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Injured soldier's story shines light on Afghan mission

AS journalist Christie Blatchford points out on the cover of March Forth, "Just about every war reporter in the country has had a go" at telling the horrifying story of Capt. Trevor Greene's nearly fatal injury in Afghanistan.

Now it is Greene's turn, with his wife. What a story they tell.

In 2006 Greene, a journalist with two non-fiction books under his belt, was serving as a member of the Canadian Forces reserves.

With colleagues from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, he was meeting village elders, having removed his helmet in the traditional demonstration of respect.

Greene had just begun speaking when a Taliban-influenced teenager ran up behind him and split his head with an axe -- "a Stone Age tool," his wife and co-author Debbie Greene calls it.

Six years later, Trevor Greene has disproved the pessimistic diagnoses of a veritable army of medical staff. Last year he stood at his wedding to Debbie, and his goal is to walk again.

Trevor Greene was "all but dismissed by a medical and military system that assumed his grievous wounds were too much for anyone," Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's former chief of defence staff, acknowledges in the foreword to March Forth.

With Hillier's frank assessment setting the tone, Trevor and Debbie Greene alternate telling the story.

Trevor's lively writing carries the book. Describing an early experience in Canada's Navy, he writes: "My berth was a sleeping bag on a small plastic mattress that rested on a rack chained to the side of the ship -- basically a steel slab about the size of an autopsy table."

And how many soldiers would claim Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem as inspiration for their writing, as he does?

Trevor Greene's agonizing recovery occupies much of the book. Debbie Greene describes his treatments in detail: the traditional ones, alternative therapies such as reflexology and "distant energy," and traditional Chinese medicine.

Photos attest to his painful recovery.

The authors name many helpful medical and military staff in Afghanistan, Germany and Canada, but they leave anonymous the handful of helpers who did harm, including a "brutal" nurse and a therapist who accidentally broke Trevor's leg.

Such details elevate the book from heart-warming to convincing.

So too does Trevor Greene's troubled assessment of the results of nine years of Canadian civilian and military activities in Afghanistan.

Although some religious restrictions on women have decreased, and water flows again in some irrigation canals, "it's impossible to predict what NATO will achieve in Afghanistan."

He even brands as "misguided" the Canadian government's decision to reassign troops from peace-building to counter-insurgency fighting in the deadly Kandahar region.

But he notes, "My country had looked after me well since the injury."

The last few months have brought at least two other compelling pieces of storytelling about the war that has claimed the lives of 158 members of the Canadian Forces and four civilians.

Journalist Murray Brewster's book The Savage War: The Untold Battles of Afghanistan spells out the centuries-old tribal conflicts and the drug trade that make the insurgency intractable.

Lt.-Col. Mike Vernon, a reservist with the Calgary Highlanders, reveals our men and women in action, up close and memorably personal, in a 60-minute video documentary Desert Lions: Canadian Forces Mentors in Kandahar.

With March Forth, these accounts demand the attention of Canadians trying to understand what has gone so badly wrong in Afghanistan.


Duncan McMonagle teaches journalism at Red River College and writes the Information Tsunami blog at Follow him on Twitter @dmcmonagle

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 J8

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