PROLOGUE NEVER GIVE UP
IT WAS 2007. I was a master corporal and sniper team leader in the Canadian Armed Forces. I’d just celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Afghanistan. I’d survived three tours over the course of seven years. I had been preparing for war for my entire adult life. But nothing prepared me for what was about to happen next.
On January 11, a week after my birthday, our three-man elite sniper unit—Barry, Kash and me—led by my boss, Gord, was sent on a mission. We were to intercept Taliban insurgents fleeing the Canadian Forces as we advanced on an Afghan village. We stepped through the wire at Strong Point Centre and headed through the thick mud of a farmer’s field. A while later, we arrived at an opening in a wall leading into the village. I was bringing up the rear and I couldn’t see what was ahead, but Barry could. Barry was my point man and was always razor-sharp.
Two small steps led up to the low entry. Two small steps.
Barry went through the opening first, followed by Gord and Kash, rifles at the ready. They all cleared the entry without issue. I was up next.
I took those two steps up, clearing the entry. In the green glow of my night vision, I saw Kash covering the six o’clock position. I tapped him on the shoulder to signal that I was in position and he moved to follows the others. We always keep ten metres between us when we are moving, just in case something goes wrong.
I sensed Kash moving away from me as I watched our rear for threats. When I felt the right amount of time had passed, I looked over my shoulder to confirm we were keeping the proper spacing. I took one last look at our rear and then turned to follow the team. But as my right foot touched the ground, a massive orange fireball soared across my face. For a few seconds I was floating, weightless, suspended in space and time. I didn’t hear a sound.
The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. My mouth, eyes, ears and nose were full of dirt. I was confused. My night vision was gone. Where was my trusty C-8 carbine? I’d had it at my side for the last five months. And then the pain hit—a pain so intense that it completely overwhelmed my body.
Such a small thing, an anti-personnel land mine—about the size and shape of a thick hockey puck—but full of deadly explosives.
I am not very religious, but they say there are no atheists in foxholes. As I punched the ground as hard as I could, I screamed, “Oh god! Oh god! Oh god!”
My fellow snipers rushed to my side. “Sorry, guys. I just fucked the mission.” At that moment, this was all I cared about.
“Fuck, Jody. Don’t worry about it, man,” Barry said. It was dark. My eyes were full of mud. I tried to look down at my legs but I couldn’t. Barry crouched over me, blocking my view. Whatever was going on with my legs, he didn’t want me to see it.
The next hour was the longest of my life. Your mind goes to the weirdest places in a situation like that. I was so thirsty but refused to drink much. I remembered an episode of M*A*S*H in which
Hawkeye says it’s a bad idea for the severely wounded to chug water. For some reason, in that moment, I chose to take medical advice from a TV show that had been off the air for decades.
With each passing minute, I was growing weaker and weaker. Barry and Gord were both kneeling next to me doing first aid as Kash kept watch for signs of the enemy.
“Do you think I’m going to make it?” I asked.
“Of course you’re going to make it. Never give up, Jody. You know that.”
Never. Give. Up. The phrase repeated over and over in my head. It still does to this day.