THE POWER OF SPORT
Chuck Hamel served three tours with army infantry, one in the Congo and two in Afghanistan. He suffered physical injuries but like many of the others on the trip, he suffered an occupational stress injury (OSI). (Hamel said he doesn’t like the term PTSD, although others use it.) For Hamel, the camaraderie among fellow injured soliders on the boats was particularly important because he is a senior officer.
“It’s lonely at the top and you don’t really want to share your disabilities,” Hamel, who is still active in the military, told the Times.
He compares the situation he and others face with OSIs to hockey and concussions: Not only are there no physical scars for others to see and understand, but the individuals in question want to get back on the ice-or in this case in the field-to support the team.
“I’ve got the greatest admiration for Sidney Crosby who stepped up and admitted, ‘Hey, I’m injured,'” he said. “The stigma goes away and you learn to accept it’s part of the game. Well OSIs are part of our game.”
While the seven veterans have faced battles of many kinds over their years in and out of the military, the trips with Werk’s fishing guides led to a battle of another kind, one that ended with the successful landing of a sevenfoot-two-inch sturgeon. For Moreau and the others, it was a therapeutic day on the water with peers who have the same type of injuries.
“It’s nice to do activities with people who understand,” Moreau said. “Because you are not getting judged and we know where we are coming from. It’s really nice to be with people who know what you are talking about.”
Guide Steve Price agreed, adding how important it was that they were vets.
“It works out perfect for what we are doing here because everyone can relate to everybody, right, so it’s kind of cool to be able to use the jargon everybody knows,” he said.
For Moreau, the day on the water meant the world to him.
“It’s a bit of therapy.” For Hamel, it was extra special to be out chatting as a peer with lower-ranked military personnel, and those who have experienced mental injuries as he has.
As for the current state of military support for those suffering with PTSD and other OSIs, Hamel said things have changed quite positively in the last decade.
Ten years ago when he came back from the Congo, he said support for the transition to civilian life was “scant.” Two years later, after his first tour in Afghanistan, things were getting better and they started “decompressions coming out of the theatre.”
“Veterans Affairs are doing a good job,” he said. “Yeah, there’s a couple of hiccups in terms of the bureacracy but who doesn’t have to deal with that. .. It takes a long time and it costs a lot of money but you’ve got to take care of your injured.”
Stephan Moreau was on board a Canadian Navy ship in 2004 that was conducting a military exercise when a piece of equipment malfunctioned leading to several serious injuries.
Moreau witnessed the incident firsthand, and the experience left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I withdrew from everyone and I didn’t want to talk about it,” he told the Times.
Like so many who suffer with PTSD, Moreau became a shell of his former self.
He didn’t go out. He didn’t talk to people. He stopped participating in activities that he enjoyed, including sports like triathlon.
But things are improving for Moreau who was in Chilliwack recently along with six other injured military veterans as part of a national program called Soldier On that uses sport and recreation to empower retired and serving members of the Canadian Forces who have injuries.
The seven vets got on board two Great River Fishing Adventure jet boats for two days of sturgeon fishing in the Fraser River. Great River owner Dean Werk was happy to participate in the program, and he said that therapy was taking place out on the water.
Carolyn Grant was on the HMCS Ottawa as a supply tech in the Persian Gulf in 1998. Her experiences, too, left her with PTSD “and a few other choice things.”
She got out of the military in 2002 but in 2006 she was in a car accident and lost her right leg.
“Soldier On got me out of the house, participating in sporting activities and social activities and without them I would still be back in the house in my own little world,” Grant told the Times at the Island 22 boat launch.
She’s done two ski trips so far, this fishing trip in Chilliwack and she’s hoping to get into another event in Ottawa with horseback riding.
“The experience is a big deal,” she said. “We can talk about things not having to explain yourself from the start, like having to tell your story.”
What made the local experience even more special was the fact that Werk’s two guides who took the vets out are ex-military themselves. Steve Price served in Afghanistan with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and Ben Trainor served nine months in Iraq with the U.S. Marines.
By: Paul Henderson – Chilliwack Times