The Afghanistan Veteran Project: Week of Remembrance: An Account of War by Stephen Oliver

Today on Remembrance Day we stop on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and think about all of those that have sacrificed for our freedom.  On this day I am honoured to bring you Stephen Oliver's account.  About 4 years ago Stephen transferred into the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada and lets just say he made a major impact.  Stephen's outgoing and positive attitude matched with his love of physical fitness and the experience he brought from a long life of soldiering made him a pivotal member of the regiment.  It didn't take long for us to cross paths and he's been kicking my ass ever since.  When I started this project I immediately thought of Stephen and knew that I had to get him to contribute...He grilled me about all aspects of the project and when he was satisfied with my answers he agreed to participate.  Its been some time coming but here it is!  Sergeant Stephen Oliver served in Afghanistan from April 2010 - December 2010 as part of Task Force Kandahar. 

In April 2010 I arrived in Kandahar Afghanistan as part of a five soldier Tactical Psychological Operations Team. The team had spent the prior year competing against one another for positions, training together as a team and building the individual skills we needed to step off the plane and support the Canadian mission.

Upon arrival we were attached to a Company of the US Army 82nd Airborne 2/508thoperating in the Arghandab Valley. It was there with the 82nd at Combat Outpost (COP) Ware that I first got my feet wet; a surprisingly literal statement. The terrain of the valley surrounding the COP encompassed deep rivers, lush apricot orchards and delicately milled radish fields. Every day we would conduct a patrol composed of a small number of Afghans, US Soldiers and we Canadians. Our constantly varying routes would take us through the rivers, over the walls and walking through rows of crops. I would sit and speak with the farmers, listening to their stories and often telling them ours. We would talk of the war and government, of the land and the rain, of families and home. This talk was not aimless. It was our job to shape what people thought about their government, the military and our enemies in hopes of supporting the various security and development efforts. I remember one such conversation from early in my deployment.

 We patrolled out to a nomadic village near our observation post both perched on the side of a hill. Our mission was to deal with a small crisis. The day prior a soldier was forced to kill a large dog from this village that came barrelling down upon him. Occasionally, this type of crisis mitigation was the reason for our meetings although probably not as often as many believe. Our well-armed patrol arrived among the shelters and we met the local leader. He was an old man with a long grey beard and aged face that showed many years of hard living. He invited us to sit with him in the Mosque tent, an invitation that came with a cultural catch - no footwear. My note taker, our interpreter, a US Sergeant and I considered this catch and decided that we could fight without boots should the need arise. We removed our boots and placed them neatly beside the door. A plate of dried fruit and tea promptly arrived. The old man initially refused to believe that I was also raised on a small family farm with animals and working dogs. I assumed he was wary of such coincidences with friendly strangers. Instead his stereotype of us focused on the towering cement cities not the wide Canadian landscapes. Together we drank tea, ate fruit and talked of where his country was going and how he could help guide it there.

Today I remember this conversation not because he was our enemy or our friend; he very well may have been either. I remember this conversation not because he gave us vital information or some other great military victory. I remember this conversation because it gave us each an opportunity to show respect for one another and feed a real curiosity that everyone in that tent shared. This was our job as much as fighting was our job and our team of five Canadians was really good at it.

This story and others from my time in Afghanistan will stay with me. I try to remember that as much as I arrived ready to fight in a desert only to walk through orchards it was our daily work and our conversations that were changing expectations and attitudes for everyone in that conflict. 

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

I have known Scotty for probably 8/9 years now and he's always been an interesting character.  Scott has always been someone who was never afraid to share an idea or not do something.  In that way he has always been an inspiration to others.  Now as a councillor for Woolwich Township Scott has taken this to the next level yet behind the scenes there has been a hidden battle most people don't have insight into.  In this way through his participation I hope Scott's story will be able to help others that may be struggling to either seek help or share their own story.  I am now honoured to share with you Scotts story, please take the time to read it.  Corporal Scott Hahn served in Afghanistan from 17 May - 15 December, 2010 as part of Task Force Kandahar.

Every soldier is different, soldiers ten feet apart from each other in a firefight will tell two different stories. I feel the most important story to tell is not of the mission, but after the mission. No soldier comes home the way they think they will.


Coming home can only be described as euphoric, after being stuck in a war torn country for seven months. All the things that were missing from daily life in Afghanistan, are all easily accessible. Running water, sleep, sex, good food, cold beer, and no fear for your life. In those first few fantastic days, a soldier’s mental health is checked by the Canadian Forces. I doubt many red flags are raised with any soldier. All the wrongs in the world are on another continent, everything in life is perfect in those first few days.


But I am not a veteran of war for a few days... I am a veteran for life.


During decompression, or re-integration into society training, I was told that I would think about my tour frequently when I returned to Canada, but after several months it would slowly sub seed. The difficulty I had was that after two years, there was rarely a moment where events of my tour were not running through my head like a permanent daydream. I would come home agitated because I had ultimately lived two full days in a nine hour work day. Nine hours physically on a job and nine hours mentally in Afghanistan. The minor stresses of daily life, the major stresses of battle and the politics of war that a soldier is subjected to, would compound on each other every day, and as you can imagine, anger was a side effect. Unfortunately, I often redirected that anger towards my wife, not physically, but verbally.


How does a soldier get over this? There is no one answer, the mind is a complex puzzle. Some simple examples could be, talking to a therapist, group therapy, peer support, taking up a hobby, drinking, drugs, suicide?  The last one is not an option for myself, life is too precious. I have tried a few ways to get over my personal struggles, some were effective, and others were not. I haven't found peace yet, but I have found ways to keep my mind busy enough that I am forced to think about other things. I am an electrical foreman at work and often have several jobs on the go that require constant attention. I started into municipal politics and the meetings and research are time consuming. I took up bow hunting for deer and moose, and I try to get out fishing a few times a year. I also have the most important part to my personal therapy, my children. How could anyone look at a child and think of war? All the innocence and joy a child has is something to truly marvel at. They are the light at the end of a very dark tunnel for myself. 


Other little things in life remind me that I am not alone and I truly have a nation behind me in support. There is a long list of kind deeds, from Canadians towards veterans, which I see daily. Support your troops magnets, a stranger buying a coffee, a family in Wellesley bought a beer for me one time, Don Cherry's constant support on Hockey Night In Canada, a firm handshake and "Thank You". This list doesn't do justice to all the unwavering support across Canada, but I feel that it should be acknowledged.


After four years, there still isn't a day where I haven't thought about Afghanistan, but I am noticing small improvements and I hope others that have any issues are finding their peace.