Brothers in war, brothers in recovery

Cpl. Greg Linton (l) and Cpl. Jordan Abraham (r).

Must read

CFB PETAWAWA – Cpl. Greg Linton has a bum shoulder and a noticeable limp.

Cpl. Jordan Abraham would trade places with him in heartbeat.

The two young men barely knew each other until their lives took nearly identical turns one year apart in Afghanistan. Two roadside bomb blasts nearly killed them. The explosions broke their bones, jeopardized their military careers and catapulted them into the glacial world of rehabilitation and recovery.

They were never trained for this, and soldiering is not a job for broken bodies. But a brotherhood was forged one day when Linton, a square-jawed soldier with red hair and glasses arrived at Abraham’s bedside in an Ottawa hospital.

One year on, Abraham watches from a supply room at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa as Linton heads out on exercises and training, and he hopes to be able to join him soon.

“I’m still a young guy. I’m strong. I can try to get over it. That’s what I’m doing now,” Abraham said. “But what do (the doctors) know? It’s my own body. If I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”

What the then 27-year-old went through on the night of Nov. 20, 2009 might have killed many others.

The baby-faced soldier was driving a 15-tonne Coyote armoured vehicle in a convoy under the cover of darkness, just one month into his first deployment to Kandahar.

They came across a culvert in the road and stopped to check for hidden Taliban bombs. But it was late and they were in a rush. Abraham was ordered to move forward, so he did, and then everything went black.

“I thought I was dead. It was pretty bad, and I kept going in and out of consciousness. I had never had an injury like that in my life. I knew I was in trouble,” he said.

A helicopter evacuated him to the hospital at Kandahar Airfield. He had broken his back. His hip was fractured and flattened. He suffered burns and lost some teeth. He also smashed his tailbone, an all-too common injury for drivers who are squeezed into a claustrophopic hatch at the front of the vehicles.

After surgeries in Germany and Ottawa, doctors set him up in a vice-like brace to reset the bones in his hip. Abraham describes it as a Christmas-tree stand, though “not nearly as fun.”

His bones were healing quickly. But frustration, boredom and guilt came fast too.

“I went there to do a job. I never really got a chance to do what I wanted to do,” he said. “We’re talking about the most frustrating thing in my life right now.”

When reports emerge from Afghanistan of a roadside bomb blast, or of injured soldiers, military communities across the country go on high alert. It was no different in Petawawa, home to more than 6,000 soldiers, when Abraham was hit.

The news brought back a year’s worth of memories for Linton. Then it sent him running to Abraham’s bedside to help a comrade who had suffered nearly identical injuries performing the same job.

The 23-year-old from New Hamburg, Ont., was driving the lead vehicle in an early morning convoy in late October 2008 when he ran over an improvised explosive device.

“When I woke up I couldn’t really feel anything from my chest down. It was kind of just numb and I couldn’t see because my eyes were full of sand,” he said. “I felt like there was something extremely heavy on me.”

Doctors in Kandahar set Linton’s broken jaw in theatre, but the “laundry list” of damage to his body wasn’t known until he reached the U.S. military hospital in Germany. There were fractured bones in his neck and broken bones in his hip, tailbone and shoulder.

“I was extremely close to being paralyzed. They didn’t actually know how bad it was until they went in to do the surgery,” he said.

Canadian doctors located elsewhere in Europe watched the surgery through a live video feed and sent word of its success back home to his family.

Linton’s brother, Jeremy, who is currently in Afghanistan with the Royal Canadian Regiment, spread the news with friends on Facebook soon after.

“After his surgery was done they woke him up to see if he could move his feet and he did!!” he wrote. “He has more hardware in him than your local Canadian Tire but, hey, he’s okay and my brother is going to walk and do his little jig again.”

It was nowhere near that simple.

Linton was in hospital for two months, first at Toronto’s Sunnybrook, then back to Kitchener, where he could be closer to family. He didn’t start walking until after Christmas. He was reliant on others for everything from showers to transportation until the spring. He returned in June to Petawawa, but only to continue his physiotherapy.

However, it relieved the soldier’s frustrations of recovering in a civilian world by bringing him back to a military environment.

“I found being in Toronto and Kitchener really hard because I’d have nurses and doctors come to me and ask my about my ‘accident.’ They’d use words like that. To me, it wasn’t an accident at all. It was a deliberate act where people tried to take out my crew and myself and my fellow soldiers. So to hear words like ‘accident’ is very frustrating,” he said.

It was the memory of this dislocation, this isolation, that prompted his visit to Abraham’s hospital room, where he stood out immediately from the other soldiers who had come to wish Abraham well. They met, they talked and they’ve stood shoulder to shoulder ever since.

Abraham said Linton’s arrival was a source of inspiration that has been pushing him through his physiotherapy sessions and doctors appointments.

“To see that he had a lot of the same injuries I had … and for him to stand over me and see that he’s walking and he’s okay now. That makes it look like I could do that,” Abraham said.

It also put at ease the minds of Abraham’s fellow soldiers who were still in Afghanistan. He was the first of his 91-Dragoon contingent to be sent home injured. It was like tearing apart a family, said Master Warrant Officer Kevin Mathers, Abraham’s commanding officer in Afghanistan.

To hear that Linton and the rest of the Dragoons’ “regimental family” was now looking after one of its own was reassuring.

“You can’t coach that. You can’t train that. That just happens,” Mathers said.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply