As the final Canadian troops in Afghanistan prepare to return home, an Edmonton soldier is challenging the public and federal government to think about the true cost of the war, especially on families.
"Just because you bring the troops home, doesn't mean the mission is over," said Maj. Mark Campbell, who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2008. During his second tour, Campbell stepped on a bomb and lost both his legs. He is one of 2,179 Canadian soldiers who were injured during the 12-year military campaign. One-hundred fifty-eight Canadian soldiers were killed.
Since Campbell's accident, he says his life and the lives of his family have been turned upside down by depression, anxiety and financial struggles.
"I can live the rest of my life reasonably happy with no legs. But what about my family? They still haven't adjusted."
'The government is supposed to have our back. ... And they're not doing that.' - Donna Campbell, wife of injured soldier
When Campbell returned home, he says his wife Donna, who was also in the military, was ordered to stay by his bedside in the afternoons. She developed secondary PTSD, depression and anxiety during that time — but was ineligible for assistance from the military. Donna is now no longer able to work.
"I don't think the government has thought about the families. The government is supposed to have our back. They're supposed to look after the family and the soldier themselves. And they're not doing that," said Donna in an interview with her husband in the couple's Edmonton home.
First mission made sense
Mark Campbell said his first tour in Afghanistan had a very clear mission and he was "excited" to take part.
"It was very clear in my mind, we were chasing al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan so Afghanistan could no longer be used as a terrorist safe haven for training."
By his second tour, it became clear to Campbell that longer-term goal of bringing democracy to the Central Asian country was far more difficult to carry out.
"You can't export Canadian values like anti-corruption, fair play, basic justice and human rights for women and education for women. You can't impose that on people."
Campbell says he's pleased al-Qaeda's presence was essentially snuffed out in Afghanistan, but worries about the militant group's emerging influence in Africa, Yemen and other areas.
Soldier tries to move on
Campbell, who also served in Cyprus and Bosnia, is part of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, following the 2006 Veterans Charter's elimination of the lifetime disability pension for disabled soldiers, who now receive lump-sum payments.
He says that counselling with his wife has helped keep their marriage together, although family strife has caused struggles for his son in high school.
Campbell plans to retire later this year after serving more than 30 years in the military. Despite his ill feelings towards the government, he hopes history will ultimately judge the mission in Afghanistan to be a success.
"To the Canadian public I think I would say, 'We went there for all the right reasons. .… We achieved what we set out to do. The only question is will it persist, will it stick? That's the big question."