A Change in Perspective

Four years ago, Cpl Jason Villeneuve became a veteran of war.

In 2008, he made the long journey from Canada to Afghanistan. It was his first deployment to the war-torn country. 

As a member of Force Protection, he was tasked with the defence of Kandahar Air Field (KAF), protection of vehicle convoys, and the security of military personnel.

The human aspect of the mission was slim to none, as he had minimal contact with Afghans. 

“I was used to jumping out of armoured vehicles loaded down with gear, and pushing people away from the convoys. I barely knew the people we were supposed to be protecting,” says the Light Armoured Reconnaissance crewman.

But that changed one day when a small hand reached for his. 

He was assigned to guard duty at the KAF hospital, protecting Afghan police officers, military members and even insurgents receiving care in the event of an attack on the building.

During one 12-hour shift, he sat at the bedside of an 11-year-old girl recovering from shrapnel wounds – an innocent child caught in the crossfire of a grown-up war. He watched as she drifted in and out of consciousness, her tiny body writhing from the pain. 

“About four hours into my shift she grabbed my hand. I didn’t want to move and wake her. I held her hand for eight hours.”

At that moment, his impersonal mission became personal. 

He understood the gravity of the war; that unarmed villagers were dying from bombs and bullets, and that the child before him was one of hundreds that would bare the scars.

At shift change he left her bedside, hoping to see her again, awake and pain free. 

But the reunion he was hoping for didn’t happen. A few days later he saw her being whisked into a cab. 

“I was standing guard at the main gate and I saw her leaving with her grandfather,” he says. “She was too far away for me to say anything. They got into a cab and drove away. That was the last time I saw her.”

As the dust, kicked up from the cab, settled, he realized why he was in Afghanistan; it was for the Afghan people. 

The heat, the danger, missing his friends and family, it all became worth it. 

Afghanistan wasn’t a particularly fun place to be, but moments with the locals made it worthwhile, he says. 

Upon returning to Canada, Cpl Villeneuve felt off course, that perhaps his work in Afghanistan wasn’t done, although he swore after his first tour he would never go back. 

“While in Afghanistan I saw the war was causing a lot of collateral damage. People like that little girl were being irrevocably affected by something they had no part in. I didn’t think that was fair.”

When the opportunity for a second deployment presented itself in 2010, he accepted.

“I thought if I went back and worked with the local population, maybe I’d find closure,” he says. 

This time he worked with Persistent Surveillance for four months. Stationed in an outpost near a small village in Southern Afghanistan, he monitored operations. This put him in direct contact with the local police force, local military and villagers.

He did not find the closure he longed for when the tour ended. Four years later, when he reflects upon his tours, his thoughts always drift back to the small hand he held gently for a few hours. 

“If I could talk to her again, I’d want her to realize that we care. Our whole reason for going was to help the people who couldn’t defend themselves,” he says. “I’m so sorry about what happened to her. We came there with the best intentions. Hopefully we made a difference.”


Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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