Veterans Canada estimates that up to ten percent of Canadian war veterans deployed overseas will suffer a chronic condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while others may experience some of the symptoms associated with this condition. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition that develops in some people who have lived through a horrific or terrifying event. While many Canadian war veterans agree their overseas tours were beneficial to their careers, most will admit these deployments also took a toll on their mental health.
AERCs helps Canadian soldiers overcome the trauma they experienced overseas. We asked one veteran who served in Afghanistan to answer some hard questions, and Matt (not his real name) wrote a stunning account of his service and detailed some of the challenges he faces today.
The following responses are Matt’s own answers. We did not add any punctuation, or correct any typos, or make any edits whatsoever. These are his own words, unfiltered.
How did you get into the army?
I was always into “army” movies so I guess it was always as going to nee thing if I knew it or not. In the end when married men with kids were deploying to Afghanistan, as a single guy no kids I just thought to myself “what’s my excuse”
Can you think of one story which perfectly epitomizes life in the Canadian army?
While getting ready to go on a training exercise I can recall the guys in transport loading a resupply truck with diesel jerry cans. We are talking like 200 or 400 jerry cans which are 20l each. Now there are heavy and being loaded on to a supply truck which is like 10 8 feet or so to the deck. So guys are lifting them over their head and guys are grouched on the truck to receive them. Then they stand and pack them 2 or 4 high. So when this task had finally been completed the floor whip or troop MCpl (master corporal) came down and made the guys unpack and repack the truck because he wanted the lids of the jerry cans facing the other way. Now this wasn’t directed from the beginning and the lids were all facing the the same way so it looks neat and organized. But… he still mafwe them do it just because. This epitomizes being in a combat trade in the Canadian army.
What challenges do you have with everyday life?
Every day personally I have challenges tolerating people. This is both army and civilian. Some days are better than others but most days id just prefer to left alone. Then army has a system of breaking you down and building you back up. When you retire or release however, they don’t undo this process. So it’s challenging trying to undo this yourself.
How are you and I different? (I’ve never seen combat)
In my opinion , what makes you and I different is the fact that I have seen combat and you haven’t. To me I dint think you’ve seen a bad day or been under the same bad day and had to react and deal with the stress the same way. Example…
IED strike kills my 2 friends and guys in my callsign. So im responsible for their lives. So the first guy I don’t know he’s dead until I can get to him. When I do there is nothing left except a boot, half a leg, and some teeth. The second guy is missing a leg and his face. There’s a this guy who is clinging to life as he is also missing both his legs.
Now let’s not forget there is also bullets ringing of the side of my blown up lav3. This is where it gets fun now. I need to defend myself and crew or what’s left of it. So I get up into my turret and start to engage the enemy. While doing this im also making sure my radio is functioning so I can call for medivac helicopters and support. So now as im returning fire and have 2 KIA with one Priority A or close to death, I need to find time to get the bleeding stopped on his missing legs, coordinate the extraction of the injured, defend my location while returning fire, which means potentially killing someone…. If feels like hours , days even but its fast.. 10 minutes support and medivac is there.. what a relief … but wait…my friends are dead. Im covered in their blood. Im physically and mentally exhausted. I light a cigarette… take a sip of water… stand up and a ride back to my outpost… 30 minutes later im doing a shift sitting in a machine gun nest doing security and in 3 hours im back out in the shit ready to do it again. 3 days later I get a flight back to Canada to bring home my friends, crew mates, brothers. I hand them over to their parents, explain how I failed them and didn’t get their sons home alive… have another cigarette. Catch a flight back to Afghanistan and all within 6 days im back driving the same route , past the same spot it all happened like it never happened ..straight face emotionless ready to do it all over again.
This is one example, which happed more than a few times. There are more situations but you get the drift. There is no grieving period there is no processing time. It’s “better him than me” in the end.
What are your triggers? What sets you off?
Hard to say as smells don’t really do it . It’s more like situational. In a crown out of nowhere tunnel vision, sweater, adrenaline pumping. On the other hand what I class as soft people. 90% of society today triggers me
Could a raw recruit go overseas and serve and not suffer PTSD?
They sure could. I feel or have seen white the many of people over deployed with. So suffer some don’t. It’s ll just kinda how you’re wired I guess. I think no matter what it changes you in some way, but some people can just shake it off of move on.
What do you do to mitigate trauma ?
I’ve tried several things over the years. Self help blah blah, religion, philosophy, alcohol, therapy …This goes back to being build up a soldier and not having that undone. Some im sure can just turn it off but for many its a life long thing we will have to deal with and continually have to work on.
Trauma can sometimes feel like an incomprehensible cloud that hangs over all areas of the person’s life. The first step in treatment is to understand exactly what trauma is, and why you have the symptoms you experience and, therefore, why it must be treated. If you have these same or similar feelings then please don’t hesitate to reach to AERCs intake coordinator and get the help you deserve.