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11/13/2009

Meeting up with the Captains

Rick Madonik, Toronto Star

Last night I had an oppportunity I waited the better part of the last three years for. It was to have a beer with two guys I met in Feb 06 in Afghanistan. No one came home the same.

By far, I was the least affected. The two others have shouldered the weight of fighting a war. Trevor Greene was gravely injured by a teenager who made a decision to wield a farmer's axe into the back of his head during a midday shurya (meeting) as he spoke to village elders. Kevin Schamuhn was the commanding officer of Alpha Platoon. He was seated next to Trevor and reacted to the attack which took place literally beside him. (In total, three responded to the attacker by firing their weapons.)

This isn't news. This was all detailed in a 12 page section The Star produced during the early deployment of Canadian Forces to southern Afghanistan. Mitch Potter's 10,003 word essay details our 10 day sojourn with our military and what it was like to be the "boots on the ground." For me, it is the best written piece of documentary reportage I've ever read. (But hey, I'm biased.)

Trevor came home in a medically induced coma. Kevin went back outside the wire. Mitch and I finished our work and made the exhausted slug to Turkey for a few days rest.

Physically, Trevor's wound was horrific. Emotionally, it was shattering. Trevor wasn't the grunt infantry soldier, he was the liason officer there to assess needs. Hospitals, schools, irrigation, etc and to find out what Afghans needed to help support governance.

And HE got attacked. Talk about life not being fair.

I've seen Trevor twice since. Once with Mitch about 10 months after the attack, and last March.

I can't tell you (well I could, but won't) how hard it was to answer his question he asked me when I visited in BC earlier this year. "Tell me about THE day." Trevor was asking about the day of the attack, about what transpired (from my point of view), what we spoke about that morning, what happened back at the fire base, the mood of the guys afterwards. It wasn't an easy conversation, but it was something I knew he would ask and I was prepared for.

Its a breathe of fresh air to my ornery, cynical, jaded self to see this man. His resolve, his determination, his spirit, his will, are to be envied.

For a guy who many said would never wake up, they should hear him tell you what he thinks. But, pour him a beer first.

So, flash forward three years to last night. Yes, there were others around and no, we didn't talk specifically about those hours which bond us most. Instead, we found the humor and delight in the other things from those days. Kevin admitted his initial distrust/dislike of Mitch and I was based on thinking we were from The Toronto Sun and wondered how a Sunshine Girl would figure into the fold. We joked about how the convoy one day interrupted a wedding taking place in the wadi (riverbed) and how Warrant Officer McKay tried to persuade the village elders to take a group picture of the event. Which was a fine idea, until McKay suggested the bride be part of the picture and the elders shut down the idea.

We caught up with what is going on in our lives today, and tomorrow. We drank some beers, and made each other laugh. Its something I look forward to doing again, with Kevin, Trevor and Debbie.

That fateful trip, for me, changed me. First, it changed the way I think about the military and those who join and what I knew and thought about Afghanistan.

Then, and more importantly, it changed what I knew about determination and resolve and commitment.

These, I consider, to be life lessons and take them with me.

The one thing missing from last night's gathering was Mitch. Maybe next time.

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