CJAD: A Soldier-Student's Story

Article Written by Patrick Lejtenyi. More here

As Canada remembers its war dead and wounded, young veterans of the Afghanistan conflict are getting used to life at home.

It isn't always easy.

But some of them are are taking it upon themselves to help their former comrades-in-arms succeed in a very different setting from the war zone: the classroom.

Among them is Jordan Ayley, a 26-year-old Laval native who served as an infantryman in Afghanistan in 2009.

A former reservist with the Black Watch, Ayley volunteered to serve with the Royal 22nd Regiment in Afghanistan almost immediately after he completed his recruit course.

He said he joined the military because he wanted to help people, and protect those who weren't able to do so themselves.

Following an 18-month pre-deployment training, he was stationed outside Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.

He said his time in country was rewarding, though at times difficult. He says he had seen his fair share of combat, without going into details.

But the morning of September 13th, 2009, was among the worst in his life.

That was the day he saw his friend and fellow soldier Patrick Lormand die, when his armoured vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

"I was on the roof on an observation post and I was watching the LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicle) drive in. Then we heard a loud bang and I saw the LAV go straight up, 90 degrees in the air," he says.

Six years later, the soft-spoken, polite Concordia student says he still visits Normand's grave and his family every year.

But he is also trying to finish his BA as an independent student, with an eye on enrolling into the John Molson School of Business next fall.

He's being helped by the Concordia Veterans' Association, a student club founded by a fellow Afghanistan veteran earlier this year.

Part support group, party advocacy group, the CVA is meant to ease a transition that can be very difficult.

"Coming to university out of the military, it can hit you like a wall," he says. "And transitioning from the military to school life, that's where you don't want to leave guys behind."

The CVA also has a strong peer support component, helping former and serving soldiers with university tasks that they may have difficulty accomplishing.

"It's like, 'Hey, you're not the only veteran or the only soldier here," he says. "If you need help writing paper, we can link you to guys who can teach you write a paper properly. If you need assistance with mental health, we can link you up with other organizations."

Ayley says the CBA provides a familiar kind of structure to people who have been in the military system for years.

"I feel like I have a team behind me again. It's like that feeling of brotherhood in the army all over again," he says.

As a vet and CVA member, Ayley is involved with the annual poppy drive on campus, and says he's been happily surprised by the support he's received from fellow students.

The poppy drive is a tradition that he holds more dearly than most.

"After serving overseas in Afghanistan, and losing Pat and losing other guys, you realize how important it is to remember them and never forget."