A Curious Teen and a Brave Soldier

A curious teen and a brave soldier. Last year as part of a school project I decided to conduct an interview with a family friend who had gone to war in Afghanistan. I wanted to gain an understanding of the situations Canadians have been facing for the past 11 years. I was able to get a personal view from Corey Shelson, who held the rank of Captain as an Engineer Field Troop Commander when he was deployed to Afghanistan. He had eye opening things to say to me as a young teen, as well as a striving leader in my community.

C.L How long were you in Afghanistan?

C.S I left Canada on 25 April 2010, and arrived back 16 Dec 2010. Total time away from home was about 7.5 months.

C.L What were your fears going into this war?

C.S Due to the nature of the threat, my greatest fear was Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and the reality that losing a limb or my life was a possibility. My other greatest fear was losing one of my subordinates, and leaving my family behind should I pass away.

C.L Did you have to face these fears?

C.S Everyday. As Combat Engineers, one of our primary tasks was to open the routes used by the Infantry in order to allow them to move freely on the battlefield. What this really means is that the members of my troop, including myself, spent a lot of time investigating possible IED locations, and dealing with the hazards of explosive devices.

C.L Do you feel you served a strong purpose in the war?

C.S Yes. Everyone had a job to do over in Afghanistan and I was no different. My job was to command a troop of engineers in the provision of close engineer support (mobility support through the search for IEDs, compound and building search, explosive breaching of walls, explosive ordinance disposal etc) as well as be the lead on all general engineer support tasks (i.e construction of forward operating bases, road construction and repair, construction of non standard bridges, etc). There was a lot to do and we were busy. We supported the infantry, allowing them to live, move and fight, which in itself is an accomplishment.

C.L How has this experience changed you?

C.S The time I spent in Afghanistan had its highs and its lows. It afforded me the opportunity to lead soldiers in a complex and extremely high stakes environment, employ my tactical acumen and improve my leadership abilities. For this I am thankful. On the other hand, I have had to deal with the stresses that are incumbent with losing men at war and the guilt that goes along with that.

C.L If you were asked to go back over, would you consider it?

C.S If I were asked to go back I would go. Although it was stressful and dangerous my personal opinion is that if you are not prepared to deploy and do the job for real than you have no business wearing the uniform.

C.L Was your time successful? Do you feel that Canadian presence is influencing Afghanistan beneficially?

C.S Our contribution to the Afghan public has definitely improved their quality of life. From the schools, roads, and bridges we built, to the money that the Canadian Government has poured into developing their political system, police force, and military,Afghanistan is a better country for us having been there.

C.L What did you feel was the hardest part of this experience?

C.S Each and every day brought new challenges. Some days the hardest part was just functioning in the heat (55 degrees Celsius on some days in June/July). Other days it was staying vigilant while conducting a 10km dismounted patrol through extremely severe IED threat areas. Some days, like those where friends were hurt or killed, the hardest part was simply dealing with my emotions, picking myself up and carrying on.

C.L Did you play more of a peace or combat role?

C.S Combat.

As a young person, curious about our country and our world at large, I was shocked to hear what is happening in Afghanistan every day. We all hear the global news, but when I heard these answers last year, I discovered the most interesting and breaking news I have heard in years. Hearing Corey Shelson’s personal account of the Afghan war has opened my eyes, as I hope it does yours, to a world where we must stand together. One thing that I hope will change from reading this account is very simple: to turn a curious teen into a knowledgeable and delegated teen. Be ambitious and be curious.