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

Over the last several weeks I have gotten to know Max very well through the many conversations we have had over Facebook.  When he contacted me I could tell he was looking for an outlet to share his feelings and I believe he has done it well.  I hope this is as healing for you as it was for Max...I know he has shed some tears over it.  So without further adieu I introduce to you Max's story which continues to be written every day.  Master Corporal Maxime Gaboriault served in Afghanistan from 5 February - 5 November, 2006 as part of Task Force Afghanistan and Task Force Kandahar.

My name is Maxime Gaboriault, I served as a Signal Operator and retired as a Master Corporal. I served from December 2001 until July 2014 for a total of just less than 13 years. I am from Granby, Quebec and was posted in Edmonton, Alberta for 7 years.  I was deployed to Afghanistan on Febuary 5th 2006 until November 5th 2006 as part of Task Force Afghanistan Op Archer and almost half of Task Force Kandahar 03 - 06 for a total of 9 months.

I deployed with 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group and Signals Squadron (1 CMBG HQ&Sig Sqn). Once over I was part of Multi National Brigade Head Quarter (MNB HQ). We were located in Kandahar Air Field known as KAF. My first 2 months I acted as a stores man for my troop and for the General's crew. During those 2 months I was also responsible for two locals that were cleaning the Head Quarter. During this time I was also doing Gate duty, searching people and vehicles that were entering the base.

During my first two months I attended many ramp ceremonies without understanding the implication of what was going on. But that was about to change as on the night of April 21st the close protection personnel (CPP) crew I was taking care of welcomed me as part of their crew. I had dinner that night with Randy Payne, Miles Mansell and Matthew Dinning. I never realized that I was sharing their last steak dinner as they died the next morning on the 22nd of April from an IED blast, it killed the four occupants of the G-Wagon. That’s when it hit me, more or less about the value and meaning of the ramp ceremonies. I attended a total of 42 ramps ceremonies over my time spent there.

I was later transferred to the Rover section where I would be an electronic countermeasures (ECM) Driver and a C9 gunner. I served with the Romanians for about four months providing ECM coverage. I had a great time with them doing surveillance at night, although most of them did not speak any English. Our calls sign (C/S) was always Viper or Cobra, which was kinda funny due to the typical cliché of war movies. For every patrol we did the Padre blessed our vehicles and us before departing.  I am not a religious person, but it became part of the routine and we expected to be blessed before departing otherwise it would be bad Karma. There was once or twice when we were about to leave where the Padre was nowhere to be found! Thankfully they found the Padre every time even if it meant a slight delay in our timing. Rule number one never mess with the routine no matter what!

Concurrently I participated in security details with the Counter Intelligence Team, providing security in the villages while they did their thing on many occasions. One of my first outings involved going to recover an anti tank mine in a village and securing an informant on board that needed to be protected.  While the Counter Intelligence Team were busy with the Elder to recover the package I was providing security on the left side of the column of trucks by myself, as we needed to post people to the vehicle with the informant. During that time our photo tech Les Budden was taking pictures of us, however we were not the subjects of them as their primary mission was to gather intelligence on possible enemies.

Of those pictures one of them caught the eye of his bosses and I was asked if I would agree to release the picture. About 6 months later I was coming back from a patrol and the boys told me to go get a Timmies coffee. So I went and there I was on the support our troops poster. This earned me some attention. I found out later that they had made all kinds of merchandise with my picture on it.

Of my many patrols, a few events come to mind that are worth marking I think.

One was while we were in Panjwai District, where we went to pick up journalists from Germany. After we left our safe area, we drove to the ANA compound to pick them up. We were parked strategically so i would be facing the rear and cover the street with my C9. In front of me was a snake in the road; a construction made of Hesco bastion (a rapidly deployable earth-filled defensive barrier) to slow down who ever is crossing there. After a while a man came on a motorcycle towards us and was wearing part uniform and part civilian attire with an AK on his back, which at the time was profiled as a suicide bomber. I talked to my partner and he got him in his scope ready for warning shots, meanwhile I got ready to eliminate the threat.  The decision was made and I assumed the position to fire my gun and send this guy to hell! As I was pressing my trigger, at the last possible second meaning any more pressure I would have shot him, a guard from the Afghan National Police (ANP) compound sound off as he saw my head go down for the kill. This is when my partner called me off and it was the end of that incident. The man in question was a police officer coming in for work. All I'll say is that there was an angel holding my finger that day, it was that close.

I participated as well in bringing doctors, food and school supplies to many locations. This one time we brought food to a village and there were about 2000 people in front of us. My patrol commander came to us and told us to guard the bags of Rice we were transporting and if anyone comes within an arms length open up. I don’t know if you understand the concept here but I’m guarding rice! but if things get out of hand we have to disregard our rules of engagement (ROE's) and just plainly kill these people in order to get out of there. Most villages are extremely poor and who knows how famished the villagers are and all that keeps it from total chaos is the Elder of the village and the patriarchal structure that they follow. Nonetheless, I have to say that this one was one of the hardest jobs I had to do.

 

In August 2006 I was part of General Fraser's crew where we were going to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Robinson in Helmand Province, during Op Medusa. We got there in a very stealthy 33 vehicle convoy, we made our way into the FOB hidden in the convoy that came to recover equipment to be brought back to base the next day. That night after we were done setting up I took my radio shift at 2200 hrs. 10 minutes later we got 4 incoming into the vicinity of the FOB, which as you can imagine ramped up things a notch. I was on the satellite communications (SATCOM) trying to understand the panicked Brits, which by the way is a very hard task when English is not your first language! So I asked the American Major if he could do the comms as I wrote the coordinates from the radio and passed them to the General breathing down my neck! Our artillery gun line fired all night and we lit up the sky for the ground troops while the boss was directing the traffic, to kill the enemy. It was a long night but we made it. I am unaware of what followed other than we drove back to base the next day and the boss flew as intel said there were 4 improvised explosive devices (IED’s) planted on the hwy, we drove the 45km off road along side the hwy. I was told much later that this was the first Command and Control of troops since Korea or something like that.

My tour was very emotional. Lots of good people lost their lives including my friends. At the beginning of the tour I did not feel much during the ramp ceremonies, as I did not fully grasp what was going on. For sure it is never a good thing to lose people but at that time I did not feel anything, it was just a ceremony to attend. But all that started to change once I went out on patrol. I was driving a vehicle that if it were struck by an IED would most likely kill me instantly.  Somehow we focused on the mission and to bring everyone back alive. Being an ECM driver my job was to jam bombs but if the system fails bombs go off, others or possibly myself may die.  There's a sense of greatness in having the balls to sit in that truck because if shit goes down I'm not coming back and neither are my friends. But it is foolish in retrospect; it created a false feeling of importance even when you’re not more important than anyone else.  Its a weird feeling but to also think that we do what we do for the guys that we lost as they would do the same for me if I had fallen. Their only wish would be to go out, do their thing and bring everyone back.  For that reason we can't stop. So having said that, risking my life every time we go on patrol gave me a sense of purpose. Not for politics or government, but for the guys I serve with. On the battlefield there is no such thing as politics. There is life and death and I think that balancing that in your head takes its toll. For sure there is the mission and all that but putting all that aside, in the end all that matters is life and death. There is no greater purpose in life than devoting your life for someone else. The only people that mattered were the guys in my section that would protect me and I’d protect them.

When I came back, my dad told me one day while visiting me that I had changed. That I didn’t seem as angry all the time that in fact I was at peace. My answer was that all the problems of normal life seemed insignificant. As I was alive and made it home, nothing mattered much other than honouring the ones that would not have the opportunity to grow old and have the privilege of dealing with everyday problems. A few months later I was posted to my new unit, shortly after that I started to show signs of aggressive behavior. Many senior guys told me that it was normal, as I had protected people directly for a long time.  Now there is no need for all that aggressiveness and my mind doesn’t know how to deal with it. For a time I didn’t think anything of it and let it go, saying that it would sort itself.  However things did not work that way.  I remain angry and volatile and don’t know what to do. That survival instinct was part of me and I started to be outcast because of my behavior. I sought counseling in Edmonton without any results and as I think about it they had no clue about how to handle a guy like me. I met my wife in 2008 at a time when I didn't know what I had. For some time she brought peace in my life and made me feel extraordinary! I had never felt that way before, as this was my first true relationship.

A side note to this, while I was deployed I was single and never had a girlfriend in my life. All the guys had their wives, girlfriends and kids to share their experience. All I had was my mom and dad, which were amazing.  However, no one close enough that I could share my fears, thoughts and wants. So I Became depressed and envious of my fellow soldiers and maybe as well grew a bit bitter. All I wanted in life was to have a family, and at that time it seemed that my future was to be a gunslinger. So needless to say that when I met my wife she kinda rescued me on that level. And for that I am forever grateful.

I was sent to battle school in 2010 following my promotion in 2009 to substantiate my new appointment. I performed very well until I had to conduct a section attack. Although I knew what I had to do I could not execute the maneuver. I had no reason why and broke down into tears, as I had no idea what was going on with me.

Upon graduation I was posted to Comox, BC where I was told to relax and see something else other than war.  Once I got there I sought help and was diagnosed with Generalize Anxiety Disorder. My work started to fall apart, my superiors treated me like crap and administrative measures were taken against me. Although I was told it was to help me it did the complete opposite and destroyed me completely.  This in turn also affected my home life and my relationship beyond what I could have ever imagined.  I was drugged, zombified, and it took counseling for a total of 4 years to bring me to a functioning level. My condition rendered me utterly useless to my family and I became a poor husband and father. Which in return made me angry, and then the cycle begin. I have to thank my wife who is the most amazing women I know. She has been there for me all the way through hell and back. Even when I treated her poorly! I lost who I am or was and became nothing. I became like a small child with special needs that needed to be cared for and could not do anything by himself.

One day I finally asked to have my meds changed as I could not function on them, the replacement meds I took for a week nearly killed me as one of the uncommon side effects was stuttering and the other was death. I got lucky I got the stutter! From there on I quit and with the help of my wife I got rid of those toxins and started to get better slowly. My wife saved my life! For a while I would be good and functioning normally and then crash.  This happened for a few years and no matter what I'd try to do to get better I would fail. Now I have reached a breaking point where I can no longer continue to live this way and I have to step up or check out since my greatest fear is to lose the only thing I wanted in life, my family.   With the fear of growing old and alone, I decided to take action, even though my wife had been telling me for years to do so. It just seemed I kept failing myself and above all my wife.  And this is the reason why now I somehow found a bit of my lost flame and turn my rage and anger into positivity. I want to break my cycle and win over this mind-fucked situation and get my life back and give my wife the man she deserves and miss. I want to conquer my mind and beat the shit out of this invisible enemy that has destroyed my life and my loved ones…and no one threatens my love ones. So this is my new mission beat my mind to its own game.

Afghan Vet Caption Box - Max Gaboriault.jpg