Master Corporal Joe Kelly, born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, served for 20 years in the Canadian Armed Services. Over the course of those 20 years, he was deployed to several ‘hot spots’ and experienced a myriad of events that ultimately led to him carrying a heavy burden of mental anguish. Master Cpl. Kelly is one, in a growing number of Canadian soldiers who have returned home with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). And while Kelly is not alone in experiencing PTSD, the very nature of the disorder, leads to a person feeling, very alone. Isolation and retreating from everyday life, is one of the hallmarks of PTSD.
“I was part of the clean-up of Swiss Air Flight 111 off the coast of Peggy’s Cove in 1998.” Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board. The recovery effort, ‘Operation Persistence’, was massive. It retrieved 98 per cent of the aircraft and much of the 15 tonnes of cargo. After being brought to the surface, the pieces, which numbered about one million, went to a sorting facility in Sheet Harbour, N.S.
“I did a tour in Bosnia and Afghanistan and had multiple experiences with trauma that broke me, and put me over the edge.” Kelly was trained in engineering, becoming an Electrical Optics Technician.
Growing up, Kelly spent a brief time in the local Cadet corps. “I loved the training and the camaraderie.” he said. “In June of 1995, I joined the Canadian Reserves, and after 8 months, decided to go into Canadian Armed Services full time, joining regular forces in February, 1996.” Master Corporal Kelly was medically released from active duty in October 2014.
“After I came out of the hospital, I realized I needed help and when I was in Winnipeg for mental health treatment, I found Freddie through ‘Constant Companions’.” he said.
“Like every treatment, it’s not for everybody, but the benefits are amazing if you are paired up with a service dog like Freddie.” Freddie has been with Kelly for 4 years.
Over time, Master Corporal Joe Kelly has been able to significantly reduce any requirement for medication, and enjoys a full life with his family. Kelly is married and has three children, and now resides in Heyden, Ontario.
Kelly says that Remembrance week and Remembrance Day are particularly hard. “As soldiers and first responders, we carry with us the memories of friends that we have lost, and the things we have witnessed.”
“With mental injury, it is not visible, it’s all in your head. There’s no amount of consoling that a person can offer.”
Service dogs are trained to recognize an individual’s anxious behaviour and physically redirect them to more positive activities, such as petting the dog. In addition, for those experiencing nightmares or flashbacks, the dogs can provide vitally important reality affirmation with their persistent nudges and calm disposition.
“The dog can detect chemical changes in my body.” said Kelly. “They have a heightened sense of smell. When I exhale, Freddie can detect changes in my mood; my body chemistry changes. If I was feeling anxiety in a crowd, Freddie will demonstrate through actions, like pulling on my shirt, for example, which helps me to get out of my head, and focus on the present.”
“The dog can be trained to wake a person up from nightmares. The tasks that a dog can be trained to do vary from person to person, and the needs of the individual. Freddie can sense things that are happening to me.” he said.
Hyper vigilance creates constant tension and anxiety. Individuals experiencing PTSD often require more personal space than the average individual. The dogs are trained to create a physical barrier that keeps the public at a comfortable distance. Arousal symptoms of PTSD include sleep disturbance, anger and irritability, concentration problems, constantly on the look-out for signs of danger, and jumpy, easily startled.
“I was fortunate to receive Freddie quite quickly. The training was already there, so I didn’t have to wait too long, but that is not always the case.” Kelly received Freddie through a service dog organization called ‘Constant Companions’.
On Wednesday, November 10th, Joe Kelly and local artist Doug Bradford met together at The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 25. Doug Bradford was commissioned, by Journeys River Cruises to create a watercolour painting of a W.W. 2 scene, that unfolded near Ten Boer, Netherlands. ‘The Crew. M for Mother’, pays homage to the Royal Canadian Air Force Crew (RCAF) of HR864 LQ-M, a Halifax MKII-B bomber, which flew during WW2, and was shot down near the village of Ten Boer in July, 1943. In April 2016, Bradford and his wife Sharon travelled, with Journeys River Cruises, to make a special presentation of the print to the town of Ten Boer.
“I signed 395 prints, and all of the money from the prints goes to charity, including service dogs for the military.” said Bradford.
‘The crew on the Handley Page Halifax 11 bomber, registered as HR 864 with the 405 squadron departed Gransden Lodge England en route for Essen Germany when attacked by a night fighter over Ten Boer, Groningen Holland at 23:56 PM. Two engines were hit and caught fire. F/O Alex J.Scohowski Bombardier, bailed out before the aircraft exploded and crashed on a farm just west of Ten Boer. He became a P.O.W. and was interned in Stalag Luft 3 and had a part in the Great Escape.’ The full story on Doug Bradford’s commissioned work, ‘The Crew M for Mother’, can be found here: https://saultonline.com/2016/05/doug-bradford-from-history-with-love/
To purchase a print of ‘ “The Crew” visit:jerryvandyke.com
Veterans Affairs Canada states: ‘PTSD is a psychological response to the experience of intense traumatic events, particularly those that threaten life. It can affect people of any age, culture or gender. Although we have started to hear a lot more about it in recent years, the condition has been known to exist at least since the times of ancient Greece and has been called by many different names. In the American Civil War, it was referred to as “soldier’s heart;” in the First World War, it was called “shell shock” and in the Second World War, it was known as “war neurosis.” Many soldiers were labelled as having “combat fatigue” when experiencing symptoms associated with PTSD during combat. In the Vietnam War, this became known as a “combat stress reaction.” Some of these people continued on to develop what became known, in 1980, as post-traumatic stress disorder.’ (http://www.veterans.gc.ca)
According to a 2013 Statistics Canada survey, it was estimated that 1 in 6 Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan experienced PTSD. PTSD numbers are hard to track, due to the fear of reaching out for help. (http://www23.statcan.gc.ca)
Thank you to Roy Harten for organizing the meeting of Master Corporal Joe Kelly and artist Doug Bradford.