When Mike Vernon set out to talk with Canadian army reservists, he didn't know how open they would be, especially given his rank.

"It started basically as just me trying to compile an oral history database of interviews with soldier reservists about their experiences overseas," Vernon told The Homestretch on Monday.

"But when I found last summer, how candid many of them were, I thought this would make an excellent documentary. I think it will really give people a sense of the military that perhaps they don't get, they haven't had before."

Vernon is a lieutenant-colonel of the Calgary Highlanders, a former CBC journalist and a journalism instructor at Mount Royal University.

'Prepared to put it all on the table'

After interviewing dozens of reservists from peacekeeping missions in Egypt in the 1970s, to the war in Afghanistan more recently for this documentary Deployed: Army Reservists Overseas, he was surprised in a couple of ways.

"I was gratified to see that those who did volunteer to come forward, they were quite outspoken. They were prepared to put it all on the table, in terms that aren't always flattering to the military frankly," he said.

"Frankly I was a little bit surprised that the military, who has editorial control over this, has allowed those comments to stand. They didn't tell me that you have to change these 48 things before we release this."

Reasons to serve are complex

Vernon says he found reservists, who often hold full-time jobs or go to school, come to the military for a variety of reasons and it's more complex than simply wanting to serve their country.

"They do it to serve but they do it for adventure, to test themselves, they do it for the comradeship. Some of them do it for the money. If you went to Afghanistan in the final years, it was tax free with all kinds of benefits."

The story that most jumps out to him, is that of a young Calgary soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2007.

"I think the most moving story is Michael Hornburg describing the death of his son, Nathan Hornburg. I interviewed another soldier who was there that day in Afghanistan when Nathan was killed who provides a lot of the context. He even took photographs of the incident," he explained.

Vernon's hope is to shine a light on stories that often go untold.

"I would like people to have a more nuanced sense of who their soldiers are and what they think about what they have done, both overseas and the challenges they face when they came home."

Deployed: Army Reservists Overseas screens at the Plaza Theatre next Monday at 7 p.m. Admission is free. The documentary is also available online.


With files from The Homestretch