As Remembrance Day draws near we pause to reflect on the sacrifices of those who served our country in years gone by, and those who serve our country today. Here are the stories of two veterans we are honoured to care for at Parkwood Hospital.
With the rivers and woods surrounding Sault Ste. Marie his playground, Craig Smith grew up with a taste for adventure. His craving for outdoor activities was further sparked by his time with the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, Army Cadets, Air Cadets and reserves. With his mother in the air force and his father in the army, it was a natural choice for Craig to join the Canadian Armed Forces in 1997 when he was 23.
During Craig’s military service, the time he was stationed in Kosovo in 1999 remains forever etched in his mind. “It was fascinating being immersed in a different culture, and important to bring martial law and stability back to the area so people could be safe,” explains Craig. “I remember the terrified Albanians weeping with joy as we liberated their villages.”
During his time in Kosovo Craig’s duties included helicopter operations, training in mine warfare, patrolling on foot and in armoured vehicles, reconnaissance using cameras and thermal imaging, and searching for mass graves where executed Albanians were buried.
This experience left Craig with haunting memories. After he retired from the Canadian Forces in 2001, he travelled extensively and worked on the oil rigs in Fort McMurray. Returning home to Sault Ste. Marie, he took the Law and Justice program at Algoma University making the Dean’s list and graduating with honours.
By 2008 memories of the war in Kosovo were still surfacing. “Things just stay in your mind,” he says. Feeling his mood swings and negative attitude were related to his military service, Craig knew it was time to seek help.
He came to the Operational Stress Injury Clinic at Parkwood Hospital. “Dr. Charles Nelson helped me navigate through my memories and was a tremendous help in my recovery,” says Craig.
Craig also credits the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) peer support network for connecting him with other veterans. “We always help each other out.”
These days Craig attends OSISS meetings and helps fellow veterans with their paperwork. He finds playing the drums and attending Veterans Arts classes very therapeutic. He completed a biathlon in September, biking 25 K and swimming 150 laps “These activities provide an outlet, and help me stay healthy, focused and busy.”
Looking to the future, Craig is considering going back to University to get his Master of Studies in Law degree so he can continue to help other veterans.
A friend of Craig’s built a vacation home in Kosovo where he goes to enjoy the tranquility of the countryside —a far cry from the war-torn landscape of just 15 years before. “I feel a sense of pride knowing I helped to restore peace in Kosovo,” says Craig. “I’m very proud to be a veteran.”