Fam­i­lies, loved ones and the wounded also heroes

Times Colonist - - Comment - COL. (RE­TIRED) JAMIE HAM­MOND Col. (Re­tired) Jamie Ham­mond, OMM, CD, served around the world for 28 years in Canada’s in­fantry and spe­cial forces, in­clud­ing sev­eral tours to Afghanistan and Bos­nia. For more on the memo­rial go to vi­cafghanistan­memo­rial.ca/.

In 2010, my wife and I at­tended a fundrais­ing din­ner for the Ed­mon­ton Gar­ri­son Mil­i­tary Fam­ily Re­source Cen­tre that sup­ports mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. It was a typ­i­cal fundrais­ing gala with guests, dressed in their finest evening at­tire, bid­ding on silent and live auc­tion items for a wor­thy cause.

Many well-known names in the Al­berta le­gal world and oil­patch at­tended. At this gala, there was also an abun­dance of guests in scar­let army mess uni­forms with medals, and women in long ball gowns.

One ta­ble near us stood out. It was a group of slightly ner­vous women in their 20s and early 30s. At a quick glance, they could have been any group of a dozen moth­ers dressed up for a night out, away from the stresses of par­ent­hood for a few hours.

On that night, how­ever, they were all wi­d­ows be­ing hon­oured with a night ded­i­cated to them and in recog­ni­tion of the loss of their part­ners in Afghanistan.

Per­haps the gar­ri­son towns of Petawawa, Ont., and Val­cartier, Que., like Ed­mon­ton around 2010, were mi­cro­cosms of small-town Canada in 1918 or 1945. In those com­mu­ni­ties, we all knew the wi­d­ows, and the kids at school knew which chil­dren’s fa­thers had died.

It is hard to ex­plain the im­pact on fam­i­lies when a par­ent goes off on long tours in con­flict zones, even for the fam­i­lies whose loved one comes home safe. Ev­ery phone call or knock on the door be­comes stress­ful.

Even a chance meet­ing in the school­yard with one of the wi­d­ows or wi­d­ow­ers is awk­ward, a guilt-laced re­lief that it wasn’t your spouse and a re­minder that your loved one could be next. As a com­mu­nity, we all mourned.

All of the 163 names on the B.C. Afghanistan Memo­rial trig­gered a rip­ple ef­fect of grief. As serv­ing mil­i­tary mem­bers, we all at­tended too many fu­ner­als. Some cer­e­monies were filled with both tears and laugh­ter as we re­mem­bered the fallen as a loved in­di­vid­ual with their own char­ac­ter whom we felt lucky to have known.

At the grave­side, how­ever, there was no laugh­ter, just the in­con­solable, un­for­get­table tears of the 22-year-old fi­ancée or the mother who fell onto the low­er­ing cas­ket. Th­ese en­graved names rep­re­sent only the 163 in­di­vid­u­als, with their un­re­al­ized po­ten­tial and their griev­ing fam­i­lies. A beret, some medals, or a folded flag handed over at the grave­side are mean­ing­ful, but some­how a pit­tance when com­pared to the loss.

En­graved on one end of the memo­rial, along­side the names, are the words: “The fam­i­lies and loved ones,” whose con­tri­bu­tion is too of­ten for­got­ten. The in­scrip­tion is a re­minder that for ev­ery­one who served or fell, there was a fam­ily who sup­ported them, made their own sac­ri­fices and were af­fected by the ser­vice of their loved one.

In the same way, there is a re­minder at the other end of the memo­rial for “those who re­turned with men­tal and phys­i­cal wounds.”

More than 2,000 Cana­di­ans were listed as in­jured and wounded dur­ing the con­flict. For some, the wounds are ob­vi­ous: Maj. Mark Camp­bell was lead­ing teams men­tor­ing Afghan sol­diers when they re­sponded to a fire­fight on June 1, 2008. He and his team ran to­ward the sound of the guns, es­tab­lished a de­fen­sive perime­ter and fought off the Tal­iban.

Camp­bell was ob­vi­ously tak­ing charge of the sit­u­a­tion when the Tal­iban tar­geted him and set off a re­motely det­o­nated bomb of fer­til­izer and diesel that tore off one leg above the knee and dam­aged the other so badly it had to be re­moved.

Thanks to the quick ac­tion un­der fire of medic Sgt. Mar­tin Côté, the lives of Camp­bell and three oth­ers were saved. Côté won the Medal of Mil­i­tary Val­our that day, but the lives of Camp­bell and the oth­ers were changed for­ever.

De­spite his in­juries, Camp­bell con­tin­ues to serve us all as a cham­pion for the rights of the more than 650 Afghanistan vet­er­ans wounded in ac­tion.

Since the war in Afghanistan, Cana­di­ans have be­come well at­tuned to the phrase “post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.” In pre­vi­ous wars, they spoke of shell shock, but what­ever the ter­mi­nol­ogy, the chal­lenges of men­tal health are the same. Of the 40,000 who served in Afghanistan, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada re­ports that more than 6,000 are re­ceiv­ing dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits for men­tal-health con­di­tions.

As we planned the B.C. Afghanistan Memo­rial, we spent a great deal of time dis­cussing how to rec­og­nize those who re­turned with se­vere men­tal-health con­di­tions. What about the ap­prox­i­mately 70 who, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, took their own lives af­ter com­plet­ing a tour in Afghanistan?

Un­for­tu­nately, there is no de­fin­i­tive list of whose names should or should not be added. The agreed so­lu­tion was to leave space for new names if a list emerges in the fu­ture, but also to ac­knowl­edge the rav­ages of men­tal health by in­scrib­ing the re­minder on the end of the memo­rial.

On the day the memo­rial was un­veiled, 17 fam­i­lies of the fallen were in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in the cer­e­mony. One fam­ily was asked to rep­re­sent all of those who re­turned with men­tal-health in­juries. Sheila and Shaun Fynes from Vic­to­ria were there to re­mem­ber their son, Cpl. Stu­art Lan­gridge, who took his own life on March 15, 2008, three years af­ter fin­ish­ing his tour in Afghanistan.

Lan­gridge’s ser­vice to the peo­ple of Afghanistan was as im­por­tant as ev­ery one of the other 40,000 Cana­di­ans who served, and he, like his col­leagues and their fam­i­lies, should not be for­got­ten.

Over the past five days, I have tried to give a small in­sight into the lives of a few who served, so that they might help bring life to the oth­ers we have re­mem­bered ev­ery Nov. 11 for the past 100 years. The B.C. Afghanistan Memo­rial, like other memo­ri­als around the city, re­minds us of all the com­plex­i­ties of war and con­flict. It re­minds us to think of those who served, the fallen, the in­jured and the fam­i­lies, but it also re­minds us to re­flect, not just on Re­mem­brance Day, but through­out the year, of what that ser­vice rep­re­sents.

On Re­mem­brance Day this year, heed the ad­vice of John McCrae’s poem In Flan­ders Fields, and take the torch thrown from fail­ing hands and hold it high. Its light is there to in­spire us, to re­mind us to re­spect oth­ers and to re­mem­ber that be­long­ing to a great na­tion with shared val­ues comes with both the priv­i­lege of be­ing Cana­dian and the duty to up­hold our val­ues.


Afghan Am­bas­sador Shinkai Karokhail, left, speaks at the B.C. Afghanistan Memo­rial ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony with Capt. Trevor Greene, who re­ceived a se­vere brain in­jury on March 4, 2006, in Zabul prov­ince.


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