Afghanistan Veteran photos reveal ‘The truth of war, and survival’ at museum

Afghanistan Veteran photo reveal
Master Corporal Mike Trauner and his fiancée, Leah Cuffe, offer counselling to other couples who, like them, are dealing with the aftermath of battlefield injuries. Cpl Trauner lost both legs and suffered profound injuries to his left arm while serving in Afghanistan in 2008. The couple are among the subjects of The Wounded, a photographic exhibit on now at the Canadian War Museum. Photo: Stephen J. Thorne/Legion Magazine

Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — A new photography exhibit at the Canadian War Museum features haunting portraits of wounded Afghanistan veterans the photographer says show Canada at its best.

The exhibit, entitled The Wounded, consists of 18 large-format black-and-white photos by award-winning photojournalist and writer Stephen Thorne, originally commissioned by Legion Magazine in 2016. He also wrote the stories behind the subjects’ battlefield injuries, travelling across Canada to meet with each one.

Carried wounded soldier despite own broken pelvis

One of the soldiers depicted is Captain Hélène LeScelleur, who was wounded while travelling in a military convoy in October 2007. A roadside bomb blast broke her pelvis and, despite the injury, she carried a wounded comrade 200 metres to safety. Cut off from the rest of the convoy, she stood guard through the night.

In the aftermath, Capt LeScelleur experienced suicidal thoughts and panic attacks. She was later medically released from the military and is now studying social work with an eye to helping other Veterans.

Father and son served at same time

Master Warrant Officer André Renaud and Corporal Martin Renaud are a father and son who served simultaneously in Afghanistan. When Cpl Renaud was travelling in a vehicle hit by an improvised explosive device, his father was just 15 kilometres away and heard the blast.

Cpl Renaud’s spine was broken in the blast and doctors later had to amputate both his right foot and left leg – the start of a long healing process that involved the whole Renaud family.

Speaking at a media preview of the exhibit, Mr. Thorne thanked each of his subjects, saying, “You represent the best of Canada.”

In his three decades with the Canadian Press, Mr. Thorne added, “I saw and did a lot of extraordinary things, and nothing came close to what I saw and experienced in covering what these people did in Afghanistan.”

“I feel like they didn’t get the recognition they deserved,” he added, noting that the term ‘injury’ became increasingly common in military parlance in the Afghanistan years.

‘Wounded’ more precise term than ‘Injured’

“‘Injury’ doesn’t do justice to what had happened to these folks. It doesn’t convey the profound, life-changing nature of what they faced. To be truthful, no words can do that, but at least ‘wounded’ tells people that what’s happened has been inflicted upon them with the intention to kill.”
His subjects, Mr. Thorne added, “didn’t want the attention. They did this [agreed to be photographed] out of a sense of duty and service. It was one more sacrifice for the sake of their fellow soldiers. For the thousands who were wounded, physically and mentally, and for the public to know.”

‘An elegant and effective ambassador for these veterans’

Legion Magazine General Manager Jennifer Morse said properly portraying the profound sacrifices soldiers make is no small challenge for its staff. Mr. Thorne, she said, has “proven to be an elegant and effective ambassador for these veterans” through his work.

“Stephen chose to create the portraits in black and white,” she added. “And in doing so he has captured the truth of war, and survival.” See Related Links below to read his original essay online.

The Wounded opened on February 15 and is on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario through June 2, 2019.

Resources for Recovery: The stories featured in this exhibition describe serious physical injuries and psychological trauma. They also show the toll rehabilitation can take on individuals and their loved ones. If you are reading this, and are suffering, you are not alone. Help is available. Veterans Affairs Canada Assistance Service: 1-800-268-7708; Operational Stress Injury Social Support: 1-800-883-6094; Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566.

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