Don Sorochan is a renowned defence and constitutional Canadian lawyer who happened to have a couple of neighbours who’s kids were blown up, shot up or damaged whilst serving for the Canadian Armed Forces. He was horrified to discover just how little Canada cares for those who have served when they become useless and injured.
He decided to do something about it.
So EQUITAS was born and a fight for Canadian Armed Forces personnel began that has seen Don work tirelessly, alongside his old firm Miller Thomson, for the fair treatment of Canadian men and women over the last five years.
I wanted him to have something that told the story of those men and women he fights for. And this, as best as I could do, is it.
(Sorochanlaw.com – for more details of his incredible man)
The day I tried to represent in this piece was 29 October 2011. On that day in Kabul on Green Route a suicide vehicle targeted an armoured bus (“Rhino”) which was carrying 14 troops (1 Canadian, 5 US Servicemen, 7 US Contractors). Miraculously one of the drivers survived, 13 died. 6 civilians were also killed in the blast. The Canadian who died was Byron Greff, Master Corporal with 3rd Battalion, PPCLI.
It is Brian’s recurring nightmare. He was one of the first on the scene and his job was to investigate the blast quickly. Gather the intel he could and report back. For many reasons it was a traumatic event that killed a lot of his friends (his poker buddies) but also one he felt could have been avoided. It is, I think, this that haunts him more than anything else.
And that is the trauma of war. It isn’t the deaths or injuries that occur when you do everything right and are simply wrong time, wrong place but the ones where there is a feeling of personal responsibility, survivors guilt and regret. In this piece I have tried to explain that war. You have given five years of your life for these men and women, I wanted to give you this to explain as best I can their reality. As a child who was born into war I know that it isn’t like the movies: smile.
Life goes on in between the fire storms and attacks. The cook gathers supplies, the signaller checks his equipment, the guy sitting on watch puts his feet up staring at the empty horizon that never changes until it does: in a flash, with usually very little warning.
Each of the pods of action tell a Canadian or US veterans story, and as best as I can without betraying confidences I shall describe these to you.
In no particular order:
This is my friend * (US Medic) and a young 2IC who is now an advocate for other other wounded veterans. Both experienced the death of their section commander (squad leader), shot right beside them. As best as I could I have drawn *’s description of that incident. To her right is the signaller calling it in.
Signallers communicating with the TOC (the room that collates all reports coming in keeping a live map of the area and calling in support or making the awful decision that no support is coming). It was impossible to adequately describe the TOC or the harrowing job of Signaller, so I simply put this calm figure here in hopes it would be understood.
Winning hearts and minds, risking lives to do it.
This is Major Chuck McKinnon (who is the new CO of the Royal Westminster Regiment), his tour in 2009 OMLT (Operational Mentor & Liaison Team), embedded the Afghanistan army and constantly walking into villages handing out pencils if you can believe it. I tried in this grouping of kids to firstly illustrate the lack of girls but also how strange it was.
You will notice how heavy the pack is at his front. The design of this attack vest killed a lot of our military as it is impossible to see your feet or where you are stepping.
Throughout there is a poppy either in bloom or dying. These represent the story being told, and the wire you see is the new design of barbed wire from my time in war as a child. Designed with razor blades that grab at flesh and clothes.
This shows the squad running towards a Black Hawk. Each of these guys is a friend of Brian’s who served in the sandbox. The incident it represents is one that was repeated over and over; the desperate dash to the Black Hawk hoping that their brother can be saved. The sand that you see here is from Mazar-e-sharif that Brian collected: they call it poo dust.
One of my buddies is a man called Kyle Lundy, he was the first boots on the ground in Mazar-e-sharif. He was blown up by an IED. He is the one on this stretcher. He lives today a challenging life with severe TBI (tramatic brain injury) that cause him excruciating pain.
This is a Black Hawk pilot who lost his life in the Sandbox. He was shot down, RPGs came in thick and fast. His chopper was badly damaged but he fought it, he got it out of the death zone that would have seen all on board dead. He saved everybody on board that day, one of who is a close friend of mine.
It also represents a now Calgary Cop who was naval special ops. It represents his trauma, stuck and under fire, injured (shot in the back and left shoulder, right leg) waiting to for the Black Hawk. Being grabbed and thrown into it, taking off and coming under heavy fire. The gunner turned to them and said, “If we go down it’s every man for himself. We will have to fight our way out.” My friend knew that if they were shot down he was a dead man. He struggles with addiction (to pain killers), severe trauma and the full gamut of issues that may never get any better.
A reminder that with war comes a dark humour that saves us all. These boots belong to Dax Bourke, a Westie (Royal Westminster Regiment – Brian’s unit). Being stuck “behind the wire” could be the most injuring of all MH injuries. Watching your friends leaving and not coming back. Waiting, the constant wait. That could be debilitating, as a child I can still remember the silence before the storm. It was almost a relief when the bullets starting flying.
This SAR pilot is Dave Barkes, he did not serve in the sandbox. However, his story holds my heart in a vice grips. It is also Bruce Sinclair (VTN para-professional). It is my friend John Wheeler. Rex Swartz. It is all the airborne who dropped from the skies to save others.
And finally this is the event that is at the heart of this story.
29 October 2011.
One day in the Sandbox: so many stories, so many lives each with their own duty and job, making up a cohesive unit. The brotherhood.