'He's alive and we rejoice at that'

Capt. Trevor Greene is making a slow, but steady, recovery from an axe attack one year ago in Afghanistan, Graham Thomson writes from Kandahar.

Graham Thomson, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Saturday, March 03, 2007

You might not remember his name. But you surely remember what happened to him.

'This world needs people like this and so that's what inspires me,' says Debbie Lepore of her fiance, Capt. Trevor Greene.

Photograph by : Lisa Petka Photography

One year ago tomorrow, Capt. Trevor Greene was hit in the head by a crazed Afghan wielding an axe in an attack that horrified Canadians for its viciousness and brutality.

His shaken colleagues, who shot the attacker dead on the spot, thought Capt. Greene was done for. Indeed, the blow was probably deep and deadly enough to kill most people.

But not Capt. Greene. Astonishingly, he survived the attack and today is most assuredly alive.

And he has a message for Canadians: "Despite being clobbered in the head with a Taliban axe, I would go back in a heartbeat to finish off the mission."

His message manages to convey humour, optimism and determination, which sums up the man and the traits that have seen him come so far since the attack. He is still in Vancouver General Hospital, confined to a bed and wheelchair, struggling through sessions of physical rehabilitation.

But he is getting better.

"There's no impairment of his cognitive functions," says his fiancee, Debbie Lepore, who has been at his side every day since he was brought home. "He thinks as well has he did before."

For privacy reasons, she didn't want to release recent photos of Capt. Greene, but says he looks much the same as he did before the attack, maybe a few pounds lighter.

Capt. Greene's ongoing fight is to overcome the physical handicap created when the axe cleaved into the area of the brain that controls his motor functions.

"That's why he's not able to walk, he's not able to move his hands and his arms very well at this point," Ms. Lepore says.

Every day, Capt. Greene, who spent his high school years in Orleans, goes through physical therapy in an attempt to rewire his brain. He is relearning how to move his hands, his arms and his legs.

"So, if the brain makes new connections to get those neurons through and the synapses firing, then there's a chance that he'll get that back," she says. "But he was hit pretty hard in the area that controls the legs."

It must be at times a frustrating struggle for Capt. Greene, 42, who before the attack was a strapping six-foot-four bundle of energy who spoke English, French and Japanese and wrote several books -- one on the missing women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and another on the homeless in Japan.

This interest in the downtrodden led him to volunteer as a member of Canada's Civilian-Military Co-operation team in Afghanistan.

Capt. Greene's physical progress is slow and laborious, measured in the twitch of a finger, the flutter of a hand. Some days, there is no measurable movement at all.

His recovery will take years; there is no fast fix or set schedule. It is akin to Canada's progress in Afghanistan. Indeed, Capt. Greene's story could stand as a metaphor for Canada's mission here.

It is the story of a big-hearted and well-meaning man who sat down with people in the village of Gumbad, right in the heart of Taliban country, and in a show of trust and friendship laid down his weapon, removed his combat helmet and took out a note-pad and pen to write down what the villagers needed.

That's when a teen brandishing a weapon attacked.

It was the end of innocence for well-meaning Canada, and a reminder that the country's soldiers are in a war zone fighting an enemy that will use youngsters to attack from behind with suicidal brutality.

The mission's progress since then has moved in fits and starts. Since the attack on Capt. Greene, 36 Canadians have been killed.

Canadian troops won a clear victory last summer in Operation Medusa, when the Taliban made the mistake of standing and fighting a conventional battle, thinking Canadians wouldn't have the stomach for battle in the districts of Panjwaii and Zhari.

However, Canada did not follow up on the military triumph with a strategy to help displaced residents reconstruct their shattered lives.

Life is returning, people are coming home to their farms, but the threat of the Taliban remains.

Canadians only travel through the area in armoured convoys.

But Canadians do go out every day, steadily increasing the number of patrols from the Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Kandahar City, the team Capt. Greene belonged to. The job of PRT volunteers is to help Afghans rebuild their lives and thus build a lasting peace. Among other things, they hire Afghans by the hundreds to clear out long stretches of irrigation canals, help immunize millions of children against polio and train the Afghan National Police.

After the attack on Capt. Greene and the escalation of fighting last year, the PRT's work ground to a halt. Now, the team is back out visiting villages.

Consequently, Capt. Greene remains very much an optimist of Canada's role in Afghanistan.

"The mission is critical for propping up the government in a volatile region," he says in an e-mail statement. "This is not a Band-Aid solution. I believe we can succeed."

Capt. Greene is still not up to the rigours of an interview, but compared to last year -- when he almost died from pneumonia and underwent a series of major surgeries -- he has come a long way. A few weeks ago, he made his first trip outside the hospital and went to dinner with his fiancee, their two-year-old daughter and his parents.

"He's just an amazing person," Ms. Lepore says. "This world needs people like this and so that's what inspires me."

The Canadian military, however, is apparently not so inspired. Ms. Lepore says she is struggling to get proper therapy for Capt. Greene.

"He's only given 30 minutes of physiotherapy sessions at a time," she says. "He has had virtually no speech therapy for most of the time that he's been in hospital.

"I've been playing telephone and e-mail tag with military officials in Ottawa to find out why they're not providing more help. As I write this, I still don't have an answer."

But Ms. Lepore, like Capt. Greene, is an optimist.

"I don't know where we're going to end up. But I know he's got a long way still to go for sure. I know he's going to make a very good recovery. I just have a feeling. He's alive and we rejoice at that."

- - -

A trust fund has been set up in Capt. Greene's name at the CIBC. Donations can be made to the Captain Trevor Greene Trust Fund Account #39-31137 (Bank 010, Transit 00500).

 The Ottawa Citizen 2007

B.C. soldier critical after Afghan attack



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