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

Week of Remembrance Day 4: Dave Gionet. He is a true Canadian Hero so please take the time to read this and send him some love via comments and likes. Master Corporal Dave Gionet served two tours in Afghanistan, from February 9 - September 7, 2005 and January 21 - August 30, 2007.

My name is Dave Gionet and I am forty-two (42) years old come from a small town in New Brunswick called Pigeon-Hill.  I was raised by my mother Celine and my father Theophile who are currently retired and still reside in Pigeon-Hill.  I have three siblings, my sister Diane who lives in Moncton, New Brunswick and my two brothers who are fisherman, Marcel and Steve who live in Pigeon-Hill.   

I finished high school when I was twenty (20) and enrolled in college for two years taking a course to become a correctional officer, however knowing I was not completely ready I decided to pursue other options.  When I turned twenty-five (25) I decided it was time for a new journey and moved to Kitchener, Ontario where at twenty-nine (29) I joined the army.  I served twelve (12) years and did two tours in Afghanistan.  When I returned from my second tour I was medically released and retired September 1, 2013.

Here is a history of some of my encounters during my two tours.  While in Afghanistan, Kandahar, 2007 on Tuesday, March 20th, we were trying to recover a Coyote surveillance vehicle that had struck a mine.  I was the gunner of C/S 61C we were staying in the rear for security; the dog handler (Shaun Parker) and his dog (Alex) were with us. Sgt Sheldon, called for Alex and Shaun to inspect the area.  Alex smelt an IED, but de stepped on the IED before he was able to alert us.  The bomb went off, Alex was killed immediately and Shaun was very badly injured.  I was roughly 50 feet from the Bomb; the blast almost threw me off my feet, when I looked at what had happened, I couldn’t see anything with all the dust in the air.  I ran to see if everyone was okay but by then I knew it was going to be bad.  I could hear someone crying for help and when I got in the impact area, I saw Shaun in a bad position and a couple of soldiers that were confused by the blast, in a second I took charge and went to give first aide to the dog handler that was in a very bad state, to this day, it’s too hard for me to describe the details but I did succeed to open his airway until the evacuation took place about an hour later.  That was the first incident happening to me in my tour.

On April 11th, 2007 after three (3) days on an OP we were relieved by C/S 62.  On our way to our location, 62D struck an IED.  We turned down from the OP and moved to 62D location to provide security.  On the way to the IED strike, the vehicle in front of me was also hit by an IED (61B).  I immediately jumped off my coyote and went toward the crew of 61B to give first aide.  However, despite the help of my friends and me we lost two great soldiers


On June 11th, 2007 we were traveling about 40 km north of Kandahar City, when C/S 61D hit an IED.  I was the second vehicle C/S 61C in the rear, when we saw the blast we stopped and I jumped off to go provide first aide.  When I got to the vehicle I saw the crew was in very bad shape, upon investigating further I saw one of the crew was still in the vehicle it was the driver, my good friend (Caswell) however, it was too late, after we secured the location me and two more of my crew removed Caswell and put him in the helicopter for evacuation.  For the Dragoons, and myself this moment was very difficult, it was unforgettable has stayed with me.   This was the final incident for me during this tour. 

When I returned home from Afghanistan everything had changed for me and it was a very difficult process to adjust to a normal life.  I served my country and my crew to the best of my abilities, however for everything there is a price and nothing remains the same. 


Medal of Military Valour Citation:

“For extraordinary courage while under threat of fire, explosions and enemy attack during the rescue of fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle following an improvised explosion with the 2 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, Task Force Afghanistan on 11 April 2007.”

“On 11 April 2007, Private Dolmovic and Corporal Gionet saved the live of a fellow crewmember after his vehicle struck and improvised explosive devise in Nalgham, Afghanistan.  After freeing the trapped driver, Private Dolmovic and Corporal Gionet performed life-saving first-aid, despite imminent risks of fire, explosions and enemy attack.”

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

About a week ago the project was contacted by a the non for profit organization Martial Arts Community of Veterans (MACV) looking for some support raising awareness for their cause.  The organization focuses on helping veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD and operational stress injuries specifically through the study and practice of Jiu Jitsu.  I think this is a great cause and something that more veterans should look into.  I highly suggest that you take the time to check out some of the work they have been doing and give them some love or inquire how you can be a part or learn from what they have been doing.  You can check them out here:

Through our connection we have started to meet some outstanding veterans who are looking to share their story.  Damian Jungermann, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, has deployed on several deployments to Afghanistan in many harrowing situations.  Overcoming the horrors and stress he experienced during tour Damian is a testament towards the work that is being done by MACV.  Through their work he has regained his life and we are proud to bring you his account.  Please take the time to read it and show him some support!

I suppose I will share the experience that really changed how I approached my missions.  I was on a night time village clearance with an Army SF ODA.  It was our second mission partnering with the Afghan commandoes.  The first had gone off without a hitch, which worried me.  We were doing these missions in a notoriously difficult part of Kandahar province called Panjwai.  We inserted off of a CH-47 with the Commando element and made our way to the compound we had decided to hit first.  After making our way through the dense marijuana field and grape rows, I placed an explosive charge on the wall and blew a hole large enough to breach the compound.  Unfortunately it did not lead into the compound and we were now relegated to using the doorway.  Our Afghan Commando engineers cleared the doorway of any explosive hazards.  Then I went up, kneeled in the doorway and cleared it quickly.  I found no signs of any IED hazards.  We made entry after I called it good.  After most of us had made entry and were inside the compound, there was a large explosion.  And for all of you who have heard an IED go off, it's sometimes hard to know where it happened initially.  Especially at night.  It turns out that the last two Afghan commandos had initiated an IED in the doorway that I had cleared.  I tried making my way back to get them.  Once we managed to get them inside we saw how bad the damage was.  One had lost both legs and one arm.  The other had blast injuries to his face and hand.  He would live. The triple amputee was begging us to kill him.  We attempted to medevac him by helicopter but by the time they arrived, he had passed away from his massive injuries.  His teammates wrapped him in a blanket and we brought the body back with us when we were extracted. It was my second IED strike I'd been involved in in the first 6 weeks I was in country.  At first light I made my way back to the doorway to investigate. The blast hole was exactly where I'd been kneeling just a couple of hours earlier.  How the fuck did I not function this thing.  What the fuck had happened?  There was little evidence to gather that helped me paint a picture.  This was still early in my first combat deployment in fall of 2010.  I had a lot to learn and it was this mission where I knew I had to change how I did this job.  I had to develop new ways to do our job.  I made it through 8 months of that deployment and did two more deployments to Afghanistan in the two subsequent years.  The last I was doing the same mission with the Commandos in Kandahar once again.  I have an incredible amount of respect for the Afghans who fought with us and a lot of love for the country of Afghanistan.  It is a tragically beautiful place and culture.  That mission haunts me every night.  I replay it daily and wonder how I missed that.  What could I have done differently so that didn't happen.  And I am sure I'll continue to go over that and see that Afghan's face and hear him moaning in pain.  That sound is always the same.  Every time I've been around someone who has stepped on an IED, there is that moment of silence after that blast, and then the moaning starts.  It's most definitely a sound I don't want to hear again.  

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

A couple of months ago Brett contacted us via Instagram.  Immediately, Brett was keen to participate and we had several key conversations over the following months.  Finally when I found some time we were able to meet up and shoot his portrait.  Brett has to be one of the calmest most laid back sincere individuals that I have ever met.  After reading his story and the struggles he has overcome to find peace I was taken back with the success he has had.  Despite still dealing with and coming to terms with what he experienced in Afghanistan Brett is a great success story and example of courage for any and all veterans. Never give up, someone will help you!  Cpl Brett Irwin served in Afghanistan from April 2010 - November 2010 as part of Task Force Kandahar.

             I first came into contact with the Afghanistan Veterans project via Instagram and instantly wanted to be apart of this cause. I did a lot of thinking on what I wanted to say or what story I should tell to define my experience at war in Afghanistan. Should I talk about one of my gunfights with the Taliban, one of the close calls I had being ambushed and go for the glory, or maybe about being struck with Improvised Explosive Devices and seeing my friends injured and go with the gore behind war?


            None of that is really that important and I really couldn’t care less about glory or what anyone has to say about me. So, after careful consideration I have decided to talk about the greatest fight of all, and that’s the fight all combat veterans face. Coming home from war. Call it (PTSD if u want I don’t know how to define it any better than the next person).


            The challenges I faced in Afghanistan with my brothers were always manageable, we always had each other there to talk to or to confide in when the shit hit the fan. Being home is a different story. I found myself alone fighting my demands, lashing out at my family and the people who loved me the most and turning to the bottle for comfort.  Coming home from war is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It’s been four and a half years since I returned from war and there hasn’t been a day go by where I don’t think of my time there.


            My heart still jumps through my chest when I hear a loud bang, I haven’t been able to enjoy fireworks on Canada day because they bring back horrible memories, I have moments of sever anxiety that seemingly comes out of nowhere. I have been as low as a person can go to the highest of highs where I’m on top of the world and back down again all before I even have lunch. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew I needed help.


            Reaching out and admitting that I had an issue I couldn’t fix alone was the best decision I ever made. I started seeing a therapist about a year and a half after being home and it’s been a really tough road with a tremendous amount of challenges. I can say from the bottom of my heart I couldn’t have done it alone. I want all veterans to know that there is help out there if you think you need it. Don’t be ashamed of your demands because we are not alone. 

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

A couple of Months ago Daniel reached out to me and from the get go he was extremely enthusiastic.  About a week ago I finally got to meet him in person at CFB Borden when I went to shoot his portrait for the project.  Its meeting people like Daniel that make me continue doing this project and putting the effort in to keep it going.  The level of support and willingness to help that Daniel has given me is outstanding.  For these reasons and many more I'm proud to bring you Daniel's account.  Master Corporal Daniel Yun served in Afghanistan from November 2010 - August 2011 as part of Task Force Afghanistan.

My name is Master Corporal Daniel Yun. I was an armoured reconnaissance crewman with the Queen’s York Ranger’s 1st American Regiment (RCAC). I volunteered to go to Afghanistan to gain and experience operational tempo just like every soldier, their dream is to do their real job in a combat setting. At the end of November 2010  I deployed under the 1st Battalion Royal 22nd Regiment Battle Group Roto 10 based out of CFB Valcartier, Quebec.  The time and experience I had over in Afghanistan is something that I could not compare with my regular life style back home in Canada. I took pride in serving my country and that what I was doing in Afghanistan was making a difference in the lives of Afghan’s.

Our main mission was to support the ANP (Afghanistan National Police) in mentoring the police force and other ANSF ( Afghanistan National Security Forces) so that they can carry out their duties as law enforcement officers to protect their own country.  I was based out of Forward Operating Base Walton which as is located in Kandahar City, Afghanistan. The unit I was attached to was called Regional Training Centre-Kandahar (RTC-K)  also known as “ Scorpion” which fell under the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A). I was employed as Weapon’s and Tactic’s Instructor while I worked along with my Canadian and U.S. counterparts in achieving our mission to mentor the ANP forces.

The mentoring mission team was divided into 2 teams. Tactic’s team which formed a body of combat arm’s soldier’s along with the Military Police team which formed bodies of Canadian Military Police member’s and Civilian Police (CIVPOL) unit’s from Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Toronto Police member’s. The mentoring team always remained vigilant and on guard when doing our job with the ANP forces each time. We did encounter some combatant incidents but we still carried out our mission as a team and fought through as soldier’s.

Upon my return back home to Canada in the summer of August 2011 I realized my transition home was not going to be easy.  I was still experiencing some operational stress fatigue and trying to get back into my regular daily routine and life style was not easy. There was an incident just outside of Forward Operating Base Walton on the ANP force’s camp that injured one of our leadership. It was a Captain that we worked alongside with from the Operational Mentor Liaison Team also known as OMLT. No matter what happened at the time we as soldier’s still had to persevere as we had a mission to carry on.  The one thing I will always miss about my deployment was the brotherhood and comradery that I enjoyed. The leadership from FOB Walton and along with my subordinates is something that I will always remember and carry onward in my career. We were also known as the “ Walton Wranglers” by the U.S. Forces.

I know war is not the best thing in the world and it brings sadness and pain to everyone. I have learned to be thankful for everything around me and do not take things for granted. This has made me a better person and I appreciate that I did make a difference in the lives of Afghan’s during our mission. 

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

I am proud to bring you our second female contributor.  Amanda's story is full of highs and lows but is more importantly a story of success.  I suggest highly suggest taking the time to read her story, her website and Facebook page. She may be able to help you as well.  Private Amanda Diamond in Afghanistan from November 2006 - August 2007 as part of Task Force Force Afghanistan and Task Force Kandahar.

Army Life, Chronic Stress and Autoimmunity. My Journey Toward Wellness. 

By Amanda Diamond 


After graduating high school in a small town in rural Ontario, I struggled with the age old question..."What am I going to do with my life?"  I had always been an over-achiever and was looking for a new challenge and a way to see the world and expand my horizons. Naturally, I decided the join the Army.  After about a year of training, I was posted to Edmonton as a Signal Operator at the Brigade Headquarters.


In November of 2006 I deployed with the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Though most of my deployment was spent in a comfy, air-conditioned headquarters building, I struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my 9 months abroad. My sleep was non existent at times and my body seemed to be rebelling against me. My digestive issues were manageable at that time, but bothersome to say the least. I was irritable, on edge and began isolating myself from my friends and fellow soldiers. I never expressed how I was feeling to anyone else. I felt that I had no reason to complain, and that I was lucky that my job was relatively easy and safe. 


By the end of my tour, I knew that this lifestyle was not for me. Though I valued everything the military had taught me, I knew I was ready to move on. My release was processed 6 months after returning home. The following year I became a mother, and not long after the birth of my daughter I began experiencing a decline in my health. After months of doctor’s appointments and numerous tests I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an auto-immune disease that effects the lower digestive system.  


I have lived with this disease for over 4 years now. I've experienced many ups and downs and constant changes in my body. Sudden weight loss, bloating, hair loss, bleeding, and gut wrenching stomach cramps became my normal day to day life. I've tried numerous treatments, from pharmaceuticals to herbal remedies, dietary restrictions to nicotine therapy and the biggest realization I've come to is this: 


Mental stress wreaks havoc on our physical health.


Noticing this link between long term stress and my own illness led me to begin researching the topic. Many studies have been done on the topic recently, supporting the idea that stress relief techniques are vital pieces of the wellness puzzle.  Multiple studies have shown that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Specifically, prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone. In turn, runaway inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases. Mental health professionals dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have also noticed this link, stating that PTSD sufferers have an increased risk of developing heart disease and auto-immune disorders. 



So how do you put an end to the stress response in the body when it seems to be so deeply engrained... especially in veterans, police officers and other first responders?  


My personal experience with chronic illness has taught me that stress relief techniques are vital to both mental and physical health and wellness. Practicing meditation, yoga and breathing exercises calm the fight or flight reaction by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the body's natural relaxation response.  


For me, these techniques were the missing link on my healing journey. Since integrating them into my daily life I have noticed a marked improvement in my mood, digestion and inflammatory response. Along with proper diet and exercise, meditation and mindfulness play an important role in my balanced lifestyle. I am no longer taking any medications to manage my illness and can enjoy the quality of life I was accustomed to before getting sick. 


I now pour my energy into helping others regain their health and overcome illness through coaching support and wellness education. If you are a veteran, and are struggling with chronic health problems I want you to know that it can get better. But I assure you, the cure won't be found at the bottom of a pill bottle. Real healing starts with changing your thought processes, practicing mindfulness and learning to love yourself, flaws and all.




About the Author - Amanda Diamond 

Amanda is a Health Coach, Wellness Educator and Mother of two. She draws from her personal experience with chronic disease to inspire others to take control of their health and find balance in their lives. You can connect with Amanda on FaceBook and Twitter or by visiting her website. 






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.