Smelling Afghanistan again: A wounded veteran returns
Published Monday, September 18, 2017 2:25PM EDT
It makes little sense to anyone who hasn’t been there. Why would anyone want to return to a place where discomfort, fear, and frustration filled most days?
Yet there isn’t a veteran of the Afghan war I’ve met who doesn’t want at least a small taste of it again.
I’m not sure it's actually about the physical landscape. In fact, having been in Kandahar province, I’m pretty sure it's not. The dust stinks and there’s no shelter from the sun.
Yet the sense of belonging to it among veterans is pretty strong.
Their days there were the most intense of their lives, and the bonds among them as soldiers were intimate in ways few civilians can understand.
The nostalgia may also be a response to their difficulty integrating into an everyday life after service. Journalist and author Sebastian Junger hit a nerve in his book ‘Tribe’ where he suggested some PTSD and integration issues have very little to do with combat – after all, most having difficulty never saw it.
Rather, he suggests, the sense of detachment many veterans feel is from the society they currently live in and its values. A culture where loyalty, teamwork, and impact are rare and the rules of success are chaotic.
Whatever that longing to return is, our W5 team watched it happen for one of Canada’s highest profile wounded veterans as part of our documentary ‘Unconquered’.
Jody Mitic is known now as an Amazing Race contestant alongside his brother Cory, an Ottawa City counsellor, and author of the books ‘Unflinching’ and ‘Everyday Heroes’. Ten years ago, he was a sniper moving through the dark on patrol who tripped an IED that cost him his lower legs.
We had asked the organizers of the Invictus Games to help us bring Jody back to Afghanistan, to give him that moment other veterans would likely envy.
We needed the contacts Invictus CEO Michael Burns had established with the American General in charge of NATO’s ongoing war against the Taliban and now ISIS sympathizers, General John Nicholson. Only someone of his rank could open the doors needed to make this happen.
He allowed Jody, his brother, Cory, and our Senior Producer Brett Mitchell and Director of Photography Jerry Vienneau to bunk in the Kabul ‘Green Zone’, the walled and wired-off section of the city the U.S. military keeps secure.
He welcomed them to a mess dinner, and at one point came up to our group of Canadians and said, “I understand you boys want to take a trip?”
At dawn the next day, the general and Jody and Cory Mitic were loaded into a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter for the hour-long ride to the Bagram Airfield in Parwan province. Once there, away from the bustle of Kabul and the security of the Green Zone, and back in the dust, Jody finally got the taste he had travelled so far for.
“It smells like Afghanistan,” he said.
There were many other moments like that you’ll see in our documentary, where a country still very much at war settled the soul of a soldier who once fought it.
“Unconquered: a W5 Invictus Games Special” airs Saturday at 7pm EDT on CTV, and at 10pmEDT on CTV2. It will also be available on the W5 YouTube page: Official W5