Another Remembrance Day has arrived and I find myself once again completely consumed with memories of the faces of those men and women I saw come through the Role 3 Combat Hospital in Kandahar from September 2009-April 2010. My wartime experiences are shorter than those of our men and women who endured the first and second World Wars but tragedy and death always look the same. As the years tick by my emotions surrounding this day have built ever so gently to the point where for the two week period leading up to 11 November I feel at the very edge of wanting to weep. I am not certain exactly what has happened to me but I am reminded of what I have seen in the faces of veterans from previous generations for many years. As a young Reservist Pipe Band Drummer I attended many Remembrance Day Ceremonies during my early days in the CAF. I looked into the eyes of veterans from World War II and Korean era’s and saw such profound sadness emanating from their eyes and aged faces. I was curious as to what they had seen and would marvel at their stories of adventure. I was fascinated with their accounts of war experiences and even jealous longing for the same. It was a morbid curiosity that consumed me to really know what war was like.
When I finally experienced war up front and personal as a nursing officer in the first Gulf War, I was proud and felt significant excitement. I was seconded to the British 22 Field Hospital co-located with the Canadian Field Hospital at Al Quasuma just south of Kuwait in January of 1991. I worked the night shift teamed up with a Medical Technician as the four day ground war commenced. We had no idea what this would look like as we had no references other than the TV show MASH to draw from. What went on under that canvas roof would serve to dispel my image and expectation of what war was really like.
As the artillery fire to our north stepped up the overhead sounds of fighter jets and bombers flew over with increasing regularity we knew we were in for an experience to remember! The roof of the tent flexed and whipped with the night time desert winds and the casualties started to arrive. For the following 12 hours I saw only Iraqi wounded arrive as they had felt the iron fist of the Coalition Forces and had paid an incredible price. I witnessed for the very first time the true product of war; casualties. These men were essentially what were left after being subjected to incredible and overwhelming firepower; they were in a word, “pitiful”. I spent the next two days working in that British Field Hospital caring for the wounded. Eventually we saw Coalition forces casualties as well but the wounds of the Iraqi Forces were most impressive and devastating in comparison. The cost was high for them as many died or lost limbs or were burned. What I observed those few days during the ground war would change me forever. I had finally seen some of what I had for so long wondered about.
As I put my uniform on this morning of 11 November, I now see a man in the mirror with those same sad and distant eyes I witnessed with the veterans of World War I and II and Korea.
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