Warrior Rising: A Soldier’s Journey to PTSD and Back (RCAF Journal - FALL 2014 - Volume 3, Issue 4 - Book Reviews)

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Cover of Warrior Rising: A Soldier’s Journey to PTSD and Back By Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Linford

Warrior Rising: A Soldier’s Journey to PTSD and Back

By Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Linford

Victoria: Friesen Press, 2013
384 pages
ISBN 1-4602-1992-9-8

Review by Captain Karen Falck

The mental health of active-duty members and war veterans has become a growing concern in Canadian society, with new data finding that eight per cent of personnel who deployed in support of the mission in Afghanistan were diagnosed with mission-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[1] The Canadian government has recently gone to great lengths in advertising the resources and services available to the Canadian Forces and their families. While this campaign is spreading much-needed awareness to the public and the affected members, there still remains a shroud of stigma and a fear of speaking up. Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Linford (Retired) pries the lid off the unmentionable in his memoir Warrior Rising.

Linford served 24 years in the Canadian Forces Health Services branch and has been medically released since the book was published. He served in the Gulf War in 1991 and Rwanda in 1994, after which he developed PTSD that took almost 10 years to be identified. After treatment, he was deemed well enough to deploy to Afghanistan in 2010. The witnessing of grotesque death and disfigurement caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) led him back to severe PTSD. After another year and a half of intense therapy using Canadian Forces resources, Linford was able to face the horrific details of his experiences and document them. The book is meant to bring to light what a military member can experience during deployments as well as the potential impact this has on the health and wellness of the member and their family. It is aimed primarily at veterans with operational stress injuries (OSIs) as encouragement to seek help early, so that they can return to health and happiness. Secondly, it is for the families to better understand and help their loved ones. And finally, it is for the Canadian public, as it unveils the mystery surrounding this invisible illness.

The book is autobiographical in nature and, as such, is written in the first person. The informal prose is well suited for the primary audience, as it exudes the feeling of a trusted friend sharing their story. The book is divided into five chronological parts and includes a section of photos as well as a glossary of military and medical terms. Much of the focus is on his tours in Rwanda and Afghanistan, since these are the experiences that affected him the most.

Parts One and Two are preliminary, describing his pre-military background and time in the First Gulf War. He considers these experiences mere “blips” on the radar, written to portray that his upbringing and early life were trouble-free. Part Three marks the commencement of Linford’s traumatic experiences, as he recounts his time in Rwanda, Africa, during Operation PASSAGE. Linford was a member of a reconnaissance group that was tasked to find a suitable location for providing medical care to the local population. He remained at this hospital well after the expected maximum tour length of 90 days. Linford discusses the understandable logistical problems and culture shock inherent in the start of an operation. I am shocked by the scenes depicted of the desperate, emaciated population; the multitude of dead bodies; and the little children that the unit tried to help but often couldn’t. Years after Linford’s return, the emotional damage caught up to him. He sought the help of the still-developing mental-health services and was given medication and weekly psychologist appointments. He asserts that, although this allowed him to manage his symptoms, he did not truly recover from the disorder. Following a year of therapy, he was re-assessed as deployable.

He describes in Part Four his experience in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as executive officer for a Role 3 combat surgical hospital, what he calls “the icing on the cake.” In addition to the usual stresses of deployment, he spends his seven-month tour witnessing numerous IED casualties. These included American and Canadian soldiers as well as innocent civilians. Linford’s defining moment was seeing a young soldier brought in with a fatal IED injury; this soldier bore a striking resemblance to Linford’s son, who at that time was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Despite incorporating a resilience routine including physical training and yoga, his mental health deteriorated past the point of return. He continued the tour until the end, knowing that it would be a personal sacrifice for the greater good of the mission.

The author advocates that reading Part Five is the top priority for veterans. This section is a detailed account of Linford’s therapy and recovery from his returning PTSD. He describes his experiences with scientifically proven therapy methods and resources offered by the Canadian Forces. Linford’s realistic example of non-linear progress offers the truth that it might get worse before it gets better. With the aid of his mental-health team and persistent hard work, Linford is now enjoying a healthy, peaceful, fulfilled life, despite his struggle with PTSD.

This book contains many inspiring anecdotes of support from family, friends, peers, subordinates and supervisors. It is written with honesty, humour and hope. Be forewarned, however, that the author paints a high-definition picture of the horrors of war, and certain passages may be emotionally difficult to read.

Linford insists that although the Canadian Forces now has a strong support system, stigma delays and discourages injured members from reaching out for the help they so desperately need. Like many injuries and illnesses, the earlier it is recognized and treated, the easier it is to treat, and the better the chance of full recovery. I highly recommend Warrior Rising to anyone struggling with their mental health and well-being, as this book can inspire you to have the courage to come forward.


Captain Karen Falck is an aerospace control officer currently working at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Space Science from the Royal Military College of Canada and served in Operations PODIUM, CADENCE and ENDURING FREEDOM.

Abbreviations

 

IED―improvised explosive device

PTSD―post-traumatic stress disorder

 

Note

1. “Executive Summary for the Report on Cumulative Incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Other Mental Disorders,” Canada, Department of National Defence, accessed August 19, 2014, http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/about-reports-pubs-health/cumulative-incidents-exec-summary.page.  (return)

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