I didn't know what to put down or say, so I'm going to wing it. I have prepared a PowerPoint, which has not been translated, but I'll make it available to the committee afterwards. It goes into further detail.
I was looking for a title for this, and I called it “My 14-year Suicide Attempt”.
I grew up in Ontario housing in Markham, Eglinton, and Scarborough, quite poor, with a lot of discipline problems, such as break and enter, and theft. I failed grade 7. They thought I was a bit slow and wanted to send me to a special school, but my mom talked to them to keep me in a regular school. I was a survivor of long-term sexual abuse by a friend of the family.
When I was eight years old, I set our family apartment on fire and narrowly escaped that. I basically shut myself away from age 12 to about age 18, hiding down in the basement and working on an old car. It was my safe spot. I didn't socialize. I didn't date.
Then this thing called YTEP came up, where you could join the military for a year as a reserve and try out the system to see if you liked it and if they liked you. I applied as an aero-engine technician, to follow up on my love of mechanics. There were no openings, so they suggested I take ammunition technician, a trade I knew nothing about. I did. They said that if I did well on my course, there was a very good chance I could remuster or change trades once I had a foot in the door. This was a lie. Ammo tech is one of the few trades you cannot remuster out of. It's the smallest trade in the Canadian Armed Forces, with about 140 strong when I was in.
However, I did enjoy working with explosives. There are two aspects to ammo tech: the supply side and the operational side, the improvised explosive device disposal. I decided to go that route, just due to the interest in it. At that time, IED wasn't a word as familiar to everyone as it is now.
My first posting was at CFAD Rocky Point, out in B.C. As I mentioned, it was a very small trade, and all of a sudden it had an influx of 12 privates, which they don't normally have, so I was sent out to Rocky Point, which had no provisions for privates, no accommodations, and no junior staff. I was put on a naval base, Nelles Block, about 40 kilometres away, in transient quarters for six months, driving to a job with a bunch of old civilian ammunition workers who didn't want to work.
I hated my job. Isolation and depression set in. I arrived there in September 1986, and on December 6, 1986, I wrapped my brand new car around a pole after I had consumed a bottle of cheap navy liquor. At the time, you could drink on the ships for about 25¢ for a beer and 25¢ for a glass of whisky. I started to work on my alcoholism very strongly then.
To counteract this, the military sent me on a three-day life skills course, which is essentially a course to tell you, “Don't do this again or you'll go on a spin dry course.” It tells you to hide it. They kept me away from trouble and B.C. by tasking me and sending me on my trade qualification 5 early, and then immediately posting me to 2 Service Battalion special service force, Petawawa.
Petawawa was an absolute dream. It was all field. I loved it. I thrived in the field position, and I also became a very functional alcoholic, where you can drink until four and run in at six. That was fairly standard in the early nineties' Canadian Armed Forces. I am certain it's changed now.
I became HC improvised explosive disposal-qualified in April 1990. In this, I accomplished my initial goal. To top it off, at the age of 23, I was the youngest IED technician in Canadian history, which is yet to be matched—and it won't, because of the qualifications you need now to get it.
From there, I was posted to the Canadian Forces School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering in 1991 as an instructor. While there, I was a member of the nuclear, biological, and chemical emergency response team as their explosive engineer. In Borden, in 1991, they found mustard gas Livens containers from World War I. I heard about it, because I was actually in my IED course when they found them, and they didn't know what to do with them. In 1994, when I was a member of the team, they decided they wanted to dispose of them.
The number one was away, so I was called up and I ended up disposing of the mustard gas. Now, the only way to breach these was explosively, so you had to ensure that you used just enough explosives to crack the shell but not crack the burster and contaminate all of Borden with mustard gas. I was contaminated and had to go through full decon. Mustard gas preserves very well. I had seven bars on a CAM, too. Every time I see balsamic vinegar now, which looks identical to mustard gas, I have a panic attack.
My time at Borden was the happiest time in my life. I met my wife. I had three children. My military career was progressing extremely well. I was promoted ahead of my peers. I was socially adjusted to family life and meeting new people. My drinking had become more social, not drink until four and run in at six. It was about family. My quality of life at that point could not have been better.
Then I was posted to Toronto in 1994. I was posted to the Canadian Forces base supply, as a 2IC of the ammo section and was meant to be the supply tech. As I was posted and the message was cut, Toronto announced that it was closing. We had two positions there: a master corporal and a sergeant. They didn't replace the sergeant because they lost the spot. In a small trade like ammo tech, you can't just take another sergeant from somewhere and put them in there.
The assumption was that if it was closing out, a master corporal could close it out. The problem is that there was an also a EOD team there. It was EOD 14, and they needed a chief. I was temporarily promoted to sergeant and sent over to the U.K. to have an advanced IED course and made the chief of EOD centre 14. During that time, notification hit the press that CFB Toronto was closing, which created concern for the community.
Various police forces announced an amnesty period for military-related artifacts. This had the unintended effect of increasing EOD teams by factors of hundreds. I was temporarily promoted to sergeant, as I mentioned. I was unaided until closure, after hundreds of emergency calls, thousands upon thousands of kilometres, often driven with hazardous cargo, such as 10 disposal IEDs, and the most horrifying event of my life, a post-blast investigation involving a young boy.
I was promoted to sergeant as I left Toronto, with an outstanding PER from the base commander, but Toronto closed and so did the fanfare. I lived in Angus, so I drove down every day.
All of a sudden, instead of going to Toronto one day, I went back to Borden, and they made me the explosives safety officer for southwestern Ontario. For the next years, I visited cadet units and militia units and gave briefings on explosives safety. I was living in hotels, driving a rental care, and had lots of money for claims, so I could hide my alcoholism. My days consisted of basically drinking until about three, waking up about noon, getting myself cleaned up, visiting a cadet unit, checking their lockers, doing an inspection, having a few beers with the senior cadet officer, telling some war stories, and then repeating if necessary the next day, until I found the courage to go home because I couldn't face my family anymore.
My drinking increased heavily. By that point, I was alcohol dependent. My weight substantially increased, from my perfect BMI in Toronto to BMI 31,and I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. In 1999, I received a medical category that wouldn't allow me to be unit tasked or operational. No one looked into the circumstances as to why I put that weight on. My symptoms of depression had set in, and my family life was deteriorating. I had worked alone for four years with no support, after an operational spot. I was nowhere near a base to be part of the unit functions and the camaraderie that a base has, be it a bowling afternoon, a beer call, or what have you. No one noticed the changes except my family, and I was away from my family.
After 15 years in, one year as reserve YTEP, I retired from the military on August 12, 2000, with a promotion PER to warrant officer. I was released in the tail end of the last force reduction plan, so there were no questions asked. It was a numbers game. They wanted to get rid of people, and they didn't care how they did it. When I asked for my release, no questions were asked. I was released in less than two weeks from my request. I received a basic physical exam and no mental health observation.
I departed from Canada for Kosovo and started my civilian career of disposing cluster bombs in Kosovo. I then went up to Kurdistan, northern Iraq, and performed humanitarian demining for the United Nations. I attempted to rejoin the Canadian Forces in 2001, and the recruitment centre did not respond. Then, a plane flew into some buildings and that changed everything. I spent the next years in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Amman, Laos, Yemen, Russia, the Balkan states, performing EOD work, mine clearance, and then later high-voltage clearance of the power lines in Iraq, Afghanistan, Tanzania, and Rwanda.
I spent six years in total in Baghdad and two years in Afghanistan as a civilian working outside the wire. I'm being recognized by the United Nations for finding the largest cache of explosives ever in Afghanistan.
Do I have much time?