'I'll be quite safe inside the wire'

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Still-recovering soldier torn about civilian wife's Afghanistan deployment

Sheldon Herritt had reservations about his wife travelling to Afghanistan and spending six months supporting troops in a civilian role.

He admits he still does.

"I didn't want her to go," he says. "But I support her going. I'm torn on both sides. I know how harsh it can be over there, how dangerous it can be.

Rachel Richardson and her husband Sgt. Sheldon Herritt sit in the mess at CFS St. John's. Herritt served a tour in Afghanistan in 2007. Richardson is headed there soon to serve six months in a civilian role. - Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

Sheldon Herritt had reservations about his wife travelling to Afghanistan and spending six months supporting troops in a civilian role.

He admits he still does.

"I didn't want her to go," he says. "But I support her going. I'm torn on both sides. I know how harsh it can be over there, how dangerous it can be.

"Because I care so much about her, I don't really want her to go over there.

"But at the same time, I respect her decision to go, and she's trying to support the mission and give back. So I'm torn."

Sgt. Sheldon Herritt is well aware of Afghanistan's hazards.

A combat engineer with the Canadian Forces, he was involved in several IED (improvised explosive device) strikes during a six-month tour there in 2007.

He was slightly injured in one detonation and seriously wounded in another, when he was struck by 50 pieces of shrapnel.

The incident hasn't slowed Herritt much - he figures he's 90 per cent recovered - and it hasn't deterred his wife, Rachel Richardson, from agreeing to do a tour in Afghanistan.

Richardson, a local music teacher and volunteer with the Military Family Resource Centre, will soon leave to be part of the civilian team that delivers welfare programs to Canadian troops.

She put in for the family and personnel support services program after her husband spotted a poster and mentioned it to her.

"I think he was joking that I should apply for it, but I did go ahead and apply for it and was surprised to find that I did get accepted, which is nice to be able to give back as well as get a different perspective (on the military)," she said.

Richardson, who says Canada is the only country that uses its own civilians to support troops, is not allowed to say when she leaves.

She was able to say she'll be home by year's end.

She's also not permitted to talk about what she'll do there.

Instead, she says civilian support staff are involved in boosting soldier morale.

They strive to do that through a number of ways, ranging from volunteering at the hospital to serving "medium double-doubles" at the Tim Hortons on base.

Herritt, now stationed at CFS St. John's, knows the value of those efforts, and of seeing a friendly face while fighting a war.

He says civilians play a big role in Afghanistan, one that's often unseen or unappreciated by the Canadian public.

Richardson has undergone two weeks of intense training in Kingston, Ont., to prepare for that important work.

Those preparations included gas mask training, rocket attack drills and sessions on explosives.

She says the trainers also tried to indoctrinate her in military culture, and didn't sugarcoat anything.

"(They told us) this is what it's going to be like. It's not going to be easy. You're going to have long days. You work seven nights a week. That's the way it is."

Richardson says the training gave her a new appreciation for all the courses and programs her husband has taken over his 15-year military involvement.

"I can't imagine doing that for 15 years. It was bad enough for two weeks."

She expects going to Afghanistan will give her even more of an understanding of what her husband and other soldiers do.

Richardson admits some natural aprehension about her tour, but stresses what she's doing will be very different than what Herritt did there.

"I'll be quite safe inside in the wire and he spent most of his tour outside the wire," she says, adding she'll also have access to air conditioning and won't have to carry the 100-plus pound pack soldiers do.

Herritt says his wife has already gained a lot of insight. He expects she'll miss home like soldiers do and come to appreciate "all the great things" back in Canada.

He also predicts he'll get a taste of what she experiences while he is away.

The sargeant notes he's well enough to be deployed again, but he doesn't expect to do so until his spouse is back home for a while.

Richardson notes there is another civilian from this province deploying at the same time.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Forces, Military Family Resource Centre, Tim Hortons

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Canada, Kingston

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Recent comments

  • Heather
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    You deserve a world of thanks. I'm sure our troops welcome the sight of a non-enlisted face. You'll be a reminder that folks at home are thinking about them. Keep Safe!

  • Gerry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Good luck to you. Having lost a brother (civilian engineer) in Afghanistan I pray for your safe return and a time where all our good people can return home. I beleive in the cause and I know that your contribution will be greatly appreciated.

  • Gary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    I admire your courage. Thank you for your service & stay safe.

    Good Luck !!

  • mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    God Bless you both, such a beautiful couple. Rachel, it's super wonderful wanting to go to into such a dangerous country. My prayers are always with the troops & their families. My nephew will be going back this fall on his 3rd tour and our family are feeling the stress already. We support the troops trying to help the innocent people in afghanistan to have a better life. We take alot for granted here in Canada, we have so much to be thankful for but don't always show appreciation. You will see alot on your tour even inside the wire that will change you forever. I hope your time away from each other will not seem too long. Good luck on your tour, I will be thinking of you both in my prayers.

  • darls
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Good Luck ...Stay Safe and THANK-YOU

  • k
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Good Luck to you both. I pray for all our soldiers every Sunday in Church. You are making the ultimate sacrifice. God Bless you.

  • Heather
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    You deserve a world of thanks. I'm sure our troops welcome the sight of a non-enlisted face. You'll be a reminder that folks at home are thinking about them. Keep Safe!

  • Gerry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Good luck to you. Having lost a brother (civilian engineer) in Afghanistan I pray for your safe return and a time where all our good people can return home. I beleive in the cause and I know that your contribution will be greatly appreciated.

  • Gary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    I admire your courage. Thank you for your service & stay safe.

    Good Luck !!

  • mary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    God Bless you both, such a beautiful couple. Rachel, it's super wonderful wanting to go to into such a dangerous country. My prayers are always with the troops & their families. My nephew will be going back this fall on his 3rd tour and our family are feeling the stress already. We support the troops trying to help the innocent people in afghanistan to have a better life. We take alot for granted here in Canada, we have so much to be thankful for but don't always show appreciation. You will see alot on your tour even inside the wire that will change you forever. I hope your time away from each other will not seem too long. Good luck on your tour, I will be thinking of you both in my prayers.

  • darls
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Good Luck ...Stay Safe and THANK-YOU

  • k
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Good Luck to you both. I pray for all our soldiers every Sunday in Church. You are making the ultimate sacrifice. God Bless you.