Trevor Greene: My thoughts
Rick Madonik, Staff Photographer
02/27/06 - NEAR GONBAD, AFGHANISTAN - Lt. Trevor Green provides cover for members of Alpha section as they head into the terrain to scout a route during the first day of a two day dismounted patrol.
07/07/11 - NANAIMO, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Trevor Greene, five years after sustaining a major head injury in southern Afghanistan, continues his rehabilitation.
Its really hard for me to forget that morning. That day. It altered me a number of ways.
It began innocently enough. We sat around a campfire, somewhere around 8 am, when Platoon Captains Kevin Schamuhn and his CIMIC (Civil-Military Co Operation Unit) officer Trevor Greene told us to we had 20 minutes before heading out for the days’ patrol.
It was the 7th day of our 10 day embedded patrol with 1 PPCLI, A Company, 1 Platoon. Mitch Potter and myself were there to tell the story of Canadian Forces actively deployed in a theatre of war. It was the first time since the war on the Korean Peninsula that Canadian Forces were deployed in overt offensive actions. Additionally, Canada, as a nation, had assumed the leadership role in Kandahar Province, in southern Afghanistan.
We both declined the morning invite having learned the night before the paper was dedicating 12 open pages (no ads) to telling the story of this platoon. Potter was tasked with a 10,000 word narrative, and I had (at that point) 100 edited pictures that needed names. We had tons of material, and there had been no issues in any of the villages we had visited during the previous days. All felt calm.
Before the campfire decision, I was 80% decided to go on patrol whether Mitch came along or not. Soon I discovered Warrant Officer Justin MacKay was not heading out on and I decided to hang back and take the opportunity to have him assist ID the individuals in pictures.
So, we begged off yet another day jammed into the back of a LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) bouncing off the metal interior as we drove down dust infested roads or rocky wadis (river beds) towards village after village to meet with elders, drink sweet tea and ask if the Taliban are lurking about.
We hung back at the walled farm house on the outskirts of Gonbad – IF Gonbad had outskirts. It was a FOB (Forward Operating Base) some 70 kms north of Kandahar, and a world or two away from life back at KAF (Kandahar Air Field). Its unofficial call name was Red Devil Inn, named for the current occupants.
It was a nice, clear day. It started cold, but warmed as the sun rose and baked the hard rock. I’ll admit, it was a far easier day sitting around the FOB than bouncing about the countryside jammed into the belly of an iron horse. Especially when the dude sitting beside you is a hulking spaceeater who measures 6’2” and packs 220 lbs before the additional 80 pounds of kit. (The dude was Greene. I found it quite remarkable how he could place his gun muzzle down, rest his forehead onto his rifle butt and sleep as the vehicle torqued its way along the butchered, or non-existant, roads.)
Greene, as the CIMIC officer, was the guy who asked what needs there were in the community. He was the face of the “hearts and minds” campaign. He wasn’t the battle hungry grunt wanting to find the bad guy and kill him. He was the guy who asked if Canada built a school, would the elders let girls attend. (The answer was always "no".)
Aside from being the guy who invaded my personal seat space, Greene was also our personal protection force. During our two-day hike into the hinterland, Trevor was one of the “bookends” for Potter and myself. (The other bookend was medic Cpl. David Blythe.) When we walked, Greene was either immediately in front of us, or immediately behind us. Should anything occur (ambush, IED, sniper fire) Greene was our cover fire. So, I took a great many clues as to how to act, when to talk, when to rest and where to rest, from Trevor.
After my hour with MacKay, where we poured over the photos and figured out who was who, the afternoon continued along on a more relaxed pace. I got the OK from the sentry to walk down the road. Some of the guys were out fixing the road with the Gators (4 wheelers) after the LAVs had torn up the road and the locals had complained. It was all part of “hearts and minds” is what I thought. Win over the local population by being out there.
The day progressed. I remember much of it, but its not really important, all those little details. The only thing of real consequence that day would be the attack.
“They got hit” I remember Potter whispering to me. I had joined him at the observation post where MacKay was intently listening to communications chatter. Trevor Greene had suffered an attack by a farmer’s axe, wielded by a teenager we would learn later came from a village we visited days earlier. Greene was struck in the back of the head as he sat, helmut removed, during a shura in the village of Shinkay.
The injury Greene sustained was devastating. A few days later, back at KAF, I sought out the Canadian trauma doc working at the hospital (I know him from work in Toronto) to find out just how bad the injury was. Again, the news was grim.
Several months later, Potter and I would see Trevor as he lay in Vancouver General Hospital overcoming hurdle after hurdle. At the time, I considered then fiance Debbie Lepore’s positive outlook as incredibly upbeat, and I feared, overly optimistic.
Over the last four years I’ve had the chance to visit with Trevor and Debbie. I’ve made a point of seeing Trevor whenever I’ve been out west. We were able to get together in Toronto two years ago while Trevor was on a speaking tour. Schamuhn was also present, and the first time I’d seen him since March 06. These have been social visits and something I value highly.
This last trip was a combination of social and professional. It’s the first time since March 06 I pulled out a camera in Trevor’s presence. I’m happy he allowed me to do it, to show people the amazing strides towards walking he’s accomplished. Even as the cynic I am, I find it difficult to argue with the idea anything is possible when you set your mind to a goal and have the love and support to get there. Trevor’s spirit, encompassed in his goal to once again walk when some gave him little chance to ever wake, is nothing but astounding. The love and support of wife Debbie (they were married last summer) is uplifting. Give these two a common goal, and get out of the way - it surely will happen.
Greene once aspired to change the world, or at least little parts of it, through humanitarian work in UN projects. Today, he’s helping to demonstrate the human spirit at its best and to show the naysayers the impossible is possible. Trevor Greene’s personal mission in life may have changed, but the dedication to a goal has not.
02/27/06 - Lt. Trevor Green (right), followed by medic Cpl. David Blythe, and followed by a contingent of ANA head into the steep, rocky terrain as 1 PPCLI, A Company, 1 Platoon, embark on a two day journey to the village of Kowndalan.
07/05/11 - VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Physiotherapist Hillary Acosta (left) and volunteer Melissa Neal adjust Trevor's positioning while his legs are driven in a Lokomat System at NeuroMotion Physiotherapy clinic in Victoria BC. Five years after sustaining a major head injury while deployed in southern Afghanistan, Trevor Greene continues to work daily toward his goal of walking again
Wife Debbie Greene (left) explains the rowing exercise they came up with to Trevor as occupational therapist Lila Mandziuk (rear) and homecare worker/physiotherapist Edna Ricafrente (right) help out in the home gym built in Greene's garage.
Trevor Greene stands, with the assistance of wife Debbie (left), to complete a transfer to his wheelchair after finishing his workout on the seated bicycle machine at the Nanaimo Acquatic Centre.
02/27/06 - Trevor Green, digs into a MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) while a top a mountain during a 2 day foot patrol. Behind him is Kevin Schamuhn.
Trevor Greene, five years after sustaining a major head injury in southern Afghanistan, continues his rehabilitation. Greene's daughter Grace uses one of her dolls on Trevor's head as he goes thru some occupational therapy.
Trevor Greene has lunch with wife Debbie and daughter Grace after his morning workout in his home gym.
The Greene family, from left, Trevor, Grace, 6, and Debbie, share a quiet moment just before bedtime for Grace.