Calgary paramedic: Canada's Afghan mission 'absolutely' worth it

While he has mixed emotions about Canada's mission in Afghanistan, paramedic and reservist Travis Lanoway says he believes progress has been made in improving the war-torn country.

Canada's 12-year mission in Afghanistan ends this month

Travis Lanoway has mixed emotions about Canada's mission in Afghanistan ending this month after 12 years. 2:45

Travis Lanoway has mixed emotions about Canada's mission in Afghanistan ending this month after 12 years. 

3-part series

CBC's Kyle Bakx will be exploring the issues around Canada's mission in Afghanistan through its impact on Calgarians.

His next piece will focus on the fallout from journalist Michelle Lang's death in Afghanistan.

The third part will look at Afghanistan through the eyes of SAIT instructor Fiaz Merani. He travelled there to teach accounting to staff at a telecom company. 

The Calgary paramedic and former reservist spent eight months deployed in Afghanistan in 2008. But overall he believes the mission was worth it.

"Absolutely ... in the long run it is. For our sanity and the sanity of the Afghan people it had to be worth it," said Lanoway.

"We did a lot of good. We built schools, we saved a lot of lives, we built hospitals and infrastructure. We had our bad days and setbacks, but I think in the long run I'm hoping — you know, that's all I can do is hope — that the Afghani people are on a positive path towards reconstruction and that Canada played a huge part in that."

His worst experience was the death of Cpl. Mike Starker. 

They were friends and worked together as paramedics in Calgary and as members of the Reserve Unit 15 Field Ambulance.

"Up until that point,... I had a feeling of invincibility. We had great equipment, great troops. We were doing a great job. I felt indestructible at that time," said Lanoway.  

"Mike was the true warrior, as far as I'm concerned. He was a great medic, worked well with the military, loved the military, kind of the indestructible guy. 

"And when you see something bad happen to somebody like that, it kind of shakes your resolve about the mission. I lost that feeling of invulnerability. If it can happen to Mike, it can happen to anybody."

'Mixed feelings'

Calgary's Travis Lanoway worked at the multi-national medical unit in Kandahar as a flight medic. (Submitted by Travis Lanoway)

Lanoway was chosen to escort Starker's casket back to Calgary. More than 2,000 people gathered at the Round-Up Centre for Starker's funeral. During the ceremony, Lanoway stood beside the casket in his tan camouflage uniform.

"It was a great honour, but at the same time probably one of the most horrible things, for feeling-wise, that I have ever gone through. It was really tough. Obviously it was a great privilege and honour, but one I wish I never had to do."

When the funeral was over, Lanoway still had five months left in his deployment.

"I was still focused on the mission. I almost sometimes wanted to go back as quick as possible and get back to being in Afghanistan so that my brain didn't start playing tricks on me," he said.  

"It was tough. It was an emotional time. Mike was the most standup guy I've ever met. You're relating to the loss of him, meantime everybody back in Afghanistan has moved on with their lives for the last two weeks, and all of a sudden I'm plucked right back into the mission and had to find the strength just to keep going."

After 17 years as a reservist, Lanoway retired.  

He now volunteers with the cadet program in Airdrie. Lanoway does not plan to ever return to Afghanistan because of his bad memories of the country. 

"You kind of have mixed feelings, I feel there is still stuff we have to do, but at the same time I'm kind of glad its over."

Travis Lanoway, left, was a part of medical crews on U.S., British and Dutch aircraft. (Submitted by Travis Lanoway)