Four portraits of mental and physical trauma in the Canadian Forces

Part 1: The Release

CWO Fred Rideout (Ret.)

It's something that you live with.

It's something that you feel shameful for having.

Fred Rideout’s “shadow box” is mounted just a few feet above where he sits, most days, with his grandson Freddy – a namesake, a friend who asks few questions.

It houses mementos of more than three decades of military service. His medals. A folded Canadian flag. Those golden wings that represent more than 6,000 hours of flying and, in the right light remind him of the man he once was, and dreams of becoming once more.

On his left arm, there’s a different kind of reminder, made permanent by ink. A symbol of a hawk. A rifle pointed to the ground, projecting trouble. And those numbers – 02-09-02 – that mark the day everything changed.

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Part 2: The Fight

Sgt. Kevin Nanson (Ret.)

Most people run away from gunfire.

Some people run towards it.

Kevin Nanson dreamed of a warrior’s death, the kind that awaits those who stay defiant until the end. Passing peacefully in a nursing home at the age of 95 is no ideal exit for an infantry man.

But when the big blast came and death suddenly seemed certain, his thoughts were all about home. There were children there, counting on him. Waiting on him.

But his fighting spirit would be tested by the kind of loss that pierces a soldier’s armour, even far away from the battle.

And back in Canada, he would find himself defiantly fighting for his home.

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Part 3: The Odds

Sgt. Steve Daniel (Ret.)

I worked my entire life to be this sergeant. This paratrooper.

That was all I knew.

Take that away and who am I?

There’s an elite group of paratroopers in the Canadian Army known as “pathfinders,” who go behind enemy lines to chart the way forward, through the fog.

Steve Daniel has always known there’s nothing natural or sensible about jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. He signed up for that kind of life because he craved adventure. Soon, it was near impossible to imagine doing anything else.

All that changed in an instant, the day the winds shifted. A perfect jump from 12,000 feet ended in tragedy and heartbreak on the ground.  And Daniel would suddenly be forced to imagine a very different kind of life.

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Part 4: The Choice

Lt.-Col. Rob Martin (Ret.)

You're a very sick person at an extremely stressful time.

Nobody walks you through this.

Rob Martin remembers chasing that quiet. Two bloody loud tours in Afghanistan left a constant ringing in his ear that buzzed with every step home in Ottawa.

He ran, every day, to keep his thoughts from drifting to those dark places. One night, he came upon an Inukshuk in the snow and caught his breath.

The monument has always meant survival, a kind of comfort that comes from knowing others have stood where you stand. It might mark a path to sustenance, somewhere up ahead. Just keep going.

Instead, Martin imagined himself trapped in stone, just the likeness of a human. Unable to shake free of all that pain that followed him back.

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