Sooke war veteran Chris Linford started out his military career more than 30 years ago with a simple goal: become a pipe band drummer.
Living in Calgary in 1979, he joined the Calgary Highlanders, a reserve infantry unit, where he served as a military musician for 10 years.
It didn’t stop there, though. Throughout his time with the Highlanders, Linford cross-trained as medic on his way to becoming a registered nurse.
Cross-training military musicians as medics for their units isn’t as strange as it sounds, Linford said, adding that the intersection of fields was quite appealing.
“I found myself enjoying that piece and liked the whole medical aspect of trauma medicine,” he said, adding that he later went to nursing school in Calgary, where he met his wife. In December 1988, he joined the regular force as a nursing officer.
His first posting was in Ottawa at the National Defense Medical Centre, shortly before deployed in the Persian Gulf War as an augmentee for the Canadian Field Hospital in Petawawa, Ont.
Once overseas, he was just south of Kuwait for the four-day ground war, set up beside the British field hospital, supporting the British forces on the western flank. It was his first wartime experience, living through something he’d read about in a magazine.
“It demonstrated for me that I was doing the right thing and I felt quite comfortable in the role,” Linford said, adding that a month following that, he was posted to Cold Lake, where flew and trained to be an air medivac nurse.
Shortly after that, he deployed as a nurse to Rwanda in 1994 as part of a 100-day humanitarian mission supporting refugees suffering with cholera.
“We saved as many lives as we could. Over the 100 day mission, we treated more than 26,000 casualties,” Linford said.
It was also in Rwanda that Linford ended up with post-traumatic stress disorder, something he silently dealt with for another 10 years before coming forward and asking for help. In many ways, Rwanda showed him a side of the human condition he never thought to see.
“It was an amazing experience to live the African experience, it’s quite different from anything that you might consider as normal in Canada,” he said. “Lots of violence, lots of young kids, fully armed, most of them stoned or drunk, or both, so it was pretty scary sometimes for sure.”
Linford kept at it though.
Years later in 2009, after a posting in the U.S. for three years, he ended up deploying to Afghanistan for seven months, serving as the executive office to the combat hospital there in Kandahar.
“We were the trauma hospital in southern Afghanistan … sometimes, we were the busiest trauma centre in the world, based on our number of casualties,” he said, adding that six NATO countries were contributing medical professionals, military and civilian, to the organization, to try to save the lives of not only NATO troops, but of civilian casualties.
That even included treating Taliban troops injured in the firefights.
“We had quite a few of those, as they were treated as non-combatants.”
In 2014, Linford was released for PTSD, but his journey did not end there. Nowadays, Linford and his wife are the national ambassadors to Wounded Warriors Canada, a national charity that raises money and awareness for veterans and first responders and their families dealing with PTSD.
“We do a lot of public speaking about our family’s journey with PTSD and it keeps us engaged with the military community and first responders,” he said. “It’s a great way to stay connected to the community and continue our service to Canada.”