Saskatoon

'I learned to put a cold face on it,' Afghanistan war veterans remember friends lost

Remembrance Day is tough for those veterans who have lost friends in battle.

Afghan vets find rate of PTSD and suicide alarming

Sgt. Rick Cumbers (left) and Sgt. Mike Wong are members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment and have completed tours in Afghanistan. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC News )

Remembrance Day is a time to remember all those who served. But the day can be even more difficult for those who have lived through war and lost friends.

There's no time to process what happened when you're over there, because it can be a matter of life or death, Sgt. Wong and his comrade Sgt. Rick Cumbers told CBC Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski.

Sgt. Mike Wong served in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, something he said he didn't always realize the gravity of until he returned home. 

"When you look back at it that's when you realize oh, some of those things were pretty scary," Sgt. Wong said.

When I got back, I realized how precious life was and how lucky we are to be living in this country.- Sgt. Mike Wong

"If you let your guard down that's when stuff happens, that's when you might trip and something goes boom, who knows, but you have always got to be on guard," Sgt. Cumbers said, who was in Afghanistan in 2008.

The men said it's upon that return home when you are forced deal with the emotions, and sometimes the trauma, of what happened. 

"Everyone deals with it in a different way," Sgt. Cumbers said. " For myself, I learned to put a cold face on it. You just got to carry on. Especially when you hear that friends got killed." 

But it isn't always as hard as it is today to deal with the loss, though everyone does it a little differently. Sgt. Cumbers said some soldiers are open with their emotions, some go for a run, but some bottle it up too.

And both he and Sgt. Wong find the rates of PTSD and suicide amongst Afghanistan veterans alarming. 

"We've had friends that went down that route and too many (of them)," Sgt. Cumbers said.

"We're here to help them, but guys don't want to show a sign of weakness — to bring that forward, but you have to talk to somebody," he said. 

According to Sgt. Wong soldiers used to be shunned for admitting they had PTSD, but now there are many more supports available and people are more accepting.

"People have an image of the military so I try my best to try to correct those," Sgt. Wong said. "(Things are) not like what you see in the movies."

"When I got back, I realized how precious life was and how lucky we are to be living in this country."

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