Five hon­est sto­ries from Afghanistan

The Enterprise-Bulletin (Collingwood) - - FRONT PAGE - J. T. MCVEIGH

Through the ob­ser­vance of Re­mem­brance Day it is some­times easy to for­get that there are still men and women of Canada’s Armed Forces over­seas fight­ing, train­ing, pro­tect­ing in con­flicts that are light years away from what any­one would con­sider con­ven­tional war­fare.

An orig­i­nal one- hour doc­u­men­tary spe­cial aims to bring those sto­ries to the fore­front. I AM WAR, is pro­duced and di­rected by Wayne Ab­bott of North­ern Sky En­ter­tain­ment is be­ing shown on His­tory tonight ( Fri­day) at 9 p. m.

The doc­u­men­tary of­fers a per­sonal look at war through the eyes of five men and women who served with the Cana­dian Forces in Afghanistan. These tes­ti­mo­ni­als give a unique view of the heroes and hor­rors of war and the emo­tional scars that never seem to heal.

“The film is made up of five per­spec­tives, I re­ally wanted some­thing that showed the hu­man side of war. I didn’t re­ally care about all of the de­tails and the strate­gies and all that, the po­lit­i­cal side of Afghanistan,” said Ab­bott. “I just wanted to look at the pure hu­man side of it. What the sol­diers, there are just three sol­diers, we have a nurse and an in­ter­preter. And that is why it is called I Am War, it is just per­sonal ac­counts, very de­tailed, told di­rectly to cam­era.”

Some­times war seems very far away, but Ab­bott didn’t have to go far to find one of the more poignant sto­ries in the doc­u­men­tary.

“One of them was Cap­tain Mary Ann Bar­ber, who now lives in Wasaga Beach and works at ( CBF) Bor­den. She has a very pow­er­ful story, this is why I en­joy do­ing it, it is an un­ex­pected story,” said Ab­bott.

“The sol­dier’s sto­ries are very strong, but here you see what a nurse goes through from just the de­tails of what her story was and then the fact that she suf­fers from Post Trau­matic Stress and she never got out­side the fence. She wasn’t on the front line, no­body shot at her, but the tragedy of her story is that she saw so many ca­su­al­ties, and it wasn’t just sol­diers. They had a lot of Afghan fam­i­lies.”

The pro­duc­tion shows that war isn’t just sol­diers.

“We recre­ate this story where this child dies in her arms, so I Am War is about find­ing other cracks, other view­points, not just a guy or a woman with a gun so that is the heart and soul of the story.”

Truth never varies too far from the pre­sen­ta­tions of the drama­ti­za­tions and for Bar­ber, she was there with the film crew on the day of the re­cre­ation be­cause she didn’t want it poorly done out of re­spect for not only any­one who watched it but for the nurses, doc­tors and medics that she worked with dur­ing her three tours.

“I wanted my fel­low nurses and docs and medics look­ing at it to say oh yeah they did have the right equipment and that they were dressed prop­erly. They used the right ter­mi­nol­ogy and lingo. So I wanted it to be re­al­is­tic for my own peo­ple. Cer­tainly as some­one who wasn’t there watch­ing it you might not ever know, but for us as mil­i­tary we watch a lot of these shows,” said Bar­ber. “I’m sure that it is the same for cops and paramedics, any­one who knows watch­ing TV and they shake their heads and think that is so not true, so not re­al­is­tic, so not how it was.”

Ab­bott, who has done more than 20 doc­u­men­taries on the First and Sec­ond World Wars, found that this Afghanistan as­sign­ment was the hard­est.

“The hard­est thing for me with Afghanistan - and it’s still hard and we are go­ing to air - they are all suf­fer­ing from some level, all of our sto­ry­tellers,” said Ab­bott. “We have Dan Matthews who is 45 now and he ex­pe­ri­enced the first IED at­tack on Cana­di­ans and that was in 2003 and he is still suf­fer­ing for PTSD. We have Mary Ann Bar­ber who went three times to Afghanistan over there as a nurse and she is still suf­fer­ing even though she has come a long way.“

Bar­ber ad­mits that telling the story is one thing, see­ing it played out, even for a cam­era was dif­fi­cult.

“It was dev­as­tat­ing for me ac­tu­ally, it is one thing to tell these sto­ries and I’m com­fort­able now shar­ing my ex­pe­ri­ences about Afghanistan and the pa­tients that we cared for. It was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence now to see it lived out in real time with other peo­ple try­ing to por­tray what I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing,” said Bar­ber. “So I was try­ing to ex­plain to them the emo­tions that I was feeling and what we would have done and how we would have done it. Watch­ing them go through the mo­tions of that was re­ally chal­leng­ing. It was re­ally hard and I wasn’t ex­pect­ing that. It was a strug­gle to have to re­live it again it, brought me back.”

Through all of the sto­ries Ab­bott presents, it is the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects on all five that gave him the great­est worry.

“The end of the show just has the five say­ing what they thought. The last one is the Afghan in­ter­preter who is the lo­cal guy over there I think that he is the only one over there, I mean he suf­fered so much his whole life. I think the even living there I don’t think he has PTS,” said Ab­bott. “I think at the end of the day he is the one who comes away from it the most un­harmed emo­tion­ally but I think that that’s the way they were.

Now he lives in Cal­gary, but he talks about his par­ents be­ing killed by the Tal­iban be­cause he and his brother were trans­la­tors for the Cana­di­ans.”

It all comes home to Ab­bott when the show closes.

“At the end of the film we have all of them talk­ing about com­ing home. I think Ash­ley Col­lette, said it best when she said ‘ Fight­ing over there was easy, the hard­est part was com­ing home.’ Each of them, I think it would be a truth­ful state­ment. All of them had to find a way to bat­tle it and they are still bat­tling,” said Ab­bott.


I AM WAR, which of­fers a per­sonal look at war through the eyes of five men and women who served with the Cana­dian Forces in Afghanistan in­clud­ing for­mer pla­toon leader Cap­tain Ash­ley Col­lette, now a mil­i­tary so­cial worker from Nova Sco­tia. The show airs tonight ( Fri­day) at 9 p. m. on His­tory.

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