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Roger speaks out

tree hugger

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Fron the Toronto Star:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/649681

Home is new Afghan war front
Combat vets continue battle at home
Warrant Officer Roger Perreault fought in Afghanistan and came home a troubled, broken man. With Perreault's story we launch the War at Home series. Video by Randy Risling. (June 12, 2009)


CHRISTOPHER PIKE FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Fran Perreault, 15-year-old Marissa and Warrant Officer Roger Perreault. "Some days I just wish he never went there," Marissa says of her dad. (June 4, 2009)  Print
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More than 26,000 Canadians have served in Afghanistan. In the first of a three-part series, we tell the story of one soldier's troubled return

Jun 12, 2009 04:30 AM
Comments on this story  (38)
David Bruser
Staff Reporter


Warrant Officer Roger Perreault trained 20 years for his chance at a combat tour.

The army engineer knew how to blow up walls and bulldoze new roads – important work in a war zone where doors are booby-trapped and old roads are lined with hidden bombs.

Perreault took those critical skills and a good-luck charm aboard a bus full of soldiers departing CFB Petawawa on Aug. 1, 2006. His mission: to build a route for the Canadian infantry in Panjwai district, Afghanistan.

"My great-grandfather was an engineer in World War I," Perreault says. "I had his cap badge. I brought it over there for good luck."

Perreault's wife, Fran, remembers his departure day very clearly, because her family would never be the same again.

"On Aug. 1, I put one man on that bus. Nov. 3, a different man came home. He looked like my husband. He talked like my husband. But it wasn't my husband. Part of him is still over there somewhere and I don't know if I'll ever get it back."

Before his deployment, Perreault spent long hours in the gym building his body. His friends called him Rhino. The extra muscle would prove critical. The cap badge was of no help. He lost that during a firefight in the desert.

Warrant Officer Roger Perreault hits his wife.

"He doesn't even realize he's done it, even though I wake him up at that point. He gets off me, rolls back over. The next morning he asks me why I have bruises on my neck, why I have black eyes."

On occasion Fran has had to rely on makeup and scarves so she can leave the house for the base, where she manages a cleaning company.

"I'm a pretty small woman. He's a pretty big guy. He would cry. He would be ashamed. I would say, `Don't worry about it. It's not your fault.' He really took it hard."

It's after 8 p.m. on a Tuesday in Petawawa. The Perreaults live a couple of blocks off base. She sits at the dining room table, the family collie, Sapper, panting nearby and the four kids padding about the small, two-storey house. In a few days, Fran and Roger will mark their 16th wedding anniversary.

"I did get strangled one night." Fran says. "I woke up, I couldn't breathe. I kneed him in the stomach. I had marks on my neck. I covered it up with turtlenecks and makeup. My closest friends understood. They've dealt with the same things.

"He wasn't doing it to be vindictive or mean. He was someone else in his sleep. He'd been dreaming he was under attack."

A knock at the door.

"Come in," Perreault says, but doesn't get off the couch. He cannot move about as he once did. An aluminum cane is within reach.

Fran is at work on the base and the kids are at school.

He wears a T-shirt that reads, "Courage is being afraid but going anyway."

In a quiet voice, the 39-year-old tells his visitor the story of his tour. He moves through the details cautiously.

Perreault and the 180 other guys from Petawawa landed, relieved soldiers from Edmonton, and immediately headed to a patrol base. The troops would remain "pretty well out of the gate most of the tour" – that is, out in the countryside, off base, 30 days at a time, returning only to resupply and shower.

"On the way out (to the patrol base) we got ambushed for 5 kilometres and one guy got injured," Perreault says. "That was the start. Right there, it set things in stone.

"I've been in Bosnia and it doesn't even compare to Afghanistan. The whole time we were in Panjwai we were always under contact."

A month into the tour, during Operation Medusa, Perreault and about 100 other men prepared to take "the white school."

"It was an actual school the Taliban were in. Several days prior we had dropped in leaflets telling the locals to get out of the area. We were coming in to capture or remove the Taliban. Early morning, we crossed the Arghandab River.

"We weren't using existing roads because of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We were building our own (using) a big loader and dozers. Things were going well. Seemed like there was nothing going on, and then we got ambushed.

"They were shooting RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). We lost two warrants and then I lost a sergeant. Sgt. (Shane) Stachnik."

Perreault looks out the living room window, his eyes welling.

"Just a moment... "

"We lost a private, too. Basically we got our ass kicked.

"We pulled back. The worst thing I had to do, we had to bag the guys, the two warrants ended up in the bottom of the LAV (light armoured vehicle). We had to pull 'em out and bag them. F---ing sucked."

Perreault chokes up.

"Stachnik, he was one of my guys. He was in an LAV. When the round came in and hit the turret on the side, hit him in the neck, and it severed his main artery and he bled out, fast."

A month after the battle for the white school, Perreault's military career, at least the career he had envisioned, would end.

It was around 5 p.m. on Oct. 7, the sun fading, and Perreault and others from 2 Combat Engineer Regiment were standing on the side of a dirt track discussing their progress on a road-building project.

"We were moving another 100 metres down the road, and I decided that I'm not going to get back in the LAV. I'll just walk. I started walking along aside the LAV. For some reason, I thought: `This (road) hasn't been watched in a while.' And as I said that to myself it went off. Bang.

"The blast threw me in the air. It kicked me up backward. I was airborne. Landed on my butt."

Perreault says he later learned the vehicle had hit a road bomb made of an Italian land mine with a flechette round, which contains little daggers. He figures the bomb was a partial dud; otherwise, he'd be dead.

"I was a body builder. I was around 220. I was in the gym all the time. That's what held me together – my muscle mass."

Standing in the turret of another vehicle 20 metres away, Sgt. Neil Coates watched as the bomb detonated.

"It was very hot and sunny," Coates recalls. "The ground was very dusty. Dust that's six inches deep. There was like a fireball and then a big cloud of dust. It blew Roger over."

Perreault says he got up and walked away from the vehicle. "You get hit by an IED and chances are you can get ambushed. Some of the people that observed me afterward said I walked like I was a drunk. I thought I was walking straight."

He sat in a firing position.

"I remember my ears were ringing really bad.

"I kept saying, `I'm all right. I'm all right. Just leave me alone.' Someone said, `Well, then stand up.' I couldn't. I got carried out of there."

Perreault suffered a cracked tailbone and other damage to his spine, and underwent three surgeries in an Ottawa hospital. After one of the operations, an infection set in, some organs showed signs of shutting down, and on a Saturday night Fran called their eldest child, Marissa, and told her that dad might not live through the weekend.

Roger recovered after doctors found that his spinal cord was nicked during surgery, causing a leak of cord fluid. He struggles with nerve pain; he takes blood thinners to help prevent clots in his legs. In February he underwent hip surgery to repair bone damage from the blast. He has a desk job on base. Perhaps the worst of his problems is post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There's a lot of things involved in it," Perreault says. "Guilt. One of my best friends (Stachnik) died. That's what I'm having a hard time with. He lived right down the road from me. Just driving by there friggin' bothers me. It hurts."

Interrupted sleep. Nightmares. Flashbacks. Sleep deprived, Perreault has had trouble remembering things told to him just two minutes earlier. For a year he denied he was suffering from the disorder. "It's kind of something that you're not really proud of."

But his hair-trigger anger made the disorder impossible to ignore.

On a summer evening in 2007, Perreault went to pick up his daughters from dance class and parked in the furniture store's lot next to the studio. He says the store owner came out and told him to move if he wasn't there to buy furniture.

"I got out of the vehicle. In my mind I was going to kill the guy. That was my mission: to beat the f--- out of him. I was boiling." Perreault kept advancing, barking at the man, until Fran shouted him down.

"It's not normal. It's stress. When we're over there, under contact with the Taliban every second or third day, the enemy shooting at you, it's like constant go, go, go. The solution there is to shoot. You get back here, you don't know how to deal with it.

"We come back and we're just a bag of nails. It's like, why am I yelling at my kids all the time?

"To me, that's sinful," Perreault says, his eyes welling up again, "when your kids can't even approach you because they're afraid of you."

About 16 kilometres southeast of Petawawa, the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in Pembroke has seen its military family caseload jump from 12 in 2005 to 85 today, with another 20 on the waiting list.

The Perreaults are among those 85. Fifteen-year-old Marissa gets counselling there, and she says her brothers, Mathew, 11, and Derek, 9, sometimes go to group therapy.

"It's really hard to live with someone who has (post-traumatic stress disorder)," says the teenager. The night Fran called with the news Roger was failing in the hospital, Marissa got so drunk a friend's mother had to take her to the hospital. She stayed there until morning.

Marissa says that for a short time after her father returned from Afghanistan, she cut herself.

"It was like a razor blade off a (pencil) sharpener. I did it on my wrists and then my sister noticed and told my parents, so then I started doing it on my legs. I haven't done any of that in a long time."

She hopes her counsellor can help her build a better relationship with her father.

"I understand what he did was really good and stuff, but some days I just wish he never went there."

Perreault lives on a steady diet of pills – a blood thinner, an antidepressant, an anti-psychotic, Lyrica for nerve pain and slow-release morphine – and on anger.

There are many sources:

That delays by various groups meant his daughter had to wait two years for help.

That the military allowed his squadron to split up shortly after the tour. "They rip the squadron right apart; they get posted all over the place. There's no cohesion. I went through the first year dealing with all aspects of things on my own. There was no support."

That a new system of compensating injured soldiers means Perreault gets not a cent for having post-traumatic stress disorder. His numerous other injuries maxed out allowable payout, leaving several injuries uncompensated. And the money he did get was paid in a lump sum, not in monthly instalments over time.

"This is stuff you suffer the rest of your life. If this stuff gets worse with age, f---, there's nothing there. I have four kids. That's the thanks you get for going overseas to fight for your country."

When questioned for this story, military spokespeople said a veteran like Perreault can max out, but is eligible to be reimbursed for medicine and therapy. As to family counselling, a spokesperson said it is not the military's responsibility, though referrals are made to outside counselling agencies.

Perreault plans to keep working his desk job on base until his scheduled release in three years. This publicity likely won't make life any easier on CFB Petawawa.

"The only reason why I'm speaking about some of it now is because my career is over," Perreault says.

"I don't regret going there. It was my job to go there.

"I trained my whole career to go do something like that. The sad thing of it is the aftermath."

Every day at work, Fran sees fit and vigorous soldiers marching around the base, and it's a reminder of what Roger will never be.

"He was the warrant everyone wanted to be under. He knew when to be the hard-ass, he knew when he had to lay down the law, and when to ease up. They liked him for that.

"He's been pushed in a corner. He's useless to the regiment; he's useless to the military.

"We have other friends who are injured, same tour. We all sit together at functions. It's almost like we have the plague.

"It's like we were the diseased outcasts. We all have leprosy. Don't talk to the people in the corner. You know what they are.

"They're the forgotten ones. That's what me and my friends call them."

 
R

R. Jorgensen

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Words cannot describe the feelings I am experiencing after reading that.

It's so unfortunate. Forever living in a world of darkness.
 

agenteagle

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It is sad to hear of PTSD victims but I think we are getting better at handling it. There is no perfect solution. My grandfather fought with the NSR in world world 2 and suffered with PTSD for most of his life but no one even knew what PTSD was then. I have a couple of my friends have had it after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the US Army. One was a medic and they do 18 month tours so their chance of getting PTSD is high.

He would not sleep with his wife for about 9 months after he returned because he would wake up dazed and some times he would be violent not realizing. He has got rid on most of the PTSD and only has the nightmares now. He even reenlisted and is headed for Afghanistan later this year but not as a medic.

My friend needed to find something to help remove stress from his life and Church and Fishing was his cure.
 

Tow Tripod

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I'm going to give everybody an opinion that they probally do not want to hear on this web site. A soldier suffering from PTSD is not news worthy right now. Every soldier in the CF wether he has deployed to Afghanistan or not has a story to tell. Obviously soldiers that have deployed deserve all the treatment that is required to assist them but the negative implications of this story makes me question the intent of the story to begin with. Has the WO received help?, Yes. Has his family received help? Yes. Can anyone controll negative actions or comments from individuals in his unit? Absolutely not. Their will always be "that guy" that will express an opinion towards anyone diagnosed with PTSD weather the individual with PTSD likes it or not. The question I guess is how he reacts?? Like I said this is just my opinion and everyone has one when it comes to the topic of PTSD. Thanks and have a great day.
 

the 48th regulator

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Tow Tripod said:
Their will always be "that guy" that will express an opinion towards anyone diagnosed with PTSD weather the individual with PTSD likes it or not. The question I guess is how he reacts?? Like I said this is just my opinion and everyone has one when it comes to the topic of PTSD. Thanks and have a great day.

And if that opinion is derogatory, and promotes the stigma then "That Guy" must be educated, and/or Disciplined.  "That Guy" would not make a comment about a soldier who has his legs amputated, but what makes "That Guy" qualified to offer his "Opinion" on a troop suffering from PTSD.

Because it is an "Opinion" does not guarantee "That Guy" immunity, from my recommendations above.

That is not an opinion, it is a fact. And it has nothing to do with this site, it is a Forces atttitude,  Look up some of the recent CANFORGENS from the CMP. 

Further to that, PTSD is only one form of OSI's that plague soldiers who have either deployed and stayed behind to serve our nation.

dileas

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gun runner

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As a former gunner, I have never set foot in a combat zone,nor have I ever had to stare down the barrel of an ememy combatants weapon. This story is a wake up call to me. I have buds who have served over there, and they appear alright( not that they are openly talking about it). But this story of the Warrant Officers ordeal really gives us all(non combatants) some food for thought. Those of us who will never be put into harms way, will never hear or see the horror of combat, this should be the clarion call for us to listen to. I will always be proud of our forces, and will tell anyone who listens exactly that. I thank-you for this post.. it has helped me to further understand what it is that you all go through on a daily basis. My hat is off to you all. Ubique
 

X-mo-1979

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gun runner said:
As a former gunner, I have never set foot in a combat zone,nor have I ever had to stare down the barrel of an ememy combatants weapon. This story is a wake up call to me. I have buds who have served over there, and they appear alright( not that they are openly talking about it). But this story of the Warrant Officers ordeal really gives us all(non combatants) some food for thought. Those of us who will never be put into harms way, will never hear or see the horror of combat, this should be the clarion call for us to listen to. I will always be proud of our forces, and will tell anyone who listens exactly that. I thank-you for this post.. it has helped me to further understand what it is that you all go through on a daily basis. My hat is off to you all. Ubique

This story however is not the norm.Most deploy,kill people,lose comrades and return relatively the same they left,maybe even better.Please do not think this is the majority of combat arms guys returning.
 
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