Compassion in the military

In this post I am going to take a break from discussing my day to day flight training, and discuss a broader topic concerning the entirety of the Canadian Armed Forces: compassion. I have said it many times before, but the military is a people-based organization, and it only runs smoothly if the people who make up the military feel valued, and supported. The chain of command has a responsibility to provide care and support to those beneath them in order to keep the military running efficiently. This support means providing for members who undergo major life events such as: deaths in the family, marriage, divorce, child birth, and any number of other major events. This support can be as simple as providing leave from work during these times, to providing social, religious or mental support when necessary. It has been my experience thus far in the military that this support structure is very much present, and makes itself known through a sense of community. Within the military (and the Air Force more specifically), I don’t only feel as though I am a part of an organization or company, I feel as though I am a part of a community. My coworkers are also my friends, and my superiors are not distant figures only seen as a name at a bottom of an email, but are real people who know who I am, know my family, and know the things that are going on in my life. This sense of community is what drives the military, and it is what differentiates the military from any other job.

As a strong community should, the military showed tremendous compassion to me nearly a year ago when my father suffered a major spinal injury and became paralyzed from the neck down. On March 30th, 2016 my father was injured while swimming in waist deep water in Hawaii while on vacation with his wife. He was immediately paralyzed from the neck down, and was unconscious when he was pulled from the ocean. Through the quick action of complete strangers and medical professionals, my father was revived and rushed to hospital.

At this point I am going to end the story of the accident and instead focus on how this event affected me an ocean away. If you would like to follow the story of my father’s accident and the new direction his life has taken you can check out our website My Quadriplegic Life  where we post stories written by my father and family members surrounding his accident.

An ocean away, my phone rang with my mom relaying the bad news. I was tasked with the job of notifying my two brothers and sister as well as friends and extended family of the events taking place in Hawaii. Reporting to work the next day I asked to speak to my boss. He immediately ushered me into his office and I relayed the news to him. He expressed sadness and sympathy, and informed me I was being removed from flying until the situation stabilized. He offered for me to go home and rest, or stay at work if that would help keep my mind off the situation. I elected to go home and make the many phone calls to friends and family. By noon that day my parents and I decided that I should go to Hawaii to help my parents as best I could. All my siblings were going into exam season at various universities across the country, and my father had expressed his desire for us to all stay the course at home and not abandon our studies to be with him. Earlier my boss had given me his personal cell phone number in case something changed, and I texted him saying that I needed to go to Hawaii. I returned to work and quickly drafted a memo and a leave pass for two weeks. My boss told me to go get organized for the trip and I left the memo and leave pass with him to be signed and filed. Up to this point my experience with memos and leave passes was a process that took days if not weeks to get signed and approved. This is one simple example of the military showing some compassion and expediting trivial paperwork to solve the important and immediate problem of supporting me in what I needed to do.

                Within 48 hours I had made it to Hawaii, and the next week was spent at the hospital with my dad as the medical staff ran endless tests, inserted countless IVs, and my mother and I tried to provide what comfort we could. After a week my father was medically evacuated to Vancouver, and I followed on commercial travel. Throughout this time both my boss and the unit Padre had contacted me via phone numerous times to offer any support they could. A week later, a few days before my compassionate leave was due to expire my boss said that they could approve another two weeks of compassionate leave if I needed it. I sent a simple text message a day or two later, and my additional two weeks were approved. This simple gesture illustrated to me that the system was working properly and basic compassion and understanding translated into support for me and the crisis that had engulfed me and my family. The next two weeks were filled with countless moments between me and my parents. My dad discovered that he could wiggle his big toe – the first movement he had since the accident. Visits from family, friends, coworkers, and of course, doctors were constant and never-ending. Insurance paperwork was mountainous and daunting, banking was convoluted and difficult, and the entire situation dominated my mental space.

                After a month filled with endless mixed emotions of sadness, joy, frustration, and anxiety, I returned to Moose Jaw to recommence my flying training. Again the military showed understanding and provided a plan to gradually re-introduce me to flying training. I was given a few days to study the books and get back up to speed with procedures and regulations, and then was given a couple review flights to hone the skills that had faded in the past month. Throughout this time the Padre and my immediate superior continued to talk to me directly and offer their support should I need it.  It is without a doubt that the compassion showed to me by the military allowed me to not only successfully return to flying training but perform well and ultimately achieve my military pilot wings. I do not doubt for a second that had I not spent that month with my parents that the mental stress would have negatively affected my flying performance. 

                My success in flying training was celebrated by me receiving my pilot wings nearly eight months after the accident from my father, who left Vancouver and his rehab therapy to travel across the country in order to award me my wings.  This was an incredibly important moment for the both of us, and without the support of the military I would have never gotten there, and without my support, it is possible my father would not have been there either.

I will finish this post by saying that this was my experience with compassion in the military, and in this particular instance, the military community showed its true colors and acted in a way that enabled me to succeed and continue to serve to the best of my ability. I know that in many other instances the military has failed, sometimes dramatically, and I don’t deny that mistakes happen. I know that for others the military may have increased the stress levels rather than decreased them during periods of duress. This post is solely concerning my personal experience, and I am truly grateful that when it mattered for me, my peers and superiors came through for me.