Meet Randi

Randi is a 10 year Norwegian veteran.  She served three tours in Lebanon as a radio operator (communications specialist), in the Balkans in 1992 as part of the UN Protection Force as movement control and driver. In 1996 as part of the Nato Implementation Force, and with the Stabilization Force in 1996-1997.

Much of Randi’s service was as an operation assistant and a driver for the CO.  She was on the road quite a bit and shot at several times.  She was evacuated from Sarajevo.  She has spent time sitting in a bunker. In her words, she says she has “seen lots”.  Randi struggles with the details of these conversations.

In addition to her combat exposure, Randi felt the stress of being one of few women in the Norwegian military in the mid-1980s.  She found it difficult to earn respect.  She also was restricted in certain opportunities as a result of some officers not yet accepting females in the military.  

After the military Randi spent time helping others, in part to avoid dealing with her own problems.  She has volunteered with Team Rubicon and for years she answered a helpline for veterans organizations, for which she is certified.  She does not socialize with others much and stated that her volunteering is the only thing that gets her out of the house. 

Years after her service, Randi began to admit to herself that something was wrong, with her mind, her thinking.  She said that her head just did not seem right.  She became ill and was ultimately diagnosed with type I diabetes.  Randi thought this was the answer to her symptoms.  However, as the medications did not ease all of her symptoms, she finally admitted to herself that she was dealing with PTSD.  

Randi has difficulty admitting to this. To her, she was not physically injured and has seen others who suffered much more than she had, in her eyes.  In her work with the helpline she has also heard stories from others going through significant suffering and hard times.  However, she is finally beginning to come to terms with this and beginning to fight her own battle. 

According to Randi, there is not much in the way of psychological help in Norway for veterans.

The Camino holds great hope for Randi.

UNIFIL 1989 – my first tour.

Norwegian maintenance company, Camp Scorpion,Tibnine, South Lebanon.
Signal platoon Camp Scorpion 1991.

Meet Ward

Ward retired from the Canadian army in 2017, after seven tours and 37 years of service.

Ward tells his own story.  He is open, honest. As with most combat veterans, his tale is heroic and heartbreaking.  For those of us who have never served or have not had someone close to us serve, it is sometimes hard to fully understand.  As you read about Ward’s experiences, I challege you to place yourself in his shoes, to empathize with a combat veteran’s situation.

I have been deployed seven times. Three were United Nations peacekeeping missions and four were NATO missions.  The rules of engagement for the peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and Croatia were very strict and, at times, confusing.  As a Section leader on both tours, it was demanding. But also a good learning experience. The first tour, Cyprus, was not overly dangerous as it had been quiet there for some time.  Croatia was more active with mortars and small arms fire directed at us. Although these peacekeeping missions were not as outright dangerous, what hit me the hardest was traveling through villages that had been ethnically cleansed.  There was still food on tables, but no sign of people anywhere. Fields were covered with slaughtered pets and livestock. The images stick with me. It is something my mind’s eye often pulls into focus, as much as I would like to forget. 

My other tours were in Bosnia, Afghanistan (3 times) and, finally, Israel.  As an Infantry Warrant Officer in Afghanistan I did some special training to become part of a counter IED team that included an EOD team – that put us up close and personal with really big bombs.  Our job was to detect and exploit IEDs in order to gather information about trends, signatures of the bomb makers, and any other information we could find. We ran from dawn to dusk, constantly. The effects of the explosions and the relentless schedule left a mark on me in ways I still cannot fully comprehend.

I believe the first rumblings I had that these experiences were affecting me started subtly in Croatia.  Then, after Afghanistan, it took ahold of me. But I was too proud to admit it. I just soldiered on. It was all I knew to do.

One more short tour in Israel to make it through before retirement.  It was a different type of deployment: no weapons, no uniforms. Just a go bag.  We knew we were being watched everywhere we went, by both the Israelis and HAMAS. 

When I returned home I knew there was something seriously wrong with my state of mind.  I withdrew from activities and eventually just stopped leaving the sanctuary of my home.  I could only handle the company of myself and my dogs. I was wired too tightly to be around others.

I spent two years isolated from the world.  It took me that long to realize I needed help.  

I was diagnosed with severe PTSD.  I began therapy. Recently I attended some group courses and seminars with other veterans.  I am beginning to slowly start socializing again and now have a small group of friends. But I still struggle with going outside my circle of comfort.  It is still hard to accept some aspects of my experiences and the mark they left on me, but at least I now know how to approach it.

I believe Veterans on the Camino is a step forward in my recovery and I am so thankful for being selected for this opportunity.

~ Ward

Meet Brian

Meet Brian.  

Brian served his country for 20 years in the US Army, retiring in 2007.  During his service he deployed to Iraq three times.  Each time he participated in engagements that continue to haunt him to this day: IEDs, being in the direct line of fire, losing friends and brothers.

Brian’s job in the military was transportation/logistics, placing him “outside the wire” in the midst of dangerous territory on almost a daily basis. He supported the 1st armored division from Kuwait to Iraq when they were searching for Saddam Hussein.  He also spent time escorting third country nationals throughout Iraq (Al-Asaad).  These areas were dangerous to say the least.  So much so that he often found himself having to backtrack to “round up” whomever he was escorting as they did not want to enter the territories, particularly Fallujah.  Brian also spent a considerable amount of time escorting American civilians to deliver mail throughout Iraq.  He ran two exhausting convoys each day, in daylight and rush hour. Prime time for enemy attacks.   

Brian was exposed to multiple IED explosions during his tours. On his very first mission in Iraq, Brian was separated from the convoy after enemy contact.  He was out of his truck and had shots fired at and around him.  His truck ended up in unfamiliar areas, clearly increasing the risks.  If that wasn’t enough, rocks and bottles were thrown at them by Iraqi civilians.  He continues to have anxiety while driving.  He suffers with panic attacks, especially if he feels he is lost or is uncertain about where he is going.  This continues today, 13 years later. 

Due to multiple IED explosions, particularly during his second tour, Brian suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  He continues to struggle with difficulties in his memory, concentration, reading and writing.  He has trouble retaining information.  Despite these obstacles, after retiring Brian returned to school and ultimately earned his Bachelor’s degree. This was no small feat.  Brian’s school path was certainly not without struggle.  He initially failed his classes and required cognitive rehabilitation in order to learn how to learn again, due to his symptoms of TBI.  Today, Brian continues to push through these obstacles and is working towards his Masters in Outdoor Adventure Expedition Leadership.  He only has his thesis to complete to earn his degree.  However, writing and focusing continue to be a struggle that he battles daily.  Nonetheless, Brian continues to fight his battles and is determined to complete the Masters program. 

Brian began participating in therapy shortly after his retirement, in 2008.  He continues to attend both individual and group sessions with other veterans.  He has good days.  But he also has bad days when he does not want to get out of bed. His kids, 5 of them between the ages of 14 and 24, are his inspiration.

Brian is hopeful that this journey will help him to continue to overcome the effects of his experiences.  As evident from his story, he is a fighter and looks for ways to continue to improve.  Brian has been interested in walking the Camino for a few years and has been aware of the potential healing such a journey could bring.  Welcome Brian.  We hope the Camino brings you further along in your journey to peace and recovery.

Meet Krista

Krista is a US Army veteran.  She was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.  Her specialty was as an Arabic linguist leading to her service as an interrogator as well as an interpreter.  Krista’s time in the Middle East was fraught with enemy engagement, including a barrage of scud missile attacks and the constant fear of chemical warfare.  The effects of such experiences hardly need explanation. 

However, for Krista there was another stressor during her service in the Middle East.  As an interpreter, Krista dealt directly with Saudi men.  The time was the early 1990s.  Back then the Middle East was even more male dominated than it is today.  With constant threats and insults, Krista was routinely reminded of that fact.  They spoke to her in Arabic so her colleagues did not understand or realize what was happening.  Krista kept it all to herself.  She became isolated and was essentially alone.

Upon leaving the military, Krista tried to leave those memories and fears behind her.  She tried to maintain an image of the perfect life.  She returned to school but continued to isolate herself from others.  At the same time she was trying to maintain a marriage to another veteran suffering with PTSD, also undiagnosed at that time.  Krista focused all of her energy on school and her marriage.  It was her way of avoiding her past. 

Ultimately, Krista and her husband divorced.  She raised her two daughters on her own. The time on her own left space for her untended wounds, which came back with a fury.  Nightmares, panic attacks and anxiety forced her into more isolation and a downward spiral.  Krista realized that she was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress – and she needed to deal with it.  She had two children to raise and a life that she wanted to live. She finally began to seek treatment.  In addition to her PTSD, Krista was also diagnosed with cancer and, shortly thereafter, Gulf War Illness, causing her to feel fatigued and generally sick. 

But Krista is a fighter.  She is working on her recovery and dealing with PTSD.  After retiring from a teaching career, Krista returned to school for another Masters in Outdoor Leadership.  She finds that being in nature helps her to deal with her problems better, both physically and mentally.  She continues to work on herself and her recovery.  While she has a ways to go, she knows her triggers and her reactions, and has made significant progress.  She hopes to make further strides walking the Camino this Spring.

Buen Camino Krista – Ultreia et Suseia!