Wakes in Prince Albert and the James Smith Cree Nation before funeral Saturday, September 17th.
The family of Earl Burns has released the details of his planned memorial. There was a wake service held today at the Prince Albert Recreation Centre in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Earl’s body will then travel to the James Smith Cree Nation where he will lie in wake until the funeral service on Saturday morning at 11am.
Sgt.(Ret.) Tyson Bowen lost his battle against PTSD.
Last week had been an incredibly long and unbelievably hellish week, filled with tragedy and sadness and death. For myself, I would say that it began over the weekend of the 3rd and 4th when I saw this video posted by veteran Jeremy McKenzie on Instagram. I knew the moment that I watched it that I would be writing about it because what he says is very powerful and moving, and it should be heard by all.
At this point I still wasn’t sure as to who McKenzie was talking about, however, it wasn’t long before the word began to spread within the advocacy community and I discovered who had been lost.
Sgt.(Ret.) Tyson Bowen
Tyson Bowen, founder of retreat for veterans, passes away
Sgt.(Ret.) Tyson Bowen was only 35 years old when he lost his life, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment and served deployments in Afghanistan in 2007 and again in 2010. He was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and medically released in 2018.
Following his release, he returned to rural Pictou County Nova Scotia where he had grown up and would go on to found Real Canadian Recreation. It was a place he envisioned would be an eco-friendly sanctuary, where others like him could go to find healing and solace. His efforts were felt within the community where he had become a respected citizen, and his loss has dealt it a devastating blow.
The shocking suddenness.
He had been in a group conversation with about a dozen other people in the hours before he took his own life, showing no apparent indications that he was in distress. He was, by all accounts sounding happy during that call, and gave no indications whatsoever that he was feeling depressed or suicidal. Overall it had been a positive meeting following the wrap-up of the second Veterans for Healing Song Camp the day before. Only hours after ending that call, Tyson Bowen’s lifeless body was discovered.
Stephen Beardwood was one of the people who were in that meeting. For Beardwood and the others who spoke with him in his final hours, word of his death struck like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. Shock and disbelief initially paralyzed him as his brain struggled to comprehend what it was that he had just heard, as it was subjected to this new and profound psychological trauma. It was still evident when I spoke with him a few days later.
Beardwood, like Tyson Bowen, had attended both songwriting camps in Nova Scotia, and he was at a loss to explain his friend’s sudden passing. He speculates that it may have been that Tyson wasn’t capable of being able to hit the pause button when the thought of suicide once again entered his mind. This often happens to people who were broken in the same way that Tyson was.
Col.(Ret.) Pat Stogran
Pat Stogran attended last year’s songwriting camp. He too was in a state of shock over the passing of Tyson Bowen, going so far as to ask if it was possible that he was murdered because the man he saw last was not one who appeared to be on the brink of suicide.
When I asked him if there was anything that he wanted to say, he sent me this statement:
“The body count for the ineptitude of the chain of command in Operation MEDUSA just went up by one. If anybody is considering joining the Canadian Armed Forces they should understand the risks. No General of Flag Officers have committed suicide, nor have they become advocated for effective veteran care. The military can be a lot of fun until somebody gets hurt! There are better ways of making a living and bringing up a happy healthy family.” I grieve for Tyson’s family. I salute my fallen comrade.”
Col.(Ret.) Pat Stogran
Paying the price.
Yes, the soldier pays the greater part of the bill. His family pays too. They pay it in the same heart-break that he does. As he suffers, they suffer. At nights, as he lay in the trenches and watched shrapnel burst about him, they lay home in their beds and tossed sleeplessly — his father, his mother, his wife, his sisters, his brothers, his sons, and his daughters.
When he returned home minus an eye, or minus a leg or with his mind broken, they suffered too — as much as and even sometimes more than he. Yes, and they, too, contributed their dollars to the profits of the munitions makers and bankers and shipbuilders and the manufacturers and the speculators made. They, too, bought Liberty Bonds and contributed to the profit of the bankers after the Armistice in the hocus-pocus of manipulated Liberty Bond prices.
And even now the families of the wounded men and of the mentally broken and those who never were able to readjust themselves are still suffering and still paying.
War is Hell, Chapter Three – Who Pays the Bills?
The words that Smedley Darlington Butler wrote nearly a century ago ring as true today as they did back then. It is the people like Tyson Bowen and his loved ones who have and are paying the price for somebody else’s war. People like Jeremy McKenzie, Stephen Beardwood, Pat Stogran, and countless others over the years have all paid this price, along with their families.
We ask those people who have volunteered to serve their country to do the heavy lifting whenever their government asks them to. Invariably, said heavy lifting is being done in the furtherance of our foreign policy agenda, though far too often it is done in furtherance of corporate agendas.
That being said, it is incumbent upon ALL of us to not only recognize the efforts of those who served and died but to ensure those people receive proper compensation for having been ordered to pay what can only be described as the ultimate price. Many governments over the years have paid our forces and veterans very short shrift, and WE as Canadians and electors owe it to them to demand better from the governments that we elect.
Meritorious Service Cross (Posthumous).
Typically, the individuals recommended for the Meritorious Service Cross have spent a number of years contributing to the community. There are however circumstances where those who may not have spent as long of a time contributing to the community should be recommended, and based on what I have learned about Tyson Bowen and the impact that he had on others, I would like to recommend him posthumously for the Meritorious Service Cross (Civilian).
Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) recognize achievements in any field, from advocacy and health care services to research and humanitarian efforts. Recipients have tackled poverty in their community, improved education opportunities for children in Canada and abroad, or raised awareness of important causes and issues.
Why not nominate someone today? Anyone can do it, and there is no deadline for submissions.
Think of an eligible candidate and tell us why they should receive one of the Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division). Be sure to outline the specific deed the candidate has done, for how long and the impact of their work on the community.
Gather your candidate’s contact information to support your nomination.
Gather the names and contact information of three references who can speak to the candidate’s achievements.
In order to complete the application, I will need the names and contact information of three references who can speak to Tyson’s achievements. I would ask anyone who would be able to do this to please contact me by email at email@example.com so that I can move forward with this as soon as possible.
Help is out there.
If you are thinking about suicide, I beg of you, please pause for just a moment and consider calling someone. Reach out to your local suicide hotline, call a friend or a buddy, or a family member, but please, please, please, remember the permanence that comes with the loss of life. No matter how dark things are, there is always hope in life.
For those of you who have pledged to do a “Buddy Check”, remember to take the time to do so. If you know someone who you feel may be at risk of suicide, take the time to contact them to do a “Buddy Check”, just to make sure they are doing okay and to let them know that you are around if they need you.
Requiescant in pace aeterna.
Stand down Sgt. Bowen, your tour of duty here is done. May you rest in eternal peace.
To Tyson Bowen’s family and many friends, my deepest condolences to you on this most devastating loss. May you all find peace and healing.
Information is now starting to be released about the victims of the massacre that unfolded in Saskatchewan on the weekend, and one of those killed was a veteran of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, my regimental family. Although it is still early days in the investigation, information released so far would indicate that Earl Burns died following an apparent struggle with his attacker or attackers.
Recommendation for a Posthumous Cross of Valour for Earl Burns and Gloria Burns.
By now, without a doubt, members of the PPCLI regimental family have begun reaching out to Earl Burns’ family to offer their assistance in accordance with the wishes of Earl’s family. I have little doubt that should his family ask, many of his brothers and sisters from other mothers and misters will step up to take care of things.
Now, I would ask for everyone else’s assistance in another matter, specifically,
Based on information released within the last day in the news media, I have reason to believe that EARL BURNS and GLORIA BURNS should each be recommended to receive a posthumous Cross of Valour (Civilian), for their actions on the morning of Sunday, September 4th, 2022, on the James Smith Cree Nation.
Earl Burns — a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces — was also among the 10 killed just before dawn on Sunday when a pair of attackers began entering homes on the James Smith Cree Nation and stabbing those inside.
Deborah McLean, Earl’s sister and a James Smith Cree Nation headwoman, told PA Now on Tuesday that her brother died protecting his family from the knife-wielding attackers. “My brother Earl Burns was a true hero. He fought til the death to protect his family,” she wrote in a message.
I sent the message below to the office of the Governor-General, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, at the above email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. They are in charge of the awarding of Canadian honours and decorations to those who have met the requirements for each individual honour. In addition, I sent carbon copies to email@example.com and the Office of the Privy Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am asking that others do so as well, so I have left a copy of the message below that will only require you to fill out your name, email address, and phone number.
Subject: Posthumous Cross of Valour for Earl Burns and Gloria Burns.
Based on information released within the last day in the news media, I have reason to believe that EARL BURNS and GLORIA BURNS should each be recommended to receive a posthumous Cross of Valour (Civilian), for their actions on the morning of Sunday, September 4th, 2022, on the James Smith Cree Nation.
“Gloria Burns worked in crisis response on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, and was responding to a call for help when she was killed in the attack. “She died helping people. And we have to pick up that torch and carry it,” her brother, Darryl Burns, told Postmedia’s Zak Vescera.”
“Earl Burns — a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces — was also among the 10 killed just before dawn on Sunday when a pair of attackers began entering homes on the James Smith Cree Nation and stabbing those inside.
Deborah McLean, Earl’s sister and a James Smith Cree Nation headwoman, told PA Now on Tuesday that her brother died protecting his family from the knife-wielding attackers. “My brother Earl Burns was a true hero. He fought til the death to protect his family,” she wrote in a message.”
At the present time, I am unable to provide further particulars with regard to this matter, however, I would ask that your department expediently commence an investigation into it in order that a determination is made in the most expedient manner possible.
I have provided a link below to the media article in question in this matter.
My time since the fall of Kabul. – December 2021-January 2022
In mid-December, I received a message from a judge who, like everyone else, was in grave danger and looking for help fleeing the country. Then, in early January, I received a message that would change everything. It was from the judge, though from a new phone number. Upon reading the contents of the message, however, I knew that the judge was in all likelihood dead and that the message was being sent by a member of the Taliban.
Not known for their intelligence, however, the Taliban fail to account for patterns in speech when impersonating others. This particular genius blew it in three ways; first, at no point did the judge ever refer to me as “bro”, second, he also never misspelled the word “lawyer”, and third, at no point in time had I ever mentioned sending my personal information. That’s just not something that is done.
Grab a brain Mullah Meathead!
Hitting the wall.
I had to shut everything down, not only for the safety of the people I was trying to help but also for the sake of my own sanity. I had been going balls to the wall for the better part of seven months, foregoing sleep and food while spending hour upon hour formulating strategies, writing tens of thousands of words, smoking hundreds of cigarettes, and drinking gallons of coffee. I was emotionally drained and near physical exhaustion.
I finally just crawled into bed, and went into shutdown mode, sleeping and mindlessly watching videos on YouTube for the next few weeks.
Fighting an uphill battle against politicians.
I fought hard with my friend Stuart McCarthy as we waged a campaign to grab the attention of our respective governments and the public at large, trying to urge someone into action. We called out the likes of Australia’s Scott Morrison and his Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Justin Trudeau, Jens Stoltenberg from NATO, and “Sleepy” Joe Biden, who really shit the bed on this one in a spectacular manner.
Not only did he flee Afghanistan in the middle of the night when nobody would notice, he decided to leave billions of dollars worth of military hardware behind for the Taliban to use. Out of the complete disappointments and failures that this group is made up of, Joe Biden is by far the biggest one here. So thanks a whole hell of a lot you losers.
A message for Sonny Achakzai.
I don’t know where he is or if he’s even alive, but if he is, it is my fervent hope that Sonny Achakzai suffers for what he and others like him have done. It wasn’t enough for him that his fellow countrymen were exploited when the world came to Afghanistan, he had to get in on the action and exploit them too, leaving thousands for dead at the hands of the Taliban. So, Sonny Achakzai, fuck you too!!
Words and images that stay with you.
This is just a sample of the things that would get sent to me, desperate messages or images depicting the tragedy and suffering of a humanitarian crisis, or the last photos taken of people before they are killed.
There would also be plenty of videos sent my way, much of them graphic and horrific in nature, depicting the various ways the Taliban murdered their victims. Shooting, beheading, beatings, and all manner of brutality were sent to me to demonstrate just how very evil the Taliban were. I really didn’t need the reminders to be aware of this fact.
These are the things that haunt you in the night from time to time, hearing screams of terror and the words “please sir, help us” repeatedly. I have heard the question “why they did this to us?” so very many times and replied with “because they are assholes who used you and your country like toilet paper.”
Hearing the same thing repeatedly, day after day proves to be simply overwhelming. Eventually, it all comes to mean absolutely nothing to you and you feel as though you have started to lose your sense of humanity along the way.
They can’t all be saved.
Dr. Maya Hess was someone whom I could turn to for wise counsel throughout this months-long ordeal. She’s perhaps THE leading advocate for interpreters and translators in the world, but she’s also a very good listener, and I knew that I could rely on her to call me out whenever I started to get a little bit “rough around the edges”.
I messaged her one day, feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated, and told her that I felt as though these people were looking at me like I’m Oskar Fucking Schindler, when in fact I was more like Oscar the Grouch. She reminded me that I wasn’t going to be able to save them all if, in fact, we would be able to save any of them. I needed to shift my focus to trying to save just one because the efforts would be much more productive. We are, after all, human, and only capable of so much.
To those who have been trying to contact me, I’m sorry I suddenly disappeared.
I simply felt that there was likely a substantial risk to my network following the Taliban contact in early January, so I didn’t have time to explain. I have not forgotten you or my pledge to one day tell your stories to the world, and I hope that you will forgive me.
For $25 you get this year’s coin and can virtually walk shoulder-to-shoulder with other Canadians.
Working in partnership with the Order of St. George Grand Priory of Canada and the Americas and True Patriot Love, the 2022 Canadian Walk For Veterans will raise awareness of the plight of translators, interpreters, cultural advisors and other locally employed people who were essential to Canada’s missions in conflicts throughout the world such as the Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan.
Through their invaluable work, war zone interpreters, translators and cultural advisors enabled communication and understanding between parties. There was tremendous pressure on them to interpret accurately, remain calm, make decisions on-the-fly and be objective. As a consequence of their critical work, translators, interpreters and cultural advisors working in conflict zones placed their lives at risk, and, in many instances, were kidnapped, tortured and killed as traitors or prosecuted as spies. “A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), issued in 2018, estimated that an interpreter is killed in a war zone every 36 hours.”
This year the Canadian Walk For Veterans will be taking place over the weekend of September 24th and 25th in a number of cities across the country.
But did you know that you can do the walk virtually again this year? If you don’t live in or near a place that is having an organized walk, you can still contribute by doing the walk virtually, AND you also get this year’s commemorative coin.
Collectors can still get a coin.
A lot of people like participating in events like this in order to add to their coin collections, and this is a great opportunity to get this year’s Canadian Walk For Veterans coin, which features a Canadian soldier standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an interpreter.
Leave No One Behind.
It has been a tough year for a lot of people, and it’s important that we let those who are still in Afghanistan know that we haven’t forgotten about them. We made a promise that no one should be left behind, and some of us intend to uphold that promise to those still there.
November would produce a surprise that I certainly didn’t see coming, but by this point, I don’t think that there was much that could surprise me anymore.
Having stumbled onto something that I thought was pretty big, I figured that I was going to be needing some help because I wasn’t going to be able to do this by myself. I sent emails out to a number of organizations that I was hoping might want to run with this, but to no avail. That said it really shouldn’t have come as a great surprise either considering the subject matter. Below are some excerpts from this email.
For the last six months, I have been writing about the Afghan LEC crisis and have recently been involved in efforts to keep those who are still in Afghanistan safe and to ultimately try to get them to safety.
I became aware that a number of former LECs had been trying in vain to contact their former employer, International Management Services Inc. (IMS), in an effort to obtain proof of employment in order to apply for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVS) in Canada and the United States. These LECs were considered to be at risk because they had received threats of Taliban retribution for having worked for the West. Unfortunately, they were unable to provide any proof that they had served and were thus turned down for a SIV, leaving them trapped in Afghanistan and in very grave danger.
Last week I began an investigation into IMS and its owner, Sonny Achakzai, and although it is not yet complete, I have gathered enough information to come to the conclusion that this will require an investigation beyond what I am capable of given my very limited resources. I am therefore sending this to you to see if you might want to collaborate with me on this. The focus of my investigation is to attempt to determine:
– did Sonny Achakzai commit fraud against the Government of the United States, and
– did his actions contribute to the deaths of any former LECs
My investigation so far has primarily consisted of research, however, I have conducted an interview with a former LEC who was also employed by IMS.
I conducted extensive online research and was able to find the following information:
Sonny Achakzai’s only social media presence appears to be a private Instagram account.
IMS and Sonny Achakzai were mentioned in Canadian newspaper articles, which reveal that IMS employed approximately 1,200 interpreters in 2008 and that there had been issues between the company and its interpreters with regard to immigration to Canada. The articles, which contain quotes from Achakzai, identify him as the owner of IMS.
A search of corporate records in the US shows that there are a number of entities that have been registered under the name International Management Services, IMS, or some variation of the name. There are some commonalities among them such as the offices in Rumford, Maine, as well as email addresses (imservicesinc.com). Sonny Achakzai’s name doesn’t appear in any corporate records or documentation, and it would appear as though cutouts or strawmen are being used.
There are at least two Facebook groups dedicated to former IMS employees who have been unable to contact the company for proof of employment. They appear to have been without any activity since approximately 2015.
As luck would have it, I found a website belonging to the Jelani Group Companies in Afghanistan which has a page under “Projects” in which they showcase their “BAGRAM” project, in conjunction with a company called Worldwide Language Resources. In it, they identify the owner of Worldwide as email@example.com. This email address is consistent with others known to belong to WWLR employees. I can only assume that Mr. Achakzai is not aware that this information is disclosed on the Jelani website.
I also conducted an interview with a former employee of IMS who is currently still in Afghanistan, so for his safety, I will refer to him as “Muhammad”. He first contacted me in the early morning hours of August 28th (Mountain time), at around the same time that the last flights were leaving Kabul. I asked him about how things worked with IMS, first as far as when he was first hired. He told me that he met with someone who was either a manager or team leader and that this person was the one who presented Muhammad with a contract. He didn’t receive a copy of the contract for himself. I asked about when and how he was paid, and he told me that they were paid at the end of every month. They would have to go to the IMS compound, where they would be paid by a member of IMS management. There was a list with everyone’s names on it, and they would have to sign beside their name. They would then be paid in cash the sum of US$600 for the month. It actually works out to US$20 per day, as he tells me that they would make more in months with 31 days and less in February with 28 days, but for all intents and purposes, it was US$600 per month. They did not give him a pay slip, receipt, or any other type of documentation memorializing the transaction.
I then asked him what he could tell me about Sonny Achakzai, and he didn’t have much good to say about the man. Muhammad told me that on one occasion, Achakzai called a meeting with the interpreters, a meeting that was also attended by a delegation that included a number of high-ranking US officers, he wasn’t able to provide any information as to ranks or branch of service. He stated that during the meeting Achakzai told the interpreters that if they were ever asked by a Canadian how much they were making, they were to say that they were making $1,400 per month.
He also told me that he heard about an incident that occurred in the Zhari district in which an interpreter who was working for the Canadians was killed on the job. The Canadian government was going to pay the family of the interpreter $60,000, but they never saw a nickel of it. Al told me that this was fairly common knowledge in the Zhari district.
While I cannot definitively state anything at this moment, given the evidence at hand I can say that there is a high probability that the following has taken place:
that Sonny Achakzai perpetrated a fraud against the United States government, and then later acted to conceal it,
that IMS did not perform any kind of record keeping whatsoever, meaning that there will be no record of anyone having been employed there,
that as a result, an unknown number of people have been unable to obtain a SIV, resulting in their lives being put in jeopardy due to Taliban retribution,
that a number of individuals have lost their lives as a result, and more will in the future.
What I can say is that this matter warrants further investigation, in order to determine whether or not this hypothesis is correct.
At the moment, I am both a journalist and an advocate, and there are times when their interests will not always be the same. I must always consider myself to be an advocate first and a journalist second, the stakes in this instance are simply too high to do otherwise.
As this has an effect on interpreters serving all NATO countries, I felt that it was important that you were aware of the situation at hand.
“Achakzai called a meeting with the interpreters, a meeting that was also attended by a delegation that included a number of high-ranking US officers.“
This was my reaction upon being told this information because I knew that it could only mean one thing; there was a pretty good probability that Sonny Achakzai was an asset belonging to someone in US Intelligence. Which of the agencies isn’t really clear, but it didn’t really matter which one it was. I had really stepped in it this time, and it was really not something that I had been particularly looking for.
I was trying to get people the hell out of Afghanistan, not uncover American intelligence assets or rampant fraud against the United States Government, it just happened to work out that way. I had enough shit to deal with in my life as it was, I sure as hell didn’t want or need any of this nonsense.
It also left me disgusted at the fact that the “left-behinds” weren’t only getting screwed by NATO, they were getting it twice as bad from their own people. It didn’t come as any great surprise as there were plenty of stories like this circulating.
Payoffs are being offered.
Among the many messages that I was receiving, there were a few from guys who owned their own businesses or who came from well-to-do families, and I was offered compensation by some of them. I was told on at least a couple of occasions by different people that they had plenty of assets which could be liquidated and would be more than happy to send some of it my way if it would mean that they would be getting a little bit further ahead in the whole process than someone who had waited for a great deal longer.
If someone wanted to throw me a parade and give me a large cash reward for what I was doing, great, no problem. If however, you as someone in need of help should offer me a large cash payment to help “grease the wheels” for you to get out of Dodge, I wouldn’t accept a nickel of your damn money. That isn’t what I’m doing this for and if you don’t understand that, well, too bad.
Suspected contact by Pakistani intelligence.
I had also received a message from someone who I suspected was a member of Pakistan’s ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence. While I couldn’t be absolutely positive, I knew that the possibility did exist that they might try to message me, along with Taliban agents, so I needed to be careful. By the end of November, I figured that I had several intelligence agencies from around the globe crawling up my ass. This was definitely not the way I had envisioned my life ever turning out.
My time since the fall of Kabul. August-October 2021.
I have decided to write about some of the experiences that I had over the last year, particularly with regard to Afghanistan.It will be a five-part series, with Part One about the months of August to October 2021. Part Two will cover November 2021, Part Three December and January, Part Four will cover January through May 2022 with Part Five covering June 2022 to the present day.This will not be a comprehensive retrospective, but rather a look back at some of the highlights from this period.
For many people August 15th is the anniversary of the “Black Day” in Afghanistan, the day the Taliban entered Kabul. For me, the “Black Day” wouldn’t come for another 11 days, which is how long it took the Taliban to take Hamid Karzai International Airport, and with it complete control over Afghanistan.
One year on from these events, I am sharing with you for the first time some of what went on during this time.
August 25-26, 2021
After entering Kabul, It had taken the Taliban another eleven days to finally take the airport and claim ultimate victory, so why they chose the 15th to celebrate doesn’t make much sense. It would be like celebrating VE Day on April 23rd, the day the Red Army had completely surrounded Berlin.
The days that marked the end as far as I am concerned were August 25th and 26th, culminating with the fall of Hamid Karzai International Airport and the final flight out of Kabul on Thursday, August 26th, 2021. I remember it all too well because that was when I received the first of many more messages to come from a number of people in Kabul.
8/26/21, 3:31 AMMountain Daylight Time
I was awake when the message came in, keeping an eye on developments in Kabul as they were happening. The sender was from Kabul, and I had a dreadful feeling about what this could possibly be about. They were likely desperate and in a panic, trying to get the hell out of Kabul and hoping that I would be able to help.
Having allegedly packed the contents of the Afghan treasury into a set of matching luggage, in cold hard US Dollars, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had only hours before fled the country for the UAE.
The media was reporting that the last flight out of Hamid Karzai International Airport had left about three hours before I got the message from Kabul. Whoever it was that was sending me the message was now stuck, and there would be nothing that I or anyone else could do about it anymore.
Answering a plea for help.
I replied to the message and was soon engaged in a conversation that was going pretty much the way I had anticipated. I decided that I would call him Al since it was considerably shorter and easier to pronounce than his real name. He told me his story, that he had once worked as an interpreter for Canadian Forces personnel but he hadn’t received a letter of recommendation which would have verified his employment. This was necessary if he was to be approved for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to come to Canada.
I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to be able to help this poor guy out, beyond offering him a few suggestions.
By this point in the conversation, I was starting to get more incoming message traffic from Kabul so I left the conversation for about ten minutes or so in order to check the other messages.
Immediately upon seeing this message from him, I burst into tears. I still have trouble looking at it to this day without wanting to cry. He had already been abandoned by Canada, just as thousands of others had been left behind by us and practically every other country to send troops to Afghanistan. He had been betrayed once by Canada, I couldn’t let that happen to him again, it just wasn’t right. I promised him that I would do whatever I could to help him and that I wouldn’t abandon him. I also decided to call him Al because it was way easier than his given name, which he was quite okay with.
From journalist to advocate.
I knew that I would have to make a choice at that moment, to be a journalist or to be an advocate because it wouldn’t be possible for me to be both at once. It was a pretty easy choice to make, considering the fact that there were a number of lives on the line. I had to act as an advocate for the people who had reached out to me looking for help because there was probably nobody else that they could turn to.
I had no idea what to do or who to turn to with this. This was something that the government would normally be taking care of, only the government was the root cause of this problem in the first place. All I knew was that this was DEFINITELY way above my pay grade, and I was going to have to be very careful from this point forward. People’s lives were suddenly in my hands, and I had to think very carefully about whatever moves that I would be making in the future.
August 29th, 2021
It had been several days since I had heard from Dave Lavery, the man who had been my contact in Kabul for several months, but on the 29th I finally received a message from him. I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, hearing that he had managed to get out of Kabul with the Germans on the very last flight out. He had ordered the rest of his team out of the country beforehand, so it was only him left, with his brave wife Junping by his side.
He told me that he hadn’t slept in days, but they had been successful in helping a number of people escape.
He would be spending a little bit of time in Germany to rest and recuperate.
After spending days walking untold miles back and forth without rest, Dave’s feet were simply thrashed and in need of medical attention.
On the 9th of September, I would find out exactly what Dave had been through during those final days in Kabul. “Canadian Dave” as he had come to be known was instrumental in saving over 100 lives, along with many more saved lives credited to the members of his team.
Vetting an interpreter.
Anyone hoping to come to Canada on a Special Immigrant Visa would need to be thoroughly vetted as part of the process, so it only stood to reason that I should be performing my due diligence. I would of course want to know myself that anyone I was proposing to come to my country wouldn’t want to start blowing things up as soon as they got here.
I asked Al a number of questions about the time he had worked for Canadian troops, and, despite a little bit of a language barrier, I was able to put some things together. I then had to attempt to find someone who was there at the same time that Al was, in the hopes that I would be able to find someone who might be able to identify him as being there. After a few days, I was able to find someone who, despite not recognizing Al himself, was able to confirm as genuine the information that Al had given me.
Not only interpreters.
By the middle of September, the messages that were coming in were from more than interpreters and the other former Locally Employed Civilians (LECs). Now there were human rights activists, journalists, artists, academics, and even a former member of Ashraf Ghani’s staff contacting me.
Formulating a standard response.
I felt like I was going to be needing an introductory script to send to anyone looking for my help. It would need to contain such items as:
I am going to try to help you, however, you need to realize that in all probability I might not be able to. I won’t mince words here, your situation is dire and the odds are stacked up against you, however, if there is even the slightest chance that I can help you to stay alive, it’s slightly better than a zero chance, but still a chance. I cannot in any way guarantee success because everything is pretty much completely beyond my ability to control.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) whenever you communicate so as to make it difficult for the Taliban to track you. Also, stay off social media and make sure to delete ALL messages that you may send me. You should have NO ENGLISH on your phone whatsoever, the Taliban are checking.
You will need to remain inconspicuous, so men should refrain from shaving and women wear a burqa in public.
Men should check all of their identification to see if there are any pictures of them wearing a necktie. Any such identification must be destroyed, as it can and will prove to be problematic should the Taliban see it.
Compassion fatigue begins to set in.
By the end of October, I had started to notice that I was starting to exhibit the signs of “compassion fatigue”. I had been sent numerous messages from people who were for the most part hiding somewhere in Kabul. They all tended to start out the same, with an introduction followed by a statement about how bad things were in Afghanistan. I realized that the people sending me the messages weren’t aware to what extent I knew how bad things were in Kabul, but after a while, it all started to sound the same to me.
Along with some of the horror stories I was being told, I was also getting plenty of pictures. Pictures of people’s children were popular, in the hopes that they might somehow tug at my heartstrings and inspire me to help them. It got to the point that I just couldn’t look at another picture of a child, along with the occasional accompanying plea to save them lest they have to sell their children.
There were plenty of other pictures as well, pictures that laid out in very graphic detail what would await some people should the Taliban catch up with them. There was no way to authenticate the sources of any of these pictures, but what was authentic enough were the gruesome images that they depicted.
“You’re a journalist, you can help.”
For some reason, a lot of people seemed to think that journalists are possessed of some special kind of powers, the powers to do things that absolutely nobody else on Earth can do. What they didn’t understand was that even if I was some kind of “super” journalist, like Edward R. Murrow, Mike Wallace, and Woodward & Bernstein all rolled into one, I still wouldn’t be able to help. The only thing I could do was to refer them to the organizations that I knew were handling
Al Cameron honours the 158 Canadians who fell in Afghanistan.
Al Cameron, the driving force behind Veteran’s Voices, unveiled the special limited edition Veteran’s Voices of Canada commemorative coin. Remembering the 158 Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, this coin would look great in your collection.
A limited number of coins will be sold for $35 each, which includes shipping, and will come in its own decorative display box. Etransfer to firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and email address in the message box, please.
Support Al and Veteran’s Voices of Canada, as he works to keep our history and the stories of our heroes alive.
From a Facebook post made Sept. 20, 2019, by ADF veteran Dave Whitfield.
I was absolutely touched by this story, first sent to me by Alison Whitfield. Again, these are Dave’s original words and I haven’t made any edits to this.
THIS IS MY LIFE.
In 1997 I joined the Australian ARMY. In 2001 I was deployed to East Timor on warlike operations as a medic, I was beyond excited and was extremely proud to serve our country as we aided East Timor gain independence from Indonesia. When we first got in country we were told that we HAD to be involved in a malaria prophylaxis drug trial or be sent back home to Australia. As you could imagine nobody rejected the trial. The drug was Mefloquine. We were told that we could expect extremely vivid dreams for a week or so, Everyone’s dreams were extremely violent terrifying horror that was so vivid and so real.
The dreams never ever stopped nearly 20 years later and I hate going to sleep as the nightmares intrude when you’re awake. It’s extremely hard to tell the difference between reality and dream world. It was within the next year or so that I was discharged for medical reasons. My wife left and took my 5 children with her. Years and years of suicide attempts severe depression and psychotic events Extreme pain in every part of my body I can never get comfortable as every part of my body has to be moved as I can not be in one position for very long at all.
I suffer EXTREME seizures 2 to 5 or more times a week. Sometimes they last well up to the 10 min mark. If I’m lucky they last 4-5 minutes, I am fully aware during this. The pain is excruciating I have to try to remember to breathe. When I try to speak it’s just mumbling. My body jerks so violently that my already painful body is screaming at me the pain is so severe. When they stop I’m completely exhausted crying and hurting like fuck and I soon pass out cold where the nightmares continue and again I’m fighting for my life as I kick and thrash around all night.
When I wake my body doesn’t want to work my brain is mush. My hands which don’t work the best near refuse to do anything I have to be told what to do every moment for hours sometimes all day I forget what I’m talking about mid-sentence. Completing any task no matter how trivial is impossible. Remembering to eat shower go to the toilet any task is impossible. I have to be led around like I’m a little kid. As I am a man this makes me feel utterly useless and depression kicks in which leads to full-blown psychosis. My nightmares and reality are blurry to one. I’ve been prescribed anti-psychotics anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication and MS Contin morphine.
My lungs are ruined so I take meds for emphysema. I haven’t worked since I got out if the ARMY in 2004. I was once an extremely confident outgoing fit hard working man. Those days are long gone as I barely leave home. Going to doctors’ appointments I have to be taken and supervised by my wife Alison. An amazing lady who somehow loves and cares for me even though I can be extremely high maintenance with mood swings so severe they happen instantly for no reason. I can be the most loving to the most evil C@&t faster than Superman. Most days I have no idea who I am and I’m always whispering to myself to help me remember what it is I’m supposed to be doing. My memory is near nonexistent. My speaking hearing and eyesight are also badly affected plus so many other things too numerous to mention.
The untried drug they tested us with has killed so many of my mates through suicide the ones who are still with us are all distant shells of the once fit proud young men and women. This drug stole our lives and ruined them. I’m 47 and I haven’t worked in nearly 16 years. My symptoms are progressing so so fast that life at times is almost unbearable. They gave us this drug so they could earn hundreds of millions of dollars. The Australian defence force has offered no help no aid no compassion nothing. When I was discharged I was given a paycheck of $125 and a list of homeless shelters not even a thank you. I’m a veteran I deserved so much more. The government has to be held accountable for its actions. They are responsible for the lives that were destroyed and or taken. They robbed us of life. Without the help of my amazing wonderful loving wife I would no longer be here writing this. Alison my Funkin I love you so much I appreciate everything you have done for me. I pray that someday soon I will finally meet a specialist who will finally get me on the right treatment and pain management. Every day is a struggle for survival to try and see another tomorrow.
When I first ventured into the realm of veteran’s advocacy over three years ago, there were people who had doubts that I would stick around for very long, like a lot of others have done before. They had seen it many, many times. At that point, I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be around for very long, not for lack of passion on my part, but for lack of the money to be able to continue further.
Over three years on, I’m still around and have accomplished a lot of things, thanks in very large part to a group of benefactors whom I refer to as my “guardian angels”. They have allowed me to pursue something that has not only provided me with a great sense of self-fulfillment but has also saved some lives. It has given me the chance to make a real difference in the lives of others.
I started a not-for-profit media company.
In those early days, I came to realize that the only way these stories were going to get told is if there was a separate media outlet to tell them on. There simply wasn’t enough interest on the part of the corporate media to run many of these stories, especially in Canada where the corporate media is now beholden to the federal government for millions of dollars in annual funding. They aren’t likely to be wanting to bite the hand that feeds them so very well.
From that point, I began to form a vision of what such an independent media outlet might look like, and how it would operate. After having a conversation with Stephen Beardwood at Veteran’s House Charity, things all started to fall into place, and soon after I started a not-for-profit media company and had a partner in Veteran’s House Charity.
I had and have a vision for Invictus Bellator Media Corporation (IBMedia Corp.), that one of its primary functions will be to share news and information with veterans in Canada and around the world. Much of this news and information will be related to the health and wellness of veterans, as well as legal issues that may impact them. By actively working to spread mefloquine awareness as much as possible, a number of lives will be saved, and/or people will see an improvement in the quality of their lives because of it.
Veteran’s House Charity
Veterans House helps provide funding and or development tools through partnerships to established NFP’s or organizations who want to connect with Veterans House Charity and its partners to provide programs or services for Veterans’ Mental Health and/or First Responders.
Veteran’s House Charity
Stephen Beardwood and the team at VHC worked incredibly hard, jumped through innumerable hoops, and had to meet a very strict set of criteria, but they would be able to give tax receipts for donations that were to be directed to one of its partner organizations, IBMedia being one of them.
You can get a Canadian tax receipt for your donation.
How to donate:
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to IBMedia, simply click Donate today below and you will be taken to the page on the VHC website where you can make donations.
Then, in the Order notes (optional) section, state that you would like your donation to be directed to IBMedia.
Note: tax receipts will only be issued to Canadian taxpayers or Canadian ex-pats who pay Canadian income taxes.
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