Thursday, September 24, 2009

Canadian amputee soldier returns to Afghanistan

From Canwest News Service:

QUEBEC, Canada — Shortly after losing one of his legs while on duty in Afghanistan, Capt. Simon Mailloux (pictured) asked his major how good his chances were of getting back to the battlefront.

Nearly two years later, Mailloux is sporting a high-tech prosthetic leg and preparing to return to the war-torn country in November.

"Although there were some rough patches, my determination to go back never faltered," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I want to finish the work we started."

The Quebec City native lost half of his left leg when the armoured vehicle he was commanding struck an improvised explosive device on Nov. 17, 2007. Two other soldiers — Cpl. Nicolas Beauchamp and Pte. Michel Levesque — were killed in the blast. Mailloux had to undergo four surgeries but recovered surprisingly fast.

The 25-year-old is said to be the first soldier to return to Afghanistan after a major amputation.

Mailloux credits the good rehabilitation techniques and advanced prosthetic leg technology for being able to return to the war zone. He also hinted at a shift of policy on the part of the Canadian Forces.

"It was a decision from the higher command to say we're taking an injured soldier and we'll work with him," Mailloux said.

The soldier said he didn't get preferential treatment and had to prove he could handle the rigours of redeploying to Afghanistan.

"I'm not as fast as I used to be, but I passed all the physical tests," he said, noting that with his prosthetic leg he walked 13 kilometres with a 60 pound load on his back in two hours and 22 minutes.

He started training with the military in July at the Valcartier garrison, near Quebec City. He spent the year before that getting back in shape while working as an aide-de-camp for Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall.

"I had to get back in shape as a civilian first and then as a soldier," he said.

Mailloux might be the first amputee to return to Afghanistan, but he is convinced he won't be the last.

"It's a personal decision every soldier has to make, but I know some soldiers are not far behind me," he said.

Injured soldiers like Master Cpl. Jody Mitic — who lost both legs below the knee after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2007 — are training to return to combat duty. Mitic is training to get back in shape and ran an Ottawa half-marathon last weekend running on two artificial legs.

When Mailloux lands in Afghanistan he won't be going back to his old job. He is going to work at staff headquarters laying out field plans for long-term campaigns.

"It's going to be a big challenge but I have field experience and I know the villages in the Kandahar province. That is going to help me," he said.

By going back to Afghanistan, Mailloux wants to encourage other amputees to persevere to achieve their goals.

"I'm not better than anyone else, but if I can help some people to get up and do something, well great," said the soldier who has been dubbed "Captain Courage" by some Quebec media.

"The guys are making fun of me with that, but I have to say it's flattering," he said.