section for the Provisional Reconstruction Team for another six months.
In facilitating the restoration of the southern region of Afghanistan, a distance of 6,000 miles had been put between Franklin and home. "It always struck me when you phoned home and it was literally eleven and a half hours difference - literally the other side of the world."
"My job was to help the other medics implement the medical skills my fellow soldiers had taught them" says Franklin. "We were to help them protect the capital during the inauguration of Harmid Karzai. At night we would eat in the commander's tent, share food, share stories and through those cold evenings I would discover a love of what Afghanistan is."
As Canada assumed a major role in military operations in southern Afghanistan, commanding the Multi-National Brigade for Command South, the country continued to rebuild and recover. Re-defining Canada's role occurred amid a backdrop of concerted Afghani and Allied struggle against poverty, wholly inadequate infrastructure and a multiplicity of security threats, including large concentrations of landmines and a renewed influx of Taliban.
The events of 15 January 2006, a day that was chilly and brought drizzling rain, can be regarded as nothing less than pivotal in MCpl Franklin's life when at about 5:30pm a rocket-laden taxi smashed into his G-wagon. The impact of the blast threw MCpl Franklin against a wall and left him nearly in shock. A fellow soldier, whom he had just taught Tactical Combat Casualty Care to, applied a tourniquet to Franklin's left leg saving his life.
At Kandahar he lay on a stretcher, looking around as he sat next to his friend and fellow medic. "I give my friend my wedding ring and my dog tags and told her that she should give them to my wife. My friend followed me on my journey to Landstuhl, Germany and the ICU." In the aftermath of the attack, and after a great deal of deliberation, the decision was made to amputate Paul's right leg following 19 surgeries. The result of this made him a double amputee above both knees. With both legs gone a after a total of 26 surgeries, Franklin realized that it was time to move-on.
"I lost my legs for a cause - Canada."
"I love Afghanistan and her people. They have touched my heart and have changed me forever."
"Soldiers are asked to die for what they believe in, well really they are asked to make the enemy pay for what they believe in. My role now is to tell my story, maybe in some way help change the entrenched beliefs of a large organization, and help my fellow wounded soldiers and to prepare the way forward for those who follow."
"I am a soldier, and a father ."
"I never knew the journey was that long, that tough."
"I didn't know courage existed till I looked inside of me"
The following two months were about healing and working for Franklin, as he lay in Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton thinking of ways he could help the next batch of soldiers who were about to come home. "A soldier is never held back, we move on and we strive to return to who we were," says Franklin.
Having spent time in Glenrose Hospital, Franklin gained first-hand experience in staff-patient interaction and critical care for amputees. Noticing gaps that existing in getting to the next level of function, he decided he would begin a charity to fill those as best he could.
"I understand that even in a progressive organization that changes have to be made, rehabilitation and reintegration are tough topics that are difficult at times."
Extensive consultation with healthcare professionals resulted in Franklin's co-founding of the Franklin Foundation to ensure that all amputees, civilian and military, receive the best possible care. The Foundation helps organize advanced skills clinics for amputees for fitness training and other sporting activities like downhill skiing.
When he was discharged from Glenrose, Franklin embarked upon a campaign across Canada so that he could share his story. While he set-out to educate others of his experience, Time Magazine named Master Corporal Paul Franklin one of "Canada's Heroes". His story has since been released as a book in August 2007, entitled The Long Walk Home. Subsequently, he has been named one of "The Top 10 Most Inspiring Canadians".
Franklin currently serves as a part-time Canadian Forces Casualty Support NCO at Land Force Western Area in Edmonton. He teaches tactical medicine to civilians and members of the military, and assists wounded soldiers through peer visitation.
"Every step is painful and the walk is slow, but then you look behind and realize how far you have come."
"I am a soldier and I fought. For myself and for the other 200 wounded soldiers: Dignity, Respect and Honour. These are values earned by soldiers wounded in war."