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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: http://www.macvproject.org/#macv

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 Cesare Ierullo

Its been about a month since my last publication but the time away has been worth while as I have a ton of new content coming your way.  I met Cesare last Monday at CFB Borden...not what its called now but whatever.  The meeting was arranged by Daniel Yun who will be featured here soon.  I was taken away by how humble they both were and the support they were willing to give towards the project.  Needless to say I'm excited to bring you Cesare's account.  Master Corporal Cesare Ierullo served in Afghanistan from April - November 2010 as part of Task Force Kandahar.

I volunteered for Afghanistan for the opportunity to do something truly significant. I hoped to gain much from the experience and I certainly did. The time I spent in Afghanistan was the high point of my life to date, nothing back home has brought me the same complex rush of emotion and adrenaline. Not a single day has passed where I don't find my mind wandering back to 2010 in Afghanistan.

Our mission in Afghanistan was that of convoy escort and our platoon was officially titled National Support Element - Force Protection Platoon. 

Nicknamed the "Road Runners" and consisting entirely of reserve Infantry & Armoured volunteers, we set out to to protect the invaluable cargo that was frequently dispatched across the province of Kandahar. We moved everything from ammunition to people, whether it was through the traffic laden, bustling Kandahar city or out in the far flung rural reaches of the province, we took much pride in the execution of our missions.

Coming home with all the experiences I brought with me made reintegrating back into my normal life before tour particularly frustrating. I left Afghanistan feeling tremendously angry and bitter about the whole affair for a variety of reasons. We had been violently ambushed with RPG's and machinegun fire and my friend Master Corporal Mark Soteroff was wounded. Another friend with the Combat Engineers Sapper Brian Collier had been killed.

As is typical with war there were moments of great dread, anxiety and doubt, fear and uncertainty but also were many moments of laughter and good times. The friendships and bonds that were forged with my peers in that country are long lasting and significant.

For what its worth, Afghanistan made me a better person and I'll always be grateful I had the opportunity to serve with such a fine platoon of soldiers.

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.

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

Its been over a week since my last update, I've been crazy busy starting work again and there has also been a family emergency so bare with me.  I have a ton of new content on its way.  And now I share with you a short account from Master Corporal Don Fraser who provided the support all the men and women in the field needed to be able to do their duty.  This is a great opportunity to recognize those that support the combat arms in all they do.  I would also like to give a shout out to Canadian Heroes who have been a giant supporter of this project which is also an organization that Don also belongs and participates. 

Master Corporal Don Fraser served in Afghanistan on rotation 5 of Task Force Kandahar 1-08 and was the Kitchen Officer of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Wilson from March 08 to September 08 and is known for his ice cream runs and visits to the many Police Sub Stations, Strong Points and Security Points.  Master Corporal Fraser was awarded the task force commander's accommodation and as well as the National Support Element commander's coin for his work in and outside the FOB Master Corporal Fraser is currently still serving in Edmonton with 3 Canadian Division Support Group and dedicates his spare time to working with the Canadian Heroes Foundation with his memorial vehicle.

Master Corporal Paul Franklin with Don Fraser's Canadian Heroes Memorial Vehicle

Master Corporal Paul Franklin with Don Fraser's Canadian Heroes Memorial Vehicle