The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Afghanistan Veterans

I have decided that the best way to properly publish longer accounts and accounts that I currently do not have a portrait for on my blog.  I expect this will be the first of many accounts to come so please check for updates here.

I am honoured to share with you the account of Cpl Tyson Hunter, a medical technician that served with 2 Field Ambulance from April - December of 2010.

Here is Tyson's Story:

I served in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan from April to December of 2010 as a medical technician. Initially I was the Bison medic with the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD) A-Squadron (A Sqn). But since 90% of the time they were occupying an observation post (OP) my crew was moved to the Battlegroup quick reaction force (QRF) and A-Sqn received a dismounted medic. For the remaining 7 months I went on QRF calls to improvised explosive device (IED) strikes, firefights, and other situations that required immediate support. On several occasions my crew would be tasked on Operations (Ops) with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse, Royal Canadian Regiment and American forces.

 When I first arrived in country I felt a sense of importance. “I'm a medic, I'm here to save people”. This is why I volunteered. Very quickly my attitude changed to “I'm the guy that will try to get you to a Role 3 facility alive”. It didn't take long to realize that I wasn't there to save lives. I was there to prolong life. Just like any other person, my very first impression was that the air smelled disgusting and it was really hot. But just like when you're in a bath and body shop, you don't notice the smell after some time. The heat took a few weeks to get used to.

My experience from tour was one I hope I never repeat. But there were many things that amazed me. Like how the farmers could grow fields of grapes, marijuana, poppies and other types of vegetation in a desert. How they would reroute the wadi's to move water to different fields or use a pump to get the water from one side of a road to the other.

Whenever I wasn't out on an Ops or a QRF call I would work out of the Unit Medical Station (UMS) in Ma’sum Ghar. We would have sick parade in the mornings and would provide emergency care 24/7 to coalition forces, Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and local nationals. Unfortunately a big part of what we saw was injured children. Usually from insurgent attacks on villages, IED's, mines or being close to a patrol when insurgents engaged the troops. This hit me hard. I knew I was in a war zone. I knew there would be casualties, I trained long and hard to treat casualties but not once did I ever consider that I would have to work on a child. We never trained for it and it was never talked about. But one day at the gate of Ma’sum Ghar, a father handed his son to me, the child was covered in shrapnel wounds. I laid down on the back of the gator with the bleeding child on my belly, putting pressure on the wounds as we sped to the UMS. Later we found out that the boys sister was also injured but she was left in the car because the son was priority. By the time we were told by the father that the girl was in the car it was to late. That day opened my eyes to the fact that there will be child casualties and just how much women are held below men in this country.  Treating and seeing wounded was something that I would never forget.

Shortly after the events unfolded at the gate I was scheduled to go on Home Leave Travel Assistance (HLTA). I had decided to go home to see my family and friends and be back in my safe world. The day I flew out of Kandahar there was a communications lockdown. By the time it was lifted I had arrived at Camp Mirage in Dubai and was able to call home.  The next morning I woke up went to breakfast. As I was sitting there a Warrant Officer with a Red Cross on his arm approached me and asked if I was Tyson Hunter. He introduced himself as the physician’s assistant assigned to Camp Mirage and we talked for a minute. Then he asked if I knew the two soldiers that were killed the day before. I told him I hadn't heard the names. I barely remember him saying the names. But I do remember that as he was saying them I saw two pictures of soldiers on the TV behind him. The pictures were of two of my friends, fellow medics, two of the three that replaced my ambulance crew so we could go on HLTA. The next thing I can recall is the Warrant walking me to the UMS as I'm crying uncontrollably. He put me in an office and helped me call the UMS in Ma’sum Ghar. I was able to get a hold of the physician’s assistant that I worked for, he was also from my home unit. He told me what had happened. I pleaded with him to help me get back to Ma’sum Ghar. I couldn't go home. Not now. After a long talk we agreed that finishing my HLTA as planned would be the best course of action. I spent the rest of the day sitting at a patio table by the canteen. It was just after supper when I managed to get up to hydrate and eat. When I got home my HLTA was 2 weeks of drinking, gambling, video games, and meaningless encounters.  It was the second event that I will never forget.

Then I went back. And everything felt different. I wasn't there to grieve with my comrades. I constantly wondered if they blamed me going on HLTA as the cause of their deaths just as I blamed myself. I was an augmentee. The two that were killed were from the same unit as the rest of the medics. I became paranoid thinking that everyone hated me for leaving. It took a few days to get back into routine but once I did I slowly started to feel like part of the team again.

The 3rd event that haunts my dreams is one where I was scared more than I had ever been in my life. QRF got called to an IED. The device consisted of a pressure plate attached to mortar rounds that were in a tree. By the time Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) had finished with it the sun was going down. It got dark fast and the drive back to Ma’sum Ghar took longer due to increased amount of vulnerable point search’s that needed to be done. The lead vehicle ended up hitting an IED. The explosion was small. I was listening to the conversation between the crew commander of the vehicle and EOD. The last thing I heard before being told to move up to the EOD vehicle was that it was probably an antipersonnel mine. It was common practice for me to move up to the EOD vehicle when the operator was approaching a device. I dismounted from my ambulance and turned on my night vision goggles. I started walking towards the EOD vehicle making sure I stayed on the tire tracks made by the vehicles ahead of us. I was halfway there and the tire tracks had disappeared. Instant fear spread through my body. I would have to walk on unproved ground where we knew there has already been an antipersonnel mine. Usually once I left the gate of the forward operating base I would be scared. It wouldn't last long. Every time I left I accepted that I might not make it back. But standing there at the end of the tire tracks with my legs shaking, cold prickly chills shooting through my body I couldn't push the fear away. I took a couple deep breaths and was about to start walking when I saw the tracks again about two meters away. Without thinking I took two steps back, stepped forward and jumped. The longest, slowest jump I had ever made. When I realized I had only made it 3/4 of the way across the gap I closed my eyes and braced. I knew that I had landed but was still waiting for the blast. After a few seconds (that felt like minutes) I opened my eyes. I looked at the tracks that started about a foot away. I Stepped onto the tracks and continued up to the EOD vehicle. I didn't stop shaking until it was time to leave. My ambulance drove up to me and I got in, sat down and started crying. The adrenaline rush wore off and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I couldn't stop it. I wasn't sobbing. It was just tears coming from my eyes. I was confused at this point. I had been in firefights, mortared, face to face with aggressive locals, taking sniper fire and many other types of dangers. I couldn't understand why that event scared me so much. I still don't understand it to this day.

When I finished my tour and arrived home I did the family thing and spent 33 days drinking and working on a pre-course package for the QL5 course I was starting. Halfway through this 6 month course I started to notice the signs of a mental disorder. It wasn't until several months after that I decided I needed help. My view of the world has changed significantly since my tour. I'm no longer blind to the brutality and harshness as I once was.

The positive change I have noticed is that I find I really enjoy teaching, from developing junior medics to teaching TCCC. I use what I have learned and experienced to develop effective learning environments. If I met somebody who was thinking about joining the military my advice would be to speak with people that have several years in the trade they are interested in. And to really think about why they want to be a soldier.

 

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Task Force 01-10

April – December 2010

Medical Technician – Health Support Services

2 Field Ambulance / 42 Canadian Forces Health Services Center