Honouring Canadians troops in life, not just in death
I will never forget the young Canadian medic who sat across from me in a light armoured vehicle (LAV) barely more than a year ago as we rumbled across the Afghan countryside.
He was “kitted out,” as soldiers say, like the Michelin man.
Every free inch of space on his torso was covered in medical supplies.
He was carrying so much stuff you could barely see his uniform on the top half of his body.
There was an important reason for every single item. A lifesaving reason.
Scissors, he explained, to cut through the tough fabric of uniforms to get to deadly wounds quickly; large tubes designed to be shoved into collapsed and bleeding lungs after an IED inflicts the horrific injuries on a body; and tourniquets (never used in Canada but always in Afghanistan) to stop the bleeding from lost legs and arms.
Tourniquets swayed between us as we sat across from each other. They hung from a long metal beam running the length of the LAV, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
Literally an in-your-face reminder of the constant danger that lurks on these roads.
|Canadian soldiers laugh it up in Sperwen Ghar, Afghanistan|
As he explained the purpose of each piece of equipment to me, it was clear his sophisticated and extensive medical knowledge would have made many a Canadian emergency room doctor jealous. This extraordinary young man had probably treated more traumatic injuries, and more severe injuries, than some ERs see.
|We practise endlessly|
It was frankly reassuring to be in the presence of such capable and healing hands knowing we were in such a high-risk situation. Soldiers love and protect their medics, and after spending time with this extraordinary young man, I could appreciate why on more than a cold intellectual level.
His emotional maturity and depth was humbling and moving. Sitting across from someone several years younger than you but more than a thousand times braver has a way of putting your own piddly accomplishments in perspective.
|We give lollypops to amputees|
His intensity, compassion and personal sense of responsibility, tempered with his tremendous professionalism and street smarts, were an incredible combination and we are fortunate to have it in abundance in Canadian troops.
|We try to help everyone|
When he recalled past victories and the agony of defeat as he fought to save lives in the mud and blood, the realization I was sitting across from someone who absolutely deserved to be described as a hero was clear.
Like most heroes, he would tell you that he is not one. That he just did his job. That he wishes he could have done it better and saved more people. Because that’s what he told me.
|We help locals and show them their potential future|
Canadian medics don’t just save Canadian lives. They regularly rescue Afghan civilians and even treat injured Taliban on the battlefield.
|We see horror that no one else should see and then jump in to help|
The moral fortitude of people fresh from battle able to treat a foe with a humanity they would never extend to our soldiers under the same conditions speaks volumes of the kind of people who wear our uniform.
|We fight so that others don't have to|
A year ago, I sat in the back of a LAV with a group of fierce and determined Canadian soldiers from the Calgary Highlanders and Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
They risked their lives to protect mine. They put on the uniform to risk their lives to protect yours too — this entire country as a matter of fact. Yet so rarely do we talk about the people prepared to lay their lives down for you.
I asked a few of them that day for their opinion of media coverage of the war. They told me they were bothered by the focus on how people died, rather than how they lived. Many a Canadian soldier had saved a life the day before theirs was taken, yet it was never mentioned on the 11 p.m. news.
|How we die|
It is time this country honoured our soldiers by how they live and what they do — like that incredible young medic — not just the way they die.
|How we live|
|How we honour the fallen by living as large as humanly possible.|