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On the Ground and in the Trenches

by Archives November 18, 2008

Aaron Deck would like to go on record to say he believes he’s the only person in the history of the military to ever have been promoted while sporting a green Mohawk.
It happened last year. He had been working for a microbrewery all summer and had chosen to leave the military come September. He thought “I can’t do anything with my hair in the military, so why the hell not?” When he came in to sign his release papers, he was informed that his rank had been upgraded to Master Corporal.
Deck, 23, quit nonetheless and is now majoring in sociology at Concordia. He decided to leave the army behind upon his return from a 10-month tour in Afghanistan in 2006.
“I’ve got 10 fingers and I’ve got 10 toes, and I’d like to keep it that way,” he explained. “I’ve always valued life and now I value it even more. I did my tour. I got to help some people out. I’m happy I did it, but let somebody else go now.”
He joined the Canadian reserves at the age of 17 to help fund his education. A few years later, he started “bugging his superiors about going overseas.” He though he would be deployed either to Bosnia or the Golan Heights, which were the two main missions at the time. But just when he had given up on the idea of leaving, he was offered a tour to Afghanistan. He accepted.
“I didn’t want to be one of those people in the military who just stays in Canada and trains and never does anything,” said Deck. “I wanted to go somewhere and help people.”
He left when Canada had just begun to take on a larger role in the mission, something most Canadians were not thrilled about.
“I was there for the thick of things when it’d just happened and everybody in Canada didn’t want the soldiers to be over there and that sucked because it gets down to you,” remembered Deck. “The public isn’t supporting you, you come home and people hate you for it. People need to support the troops that are over there. You don’t have to support the war, or support what they’re doing, but support the people because that’s what they need.”
Now that the Halifax native is living in Montreal, he’s sometimes hesitant to disclose his military past for fear of being judged negatively, as Quebecers are somewhat notorious for their anti-war views. Deck was reminded of this on Remembrance Day, when he noticed a large number of passersby didn’t have a poppy pinned to their coats, a marked difference from his home-province.
“Down East, it [Remembrance Day] is a holiday,” said Deck. “You don’t to school, you don’t go to work. Here [in Montreal], it’s just like everyday life. It’s always nerve-racking when I meet people here and the cat finally comes out of the bag. But I don’t ever feel a need to justify it. It’s what makes me, me.”
Even so, Deck doesn’t consider himself to be a typical soldier, or ex-soldier. He describes himself as “a laidback kind of dude.” He plays guitar in a band, doesn’t mind if his bed isn’t perfectly made and there is of course the green Mohawk phase.
He believes the military gets a bad rap from movies that depict “person-eating killing machines that yell at you every hour of the day,” a fabrication, he says. He also blames the prejudice on “the people who are too enthused,” the daily head-shaving flock who spit shine their boots on the weekends. For him, the military was a job that ended when the uniform came off.
“It’s like dude, it’s the weekend,” he said. “You can lay off a little bit!”
Deck’s time in Afghanistan only strengthened his already relaxed attitude. He learned not to care about life’s little troubles and gained new appreciation for things like cleanliness and beds.
“I went without a shower for 40 days and slept in a hole I dug myself for 40 days,” he said. “It sounds like a cliché out of Fight Club, but everything does get the volume turned down. You look at the fact that a lot of these kids [in Afghanistan] have nothing, but they’re happy as a clam. It’s like, ‘what right do you have to be sad or pissy?'”
Deck is now on the supplementary reserve, which allows him to retain his rank if he chooses to rejoin the military in the next four years. It also means that if he were to be called upon to go to war during this time and refused, he would be put in jail.
Although he doesn’t wish to return to Afghanistan, Deck still believes Canadian troops should remain in the country for a while. In the case of a pullout, he predicts the Taliban would come back into power and undo any positive change thus far accomplished by the mission.
“You fucked up their political structure, you don’t pull out and leave,” he said. “You made your bed, now lie in it. Or as I like to say, you laid in your bed, now make it.”
“Probably the most heart-stopping experience was when we were stationed/building FOB (Forward Operating Base) Matello. Two dudes on motorcycles were stopped on the road below us trying to get our attention. My buddy Mike Simpson and I took the interpreter down with us to see what the situation was.
The first question we ask is “does anyone have any weapons?” “No” they answer. So Mike is trying to get a straight story out of these two dudes, which is proving to be very hard. The guy still sitting on the motorcycle shifts his legs over the side and I see the barrel of an AK-47 hanging down.
Five minutes later we’ve disarmed the two guys and we escort them to the road leading up to the base Matello. While we wait there for the CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-Operation) person to come down and have a chat with them, four pick-up trucks crest the hill and slow to a stop in front of Mike and I. About 30 dudes with machine guns hop out and point them in our direction. I look at Mike and he has this look on his face that says “It has been nice knowing you.”
After about a five-minute standoff and a new pair of underwear we find out they are some security for a local Afghan big-wig (they were allies).”

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