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Military family reason we all should remember

Posted: November 7, 2017

Military family reason we all should remember

It's been more than 20 years since East St. Paul resident and Legion member Andy Morgan was a Canadian Peacekeeper in Bosnia, but for him, the memory is still very fresh.
"A part of me will always be in Bosnia," said Andy, who was honourably discharged from the Fort Garry Horse in October 1997 as a corporal.

 Andy, a 20-year-old with some kids in Bosnia
He did a six-month tour during the armed conflict, and his wife, Tracy, also a corporal with Fort Garry Horse when she retired, was set to go over, but her tour was cancelled.
The experience as a 20-year-old has stayed with him, every day of his life, and when Remembrance Day approaches, it's a difficult time in the Morgan household.  Andy suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, widely recognized now, but in the late 1990s, it wasn't something that was paid much attention to.
PTSD is very real for both Andy and Tracy and she says her husband's symptoms increase in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day.  And while both recognize it's an important day, they don't participate in any public ceremonies.
Tracy says they simply can't.
"I avoid it, I stay away from it," she says.
"I think it's because it's good for somebody that's never been involved in it to hear stories or to give thanks or just ponder some respect, but for those that have been affected, some find it therapeutic, others find it just the absolute opposite.  I find it the opposite."
Andy, who always watches Remembrance Day on TV, says Tracy's trepidations are about him.
"I think she just wants to shelter me...Remembrance is a good thing, you gotta remember, but for the veterans I think it's hard," he says.
The two met when Andy returned from Bosnia and became a military instructor.  Tracy was the lone female in a class of men who'd signed up for combat arms training.  
Tracy, right, an 18-year-old soldier with her friend Crockette,
pretending to smoke at CFB Wainwright, Alta.
"The first time I saw her was on the firing range, she was 17 years old," he says.
"It was pretty cool to see a woman there, considering she was the only woman in a class of 25 guys.  And then she achieved top candidate.  She's a very good soldier."
Tracy never went overseas, and at the time she really wanted to but the United Nations and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) were rethinking the mission.  Today, she's glad her tour was cancelled.
"Retrospectively I'm quite happy I didn't go over, but when you're young, you want to help out," she says.
Andy's very candid about his reason for joining the army - good pay and a way to get an education.
Now 44, Andy was just 17 when he and a buddy joined after learning about a career in the military at a job fair at Sisler High School.  He enlisted in December 1990 and spent seven years in Reconnaissance with the Fort Garry Horse Regiment.
He went to Bosnia in '94.
"When I enlisted with my buddy, other kids were flipping patties at McDonalds and I thought it would be pretty cool to carry an assault rifle.  You're young and you're stupid, and they're gonna pay you for it and it was good money," he says.
He had four months training at Camp Pendleton in California during the winter before deployment, and though he learned about land mines and booby traps, none of that prepared him for what would really happen in Bosnia.
"They don't tell you about reality.  I mean you know that you're going to see dead bodies," he says.
"I think the hardest part is coming back, and the very next day you're walking down the street and people are just living their life in Canada, and it's just so surreal."
"I still can't walk on the grass without a split second thinking about mines.  And the funny thing is I mow the lawn here at the Legion ... every time I start up that lawn mower, I think about it.  It's not as bad as it used to be, 'cause it's been 20 years since the war."
It's those everyday things that really stay with you, he says.  Like the first time he saw kids in Bosnia run up to his truck with real guns, pulling the trigger and yelling "bang,bang, bang", at him and his partner.  He quickly learned they'd been given the guns - with bullets removed - by their parents because there were no toys.
"I didn't understand why they were using real guns, but toys were so rare, and they didn't have toy guns.  You do what's going on around you, and the war's going on so they're pretending to shoot Serbs or the UN," he says.
"So they come up with real revolvers and they'd be pulling the trigger and you can see it and you're flinching."
Andy was affected by the kids and began giving them candies and pencils, so they could draw.
He was with transport in Bosnia, the heavy lift troop, handling refugee replacement, transporting bodies and convoys into Sarajevo.
Driving was dangerous because of the land mines, and because it was a war zone, even dogs, which ran wild in packs, were a threat to your life.
He says it took him 17 years to join the Legion, mostly because he wanted to avoid talking about his experiences.  But he's now a member at the East St. Paul Legion, and he's glad.  He's made friends, some veterans, some not.
He says when they talk about their was stories, they focus on the funny stuff.  And he does have funny stories too.  He recalls that in Bosnia he and his army buddies used to refer to the Sarajevo Airport as Maybe Airlines, because sometimes they flew, sometimes they didn't.
And then there was the time he was transporting some soldiers to the coast of Croatia for for R&R and they were waiting for a ferry to cross the river, and relieving themselves on the side of the road.
He pointed out that they were all likely irrigating the landmines, which stopped everyone in their tracks.
"It was funny ... everybody turned around at the same time and (continued going) on the concrete.  It wasn't going to blow them up, but it was funny."
Tracy now works for Customs Canada and Andy is a stay-at-home dad, raising their four kids.
"It's the hardest work I've ever done," he says.
He sees a therapist every couple weeks, down from every week, which is good he says, because he's getting better.  His biggest help is his kids, who he calls his "PTSD therapy dogs".
"It was a failed mission what we did, but I think I saved lives ... whether our battalion just being there saved lives, or me personally moving refugees ... I think I saved lives.  It might not have been a lot of lives, but I think I saved some lives," he says.


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