Reprinted from Soldier On
I joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1986 and trained as a Combat Engineer, which involved an explosives training phase.
On 20 June 1988, at Sleese Creek, CFB Chilliwack, I would survive the worst training accident in Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering history.
While some members of my course dug a hole for charging, I cut and prepared the explosives. We were tired, the staff pushed us to work quickly, and while no one knows exactly what happened next, the charge detonated prematurely. I woke up with a course mate telling me to ‘stay with him’, and 6 of my course mates were dead, including my best friend Bill Whitley. My friends Mike Byrdon, and Jeffrey Clark, were also severely injured.
After initial recovery, I was sent back to Chilliwack in 1989. I found myself unable to cope with the horrors I had faced and, not having much support, I decided to leave the military.
I began a personal descent into hell over the next 15 years, my relationship with my father, a career soldier, broke down. I felt paranoid, alienated and angry at those who would just tell me to ‘Get back on the horse’ and ‘Move on with your life’. I had multiple breakdowns, and I struggled viscously to hold down a steady career.
I only started to come out of this black hole in 2000, when I married my wife. With her love and support, I began attending counselling and Psychiatry in 2004, although there were many lingering issues, and despite attempts to reach out through joint counselling with the veteran community in 2014, I just could not connect with them or talk about my experiences.
Then, in 2017, two things happened which has had an immensely positive impact on me. First, I was welcomed into the Engineer community, in particular to 32 CER, and second, I connected to other wounded, injured and ill veterans through the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group’s Soldier On program.
The Engineer community has treated me as one of their own, and not a broken thing of which to be ashamed. In addition to confirming to me that the explosion was not my fault, they say that because of what we went through, training standards have improved to the point that it would be impossible to reproduce the accident we suffered.
Soldier On has connected me to others who have stories to tell, and I realize that I am not alone. When we can come together around something fun like Golf or Fishing, a lot of the anxiety I normally would feel just goes away.
Today, not only am I now feeling motivated to stay active, lose weight, and have fun with other veterans; I am also starting to feel like I am a welcome member of a military community. I could not have imagined this would be true even four years ago.
Editor's Note: Michael Briggs has been recently elected as President of the Toronto Sapper Association. He is one of three members of the CME family participating in the Warrior Games in 2019.