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A voice for individual soldier

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/11/2011 (3188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Patrol

Ryan Flavelle (above) describes the realities of modern war.

Ryan Flavelle (above) describes the realities of modern war.

Seven Days in the Life

of a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan

By Ryan Flavelle

HarperCollins, 251 pages, $30

Corp. Ryan Flavelle was a 24-year-old reservist and student at the University of Calgary when he signed up for a tour in Afghanistan as a radio operator with the 2nd Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

He spent seven long months in the dusty, war-torn country. The Patrol is his frank and thoughtful retelling of seven pivotal days in July 2008, when he and his platoon stepped beyond the wire for a gruelling patrol that would fundamentally change who he was as a Canadian, a soldier and a man.

Flavelle describes the realities of this modern war with unapologetic candor. The heat and boredom of base camp, the fear and strangeness of walking through known landmine territory with enemies potentially lurking behind every wall: it all comes alive in this memoir of sorts.

When describing the eeriness of the line of soldiers snaking its way through the poppy, grape and marijuana fields that dot the landscape, Flavelle is at his finest.

One particular night, his platoon passes peacefully by a tentful of Afghan men smoking hash. "I feel as though we are separated by more than a wadi (a desert well)," Flavelle writes. "We are separated by the weight of our different traditions, histories, and purposes."

As a reservist, Flavelle is an ideal narrator to make the unfamiliarity of military life more relatable to civilian readers. He explains the ostracism he felt when trying to fit in with the regular forces guys during smoke breaks or intramurals. He explains that the infamous vulgarity of soldiers' language is a form of bonding and linguistic freedom (though none of their choice phrases can be reprinted here).

As an intellectual, he interlaces the retelling of his patrol with deeper musings on the army, war, love, heroism and mortality. He ruminates also on racism, explaining that it's an unfortunate and prevalent byproduct of going to war in a foreign country.

"A latent, seldom expressed, smouldering racism that grew within me as the tour progressed is still a part of who I am," Flavelle admits, "which is a difficult thing for me to come to grips with."

He struggles to reconcile this intolerance that is misaligned with the traits we Canadians typically pride ourselves on, and he crafts an affecting narrative of war's consequences.

Despite being the most connected generation to ever go to war, the men in Flavelle's company felt a disconnect from their loved ones back home, partly due to military protocol, partly from a desire to protect their families from worry, and also from an inability to convey their emotions.

"I don't want to describe the danger I'm in at the present moment," Flavelle explains. "I don't think that [my parents] can even understand the situation I am facing. They don't have any context with which to understand my experiences, and I don't feel like giving it to them."

He gives his readers plenty of context, though, as he takes them on a stark, emotional roller-coaster.

On one page, Flavelle is proud to belong to the Canadian army; he feels strong, healthy and fulfilled. On another, "I feel exhausted and angry. It's as if the strength and pride I'd gained on the patrol was stolen from me in that grape field, and for the first time I wish I had never come on this patrol."

While Flavelle's greatest accomplishment with The Patrol is to give a voice to the individual soldier, he is also careful to remember who this book is really about. The photos of fallen soldiers were hung outside command post.

"We all carry those faces with us on patrol, and we try to make sure that their sacrifice was not made in vain."

Jennifer Ryan is a Winnipeg writer.


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Updated on Saturday, November 12, 2011 at 9:41 AM CST: Adds fact box

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