'Big heart' drew soldier to trouble spots


March 6, 2006

VANCOUVER -- It is a long way from interviewing prostitutes on the mean streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to talking to hostile villagers in strife-torn Afghanistan.

But colleagues of Trevor Greene, the Canadian soldier who was seriously injured in an attack in an Afghan village on the weekend, say he was drawn to both trouble spots by his compassion, his intellectual curiosity and his desire to make the world a better place.

"He has a big, big heart. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Trevor Greene," Robert Chown said yesterday. Mr. Chown, a spokesman for the Seaforth Highlanders Regimental Association in Vancouver, watched Captain Greene, 41, work his way up through the ranks in the militia unit before volunteering recently for duty with regular forces in Afghanistan.

"To me he is the epitome of a great soldier in modern times," Mr. Chown said. "He is extremely fit, physically. When he was in uniform he was always immaculate. And he's a very intelligent man who wanted to do good.

"I really admire him. He is a great soldier. Certainly someone I would want to be with in a time of turmoil.

"I believe he was in Bosnia [before] voluntarily. In recent times, he was in Vancouver and they put him in the recruiting office downtown. He was a bit restless with that. I think he was a soldier's soldier and was more interested in the field and so he put in for Afghanistan.

"When I heard he'd been injured . . . it just threw me."

Capt. Greene (a promotion from lieutenant that was approved before the attack came yesterday) was struck in the head with an axe on Saturday while he was engaged in peaceful talks with the leaders of an Afghan village. He had taken off his helmet and set aside his rifle as a sign of his peaceful intent, when he was struck from behind. The young man who attacked him was shot dead by Canadian and Afghan soldiers.

Capt. Greene, who lived on a boat at Fisherman's Wharf, worked as an author, freelance journalist and entrepreneur in Vancouver, while serving weekends and one or two nights a week with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

His interests outside the military are diverse. He wrote a non-fiction book, Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track, after delving into life on the streets of the Downtown Eastside. For two years, he spent almost every day on the streets, winning the trust of prostitutes, all of whom had been beaten or raped in the past.

"What I was shocked at is the violence that is perpetrated on these women by normal, everyday johns every single day," he said of his experience.

In his book, published in 2001, he speculated that a serial killer was preying on prostitutes. Police later came to the same conclusion. Earlier, while working as a business journalist with the Tokyo bureau of Bloomberg News, he wrote Bridge of Tears, a book on Japan's homeless.

Tall, solidly built and with a strong handshake, Capt. Greene talked with passion about his book projects and about his journalism. He believed his writing, which was inspired by an aunt who was a nun, could help make the world a better place -- and he had the same attitude about his work in the military.

"Trevor was really passionate about street people and people on the low track," said Shane Gibson, with whom Capt. Greene co-wrote a business book, Closing Bigger: The Field Guide to Closing Bigger Deals.

In a posting on his website, Mr. Gibson said Capt. Greene's family "is busy praying and hoping for the best." He said the family did not want to be contacted by reporters at this time.

Friends said Capt. Greene has a small child and is engaged. His parents live in Nova Scotia and his fiancée is in Vancouver.

Robert Croston, a military reserve lieutenant with the Seaforth Highlanders, said he served side by side as a platoon commander with Capt. Greene and has immense respect for him.

"He was good to the men and good to his peers. He was always ready to serve the task at hand and was always looking out for the troops that he served with," said Mr. Croston, who works for an intelligence company in Vancouver.

He said Capt. Greene signed up to go to Afghanistan because he wanted to help the Canadian Forces rebuild that nation.

Capt. Greene was trying to build trust by engaging in dialogue with local Afghans when he was attacked.

"He's a model soldier, a model officer," Mr. Croston said. "When someone is struck down in the line of duty like that it affects us all. It also galvanizes us to the task at hand. We realize that what we're there to do is to support the reconstruction of a broken nation."

Mr. Croston said he did not think Capt. Greene would want people to judge all Afghans by what happened.

"In desperate times, with desperate people, desperate acts occur. You can't fault the entire community over there for what happened."

David Ferguson, a former commander of the Seaforth Highlanders, now retired, said the attack on Capt. Greene is shocking and difficult to understand.

"That's amazing to think he would be attacked during a peace talk," Mr. Ferguson said. "Trevor talked to them with his helmet off and his weapon down because you don't talk with a weapon in your hand and your helmet on and get trust.

"It's very rare that a leader would allow anybody to attack a person that is talking to them [under those conditions]. So I think it was something very unusual."

Mr. Ferguson said old soldiers have great respect for the young men and women who are serving in trouble spots with the Canadian military today.

"It isn't a war that I'm familiar with. In my day, which is a long time ago, the enemy wore a different uniform. But today the enemy is a seven-year-old kid or a 77-year-old grandmother. They don't wear uniforms and they are very nice to you, but they put a bomb under your car, or in Trevor's case, they attack you from behind during peaceful talks."

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