The toll of duty

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Life post-deployment can be challenging

Members of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) take part in improvised explosive device (IED) training in Southern Afghanistan in June 2010. Warrant officer Todd Pike, who worked with a counter-IED squad and helped train the ANA, says adjusting to life at home after deployment was difficult.

Part three in a three-part series

Warrant officer Todd Pike describes adjusting to life at home after his first deployments as "pretty rough."

His children were young when he returned from tours of Bosnia in '96 and '98, and Kosovo in '99.

"To come home and try to reunite with the kids, that was the hardest part," he says.

Pike's deployments were tough on his marriage too. It ended in divorce.

"It was too hard for her with me being gone all the time," he says.

Pike, who is from Bellevue and is now stationed in St. John's, was also deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2010.

He worked with a counter-IED (improvised explosive device) squad during the first mission and helped train the Afghan National Army on the second.

"My first week in Afghanistan, a rocket landed about 75 metres from my tent, " Pike says.

"I was lying in bed and I felt the whiz of the rocket above my head, and I felt the shockwave of the explosion, and I was like, 'I'm here now.'"

Other experiences there included being shot at on six of the eight days he was in the Mushan area, and dealing with a large explosion just outside of camp.

Still, Pike says he didn't find returning from Afghanistan as hard as coming home from his earlier deployments, likely because of his experience and knowing what to expect.

He does admit he didn't want to go anywhere the first few weeks he was home, and that he was always looking over his shoulder and being hypervigilant, "like looking at garbage on (the) side of the road, there could be an IED in it."

He says he got over that after a month or so.

Pike is a professional soldier who's been with the Canadian Forces 20 years.

He stresses the importance of remembering soldiers killed in all battles, not just the conflicts in the news today.

He'd like to do one more tour before he retires, "but not to Afghanistan."

Pike says he hasn't experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which a series about troops adjusting to home life would be remiss not to include.

A Library of Parliament research paper from last fall indicated that, with the end of combat missions in Afghanistan in July 2011, at least 2,750 of the 25,000 to 35,000 soldiers that will be leaving the Canadian Forces by 2016 "can be expected to suffer from a severe form of PTSD and at least 6,500 will suffer from a mental-health problem diagnosed by a health professional."

The Canadian Forces has units in this province that work with ill and injured members.

As well, there are support groups and not-profit organizations for soldiers and their families.

While none of the people The Telegram connected with for this series had suffered from PTSD, the paper has previously published stories about soldiers and the effects of the condition.

One detailed a January 2010 court case involving a 29-year- old veteran who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan as a reservist and had been since assessed with PTSD.

He was being sentenced for a string of charges, many from an incident outside the Avalon Mall where he bit one police officer and chewed on another's glasses.

He also screamed there was a bomb in the mall, mentioned the Taliban and warned of the end of the world.

He had downed a large quantity of beer at Fog City prior to the events.

A superior officer said the accused was an exemplary soldier and team player, who in Afghanistan, "volunteered to do dangerous things."

The soldier's mother told the court her son's personality had changed since he returned from Afghanistan in 2008.

He went from being laid back and helpful to someone who was withdrawn and watched everything.

The accused also took the stand, apologizing to those affected as well as the court and community.

The crown wanted the accused to receive a six-month sentence, arguing public safety was a concern.

The defence sought a conditional sentence.

Judge Robert Hyslop was challenged by how to sentence the corporal.

He seemed stuck between the seriousness of the charges and the vet's condition because of his deployment.

The judge retired for an hour or so to deliberate.

He returned and described the soldier as "walking wounded" and a hero outside of the offences.

The sentence he handed down was nine months' house arrest and three years' probation, with numerous other conditions, including participating in whatever counselling his psychiatrist deemed necessary.

"This service does strange things to your head," said Hyslop during the proceeding."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Organizations: Canadian Forces, Afghan National Army, Library of Parliament Taliban

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo Bellevue St. John's Mushan Fog

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  • Harold
    November 12, 2012 - 09:26

    we need to show more respect and understanding to those people whom we put in harms way. we need to do more to help their families. we need to do more when they return home. food banks and substandard housing is not the answer. they are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters they are our friends and family. they deserve better and it is our duty to see they receive the help they need.