It’s taken much courage for Cliff Peck of Random Island to put aside the horrors of war and try to live life as he once knew it before signing on to serve his country.
A military army veteran of 27 years, Cliff is participating in the Canada Army Run in Ottawa Sept. 17 to remember his fallen comrades and support the wounded warriors.
After deployment to “hot zones” like the former Yugoslavia (during the Bosnian war) and Rwanda, Africa, Cliff now considers himself among the wounded.
“The things I saw... It was during the ethnic cleansing and just after the genocide in Rwanda. It wasn’t a good situation,” he said during a phone interview Sept. 13.
Further details about what he witnessed aren’t necessary for this story. The pain is palpable in this soldier’s voice.
Cliff said he didn’t realize when he returned from his Rwanda mission in 1996 that war had changed him.
“I still remember standing in the driveway. We lived in Gagetown at the time. We just got back from grocery shopping. Cathy (Cliff’s wife) looked at me and said, ‘You’re not the same man that I married.’ Back then I said, ‘No, I’m the same. You guys have all changed,’” Cliff said referring to his wife and children.
It would take years before Cliff was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“I was in denial. I didn’t think anything was wrong. I got diagnosed in Edmonton in 2002.”
Cliff took a medical discharge and retired from the military two years later.
“I couldn’t stand to be around the military anymore. There were too many flashbacks,” he said.
Cliff feels fortunate to have such a supportive wife, a great psychologist (Marina Hewlett) and psychiatrist (Dr. Jolene Hancock) to help him work through the memories.
“Without them... I would still be living like a hermit,” he said.
Cathy Peck said her family has also gotten support from Veterans Affairs over the years.
“They’ve been holding (Cliff’s) hand through a lot of this,” she said.
Cliff is anxious about the trip to Ottawa. While he plans to walk the 5km-event, he isn’t sure if he’ll be able to go through with an event where he’ll be surrounded by thousands of runners and spectators.
“This is the first time I’ve done something like this. I’m not good around crowds or socializing. So, this is going to be big for me,” he said.
Cathy is also participating in the run, as are 10 of her running friends from the Clarenville area, including Wanda Churchill, Natalie Coish, Marguerite DeGruchy, Susan Howell, Kate Munro, Stacy Sheppard, Carmel Smith, Sandra Troke, Lori-Ann Upshall and Jackie Vokey.
Many of the women have their own military stories and connections, Cliff said.
“And they are very supportive of me. So that helps” he said.
Cliff is from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Cathy is from St. John’s. They settled on Random Island about 12 years ago. They have two sons living in New Brunswick and five grandchildren.
While Cathy never expected to be dealing with PTSD, she said not all of her family’s military experiences were negative. They've had some great adventures and great postings during Cliff's career, she said.
Cathy is proud of how far her husband has come in dealing with his mental disability. She’s also educated herself about PTSD to understand what her husband is dealing with.
“It’s been two steps forward and one step back. I watched him go through his grief. The light in his eyes is gone but he’s really trying hard to get better. And, as long as I see he’s trying, we’ll work through this together,” Cathy said.
For more information on the run and other activities linked to the event visit www.armyrun.ca
About the Canada Army Run
Now in its tenth year, the Canada Army Run (5km, 10km, half marathon and 5km plus half marathon) is an opportunity for members of the Armed Forces to thank Canadians for their support. The run is also a chance for Canadians to thank the men and women who have served and continue to serve their country at home and abroad.
Since 2008, Canada Army Run has raised more than $2.1 million in support of Soldier On and Support Our Troops Fund – two Canadian Armed Forces financial support programs that provide assistance to ill and injured soldiers and military families in need.