Master Corporal Jody Mitic served three missions in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces. A renowned sniper, Mitic’s world changed forever Jan. 11, 2007 while on a sortie in Arghandab Valley when he stepped on an anti-personnel landmine the size of a hockey puck. The soldier lost both feet and lower portions of both legs. When he returned home the hard part began.
Back in Canada, Mitic experienced several operations and a lengthy rehabilitation. Because the military had little experience since the Second World War in dealing with catastrophic wounds suffered by soldiers, it often left Mitic more frustrated than assisted. Moreover, severe chronic pain resulted in an addiction to the powerful pain-killer Oxycontin — a habit he later kicked largely on his own.
He also lost his girlfriend. Later, he reconnected with Alannah Gilmore, a military medic who had treated him immediately after the landmine explosion. After that initial encounter, she disappeared from his life for many months, until the two met again at a bar in Petawawa. They are now a couple with two young daughters.
Mitic left the military last year and, a few months later, was elected city councilor for Ottawa’s Innes ward.
The details of Mitic’s childhood, love of soldiering, life-altering injury – and his happy ending – are found in the newly published memoir, Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper, published by Simon and Schuster Canada.
Unflinching is a raw and sometimes brutal journey into the heart and life of a soldier who, as a boy growing up in Brampton, was told by his mother not to play with guns. Well, Jody didn’t listen to mom.
While still in high school, he joined the reserves and in 1997 became a full-time soldier, eventually specializing in being a sniper, picking off Taliban fighters from afar in rural Afghanistan.
Written in often salty, locker-room language, Unflinching details the hardships and highs, risks and rewards, of being a soldier. Anyone contemplating a military career would be wise to read this book to see what that life is really like.
For example, Mitic was almost booted from the forces early in his career. He had accompanied a buddy seeking to buy some crack. The two were immediately arrested. Mitic’s role in the affair was so minimal that the police never charged him. But the military made his life hell for months, constantly threatening to discharge him. Mitic persevered. Eventually he was forgiven and the blot on his record erased.
Even after his horrendous wounding, Mitic remained a dedicated soldier. He longed to go back to Afghanistan and work as a gunner on a helicopter. Mitic believed he could do that job with his new prosthetics and even received encouragement from the chief of the defence staff of the day, Gen. Walter Natynczyk. But military bureaucracy intervened, saying he had to pass tests that all combat soldiers face, showing he could, among other things, hike 13 kilometres carrying a heavy pack in less than 2.5 hours.
Mitic knew he could not pass that test. Instead, he took some military desk jobs in Canada and, in 2014, left the forces.
He is, at times in the book, very critical of the military for its unwillingness or inability to deal with his physical and psychological needs upon returning to Canada. After arriving from Afghanistan, en route to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, an officer confided: “Just so you know, we don’t have any idea what we’re doing.”
That captain’s statement was prophetic. The military was simply out of practice dealing with the severely wounded. Mitic soon discovered medical personnel could deal with a sprained ankle, but were almost clueless dealing with the short- and long-term physical and psychological needs of a man with no feet.
“The toughest thing for me, beyond dealing with my own mobility and injury issues, was navigating through a system unprepared for what I needed most,” he writes.
The military simply failed to deliver the kind of rehab, housing and support system Mitic felt he needed to reintegrate to society.
Unflinching, as it turns out, should also be required reading for all the military brass that have the power to change procedures, so that soldiers who have made great sacrifices for their country are treated with the care and respect they deserve and need upon returning home.