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Infantry reservist recalls deployment to Afghanistan

by Keith Corcoran

Lt. Kim Rideout in the field during her time in Afghanistan.
 When front line soldiers are having a tough time dealing with traumatic events, professionals such as Lt. Kim Rideout are the ones summoned to duty beyond the Kandahar airfield base.

 The Bridgewater reservist is an in-patient mental health nurse manager for South Shore Health. Four years ago she signed on with Halifax-based 33 Field Ambulance and recently returned from her first deployment to Afghanistan, participating in Canada's security assistance support in the country.

 Enlisting to be a part-time soldier was a challenge the fiftysomething mother decided was another "way to give back" and as a chance to use her 20 years worth of civilian mental health nursing skills in a much different setting.

 After the routine series of intense training and preparations soldiers endure prior to a deployment, she arrived in Kandahar with other mental health professionals. She had to quickly learn the ropes from her predecessors, including paperwork and terminology that differed from her job back home.

 While a large portion of her tasks encompassed dealing with patients in her base office, she would be needed for many days beyond the airfield.

 In those cases, soldiers involved in combat have learned or seen their comrades die in the line of duty. They need help coping or understanding what they've endured.

 Even when Lt. Rideout leaves the safety of the base, she's armed and dressed in military fatigues.

 "It's not a game," she said in a recent interview.

 She would head out with her colleagues in a convoy of armoured vehicles or via helicopter, depending on which mode of transportation was available.

 She preferred helicopter and, fortunately for her, there were aircraft destined for pockets where the soldiers were. Whoever called for mental health services generally would require she remain with affected platoons or strong points for as long as necessary.

 "If they have a need, something happens, people are not feeling good about it, they ask for mental health to get there as soon as they can to talk to soldiers," Lt. Rideout said.

 Some of the personnel open up with little effort, some eventually smile and talk, she said, while others may isolate themselves or they are nervous or apprehensive about discussing their feelings. Lt. Rideout would also rely on information from field medics because "they know their soldiers."

 Lt. Rideout tries to do what she canto aid those impacted men and women deal the best they can with post-traumatic stress and move on with their mission.

 "It's just kind of normalizing how they're feeling, what's happened, ask them questions, do some work around relaxation, meditation," she said.

 "It's just helping them realize what they're feeling is not weird. It's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation."

 Separate from that, she said it's interesting to observe the camaraderie of the infantry as many she's interacted with are around the same age as her own kids.

 "These are pretty determined people," she said of the soldiers. "They want to do their jobs."

 How does a mental health nurse cope with her own stresses, especially in an atmosphere where hostilities exist? She said she had a good team around her, including Canadian Forces personnel who've seen Afghanistan multiple times.

 Getting out beyond the airfield base "was the exciting part," she said, noting it's an experience that heightens the senses.

 "It's the adrenaline rush in an abstract sort of way. For me, I don't know if I'll get to go and do something like this again so I made a point of observing, seeing what's going on."

 As far as she was aware, she wasn't involved in any close calls during her 82-day deployment between December, 2009 and February, 2010.

 During one of those chopper flights, the gunners rained bullets down to the ground below but following the gunfire she declined to ask for the details about the shooting.

  "They opened fire on something and I don't think you fire for the sake of firing," she said.

 There's also regular rocket attacks on the airfield base but many of those are benign. In one instance she recalls feeling the explosive hit the ground - but not detonate - and shake the building she was in.

 Beyond the aspects and surroundings of being in a war zone, Lt. Rideout was in awe of the landscapes and mountainous horizons.

 She also described looking around to see the compound she called home, the razor wire on the base wall, parked light armoured vehicles and men in observation posts with high-powered machine guns.

 "And I'm thinking 'Holy s**t, how do you explain this to someone in Bridgewater?'"

 What Lt. Rideout was able to learn in Afghanistan she can apply to her full-time job here in Bridgewater. This includes information about the impact post-traumatic stress disorder can have on people. For her, it also put into perspective what's important.

 Her son, Cpl. Christopher Rideout, is a regular force member with Petawawa-based 3 Royal Canadian Regiment and has also experienced a deployment to Afghanistan.

 In her work, for example, she was able to convey a personal understanding of separation stresses felt by families when soldiers deploy.

 Canadian Forces personnel take pride in their jobs, she said, a quality that impressed her during her own deployment.

 Would she return to Afghanistan in a similar role?

 "I would do it again, yeah. It wasn't easy and it is dangerous [but] there's something about it that draws some of us back."

posted on 06/01/10
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