War changes a per­son

The Western Star - - CLOSE TO HOME - Ni­cholas Mercer Ni­cholas Mercer is the on­line ed­i­tor with The West­ern Star. He lives in Cor­ner Brook and can be reached at Ni­cholas.mercer@thewest­ern­star.com.

Justin Eddison got tired of the ques­tions.

When he re­turned from Afghanistan in De­cem­ber 2010, the Cor­ner Brook na­tive en­coun­tered an end­less stream of peo­ple who wanted to know what it was like.

Was it hot?

Did you kill any­one? Now, the last one com­ment didn’t sit well with Eddison. He had an an­swer for the first one, but no one wants to re­live the times they’ve had to pull a trig­ger and taken a hu­man life.

“It’s just an in­ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tion to ask,” said the sec­ond lieu­tenant in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force who’s cur­rently sta­tioned at Cana­dian Forces Base Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan.

Eddison has been with the Air Force since 2015 and is train­ing to be­come a CT-156 Har­vard II in­struc­tor. He hopes to be­gin teach­ing in Jan­uary.

A mem­ber of the Sec­ond Bat­tal­ion of the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment, Eddison was de­ployed in 2010, see­ing it as a way to step out­side his nor­mal train­ing regime and put what he had learned as a mem­ber of the re­serves to prac­ti­cal use.

It was also a way to sup­port a good friend of his — Cpl. Brian Pinksen — who had de­cided to

en­rol to serve his coun­try.

“We vol­un­teered to sup­port each other,” said Eddison.

The pair didn’t serve in the same bat­tal­ion, but they were in Afghanistan at the same time.

In Au­gust, just months into his de­ploy­ment, Eddison was en route back to the coun­try from two weeks’ leave when he re­ceived word that Pinksen had been in­jured in an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice at­tack in the Pan­jwaii District of Afghanistan.

Eddison ac­com­pa­nied Pinksen on his jour­ney home. He trav­elled with his friend’s re­mains from Ger­many to Tren­ton, Ont., down the High­way of He­roes to Toronto, then on to Hal­i­fax and fi­nally Deer Lake.

“That has a last­ing im­pact on you,” said Eddison. “Even now, there is still some heal­ing with that.”

Eddison fin­ished his de­ploy­ment and re­turned home in De­cem­ber of the same year.

A sol­dier’s re­turn to civil­ian life isn’t with­out ad­just­ment.

When they’re in com­bat, they don’t live the same lives that we do. They live a life that keeps them con­stantly on edge. There are no nor­mal trips to the gro­cery store for a litre of milk.

They’re con­di­tioned to be com­pletely aware of the world around them. They’re trained to rec­og­nize a threat be­fore it hap­pens.

Eddison’s unit was in­volved mostly with im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices and in­di­rect com­bat. He was the point­man tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing any threats — bombs or in­sur­gents or any­thing.

That state of be­ing on the look­out for threats can take some time to shed. Ini­tially, your body tells you that it needs to be ready for any­thing harm­ful. That’s how you keep your­self safe.

It can be awhile be­fore it re­sets. Dur­ing that time, it can put strain on your nor­mal re­la­tion­ships.

Eddison re­mem­bers driv­ing around town and see­ing some­thing on the side of the road. His in­stinct told him to give it a sec­ond look, know­ing full well it wasn’t go­ing to harm him. He had to do it any­way. There were peo­ple he served with who strug­gled with post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der. Some com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Eddison got a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy so he could bet­ter un­der­stand what was go­ing on with his psy­che.

He also took vol­un­tary coun­selling. He wanted to make sure there wasn’t go­ing to be any­thing hap­pen­ing to him that could af­fect the peo­ple around him.

“Peo­ple no­tice that you’re slightly dif­fer­ent,” said Eddison. “I would ar­gue that it would be im­pos­si­ble for some­one to go over and come back the same.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Cor­ner Brook na­tive Justin Eddison had to ad­just to life away from a com­bat zone when he re­turned home af­ter his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010. This photo shows Eddison sit­ting on top of an old Rus­sian tank from the Rus­sian in­va­sion in Pan­jwai district Afghanistan.

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