Military family braces for 'what's next' after Afghanistan

Since 2002, time in the Lapointe household has been measured by when father Dominic was home and when he was in Afghanistan. Lapointe is one of more than 40,000 Canadian soldiers who served in the 12-year mission in Afghanistan, which formally ended last week.
Barbara and Dominic Lapointe speak to the CBC in their Wainwright, Alta., home, while their children — Genevieve, 10, and Declan, 6 — play in the background. Dominic served three tours in Afghanistan, and is prepared for more deployments in the future. (CBC)

Since 2002, time in the Lapointe household has been measured by when father Dominic was home and when he was in Afghanistan. 

This hanging in the Lapointe home sums up the reality for those in the Canadian military, who are frequently stationed across the country throughout their careers. (CBC)
​Lapointe is one of more than 40,000 Canadian soldiers who served in the 12-year mission in Afghanistan, which formally ended last week with an understated flag lowering in Kabul.

The end of Canada's presence in the central Asian country has prompted questions about where Canada's military should focus next.

Lapointe figures it's only a matter of time before he's called overseas again, leaving his two children — Genevieve, 10, and Declan, 6 — lonely once more.

Edmonton's toll

  • Of the 158 Canadian members of the Canadian military who died while on mission in Afghanistan, 41 — just over one-quarter — were based in Edmonton.
  • 7 soldiers counted Edmonton as their hometown, with another 5 from central or northern Alberta.

"To them, they're just getting used to the fact that I go away a lot. So, whether I'm in Afghanistan or somewhere else, papa's away," Lapointe said, sitting next to his wife, Barbara, in the couple's home in Wainwright, Alta.

"It's reality. You go where you're needed."

'Home is where the military sends you'

In the Lapointe home hangs a chalkboard that sums up the family's expectations of a soldier's life: "Home is where the military sends you."

That uncertainty began as soon as Lapointe and Barbara were married. Lapointe was sent on a tour to Bosnia, which was rocked by civil war in the 1990s.

We never expected a real war again.- Barbara Lapointe

Since then, they've been posted across the country — Gagetown, N.B., Edmonton, then Vancouver, back to Edmonton and now Wainwright. 

"Then 9/11 happened and our lives changed completely," said Barbara. "We never expected a real war again."

Lapointe served three tours in Afghanistan, beginning in 2002.

He says time away from family was made slightly easier thanks to advances in video-conferencing.

"I was able to talk to them and see them on the TV. I was seeing Genevieve growing and she could see me on the TV and she was upset about it because I was on the TV and she thought I was with other people … instead of being home with her." 

For Barbara, the hardest part was the constant worry about her husband's safety as Canadians were killed and injured in the conflict.

"Every day we were scared. We're hear something different on the news or get phone call or a knock on the door or something. So, you just didn't know what to expect."

Centres shift to mental-health support

The Canadian Forces has a program in place to help families left behind by soldier deployments — the Military Family Resource Centres.

Rosa Parlin, executive director of the MFRC at CFB Edmonton said the mission has changed her centre's focus from youth drop-in to psychological support for families and emergency childcare.

Rosa Parlin, executive director of Edmonton's Military Family Resource Centre, says spouses and children of soldiers need psychological help more and more. (CBC)
"A member may be gone, there is no extended family around, a spouse is ill, needs to take a child to the hospital," said Parlin.

Edmonton's MFRC has hired two full-time and two part-time mental-health workers, and started a support group for children and young people whose parents were injured in the war.

A total of 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan and 2,179 were injured.

Parlin says her group is bracing for future deployments.

"Families will be without their loved ones. They'll be solo parenting, and without the support of their close family and friends. So, for us it's going to be around bringing families together, focusing more on building relationships and working towards general health and mental health."

Preparing children for next trip

Back at the Lapointe household, Barbara has found herself reflecting on a decade of parenting amid long absences by her husband — lessons she hopes will give her strength should her husband be sent overseas again.

Dominic Lapointe says his two children have adjusted to his long absences, and the family is preparing for more to come. (CBC)
That includes the heartbreaking questions from her children, who worry their father might not come home.

"It makes it difficult when we've lost friends and they have children that they play with. That makes it really hard," Barbara said.

"I let them know, it is dangerous. But papa's prepared. He's trained, he knows what to do. He's with a lot of other people who are very good at their job and they know what to do."

With files from CBC's Jean-Emmanuel Fortier & Adrienne Lamb


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