Dallaire recalls horrors of Rwanda

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Evidence Material
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By Trevor Wilhelm, THE WINDSOR STAR

Post-traumatic stress, suicide attempts and alcohol abuse — even Canada’s most famous soldier was not immune.

Sen. Romeo Dallaire, a retired lieutenant-general who led United Nations peacekeepers in Rwanda, said the horrors he witnessed took him down a dark path of depression. There were many terrible consequences.

“Suicidal being one, and working your way through that, and booze all kinds of things,” Dallaire said Tuesday October 25, 2011 in Windsor. “Very difficult living with family and controlling it, when you can’t control your emotions and you live a lot of hurt and pain. Then it has physical impacts, all kinds of stresses and so on.”

“It came to such a head that I personally went completely destroyed.”

Dallaire was in Windsor as the guest speaker for the Excellence in Leadership Dinner at St. Clair College Centre for the Arts, hosted by Leadership Windsor/Essex.

Dallaire spent 35 years in Canada’s armed forces and was the commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission during the Rwandan genocide.

He has written books about his experiences, including Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. It won a Governor General’s Literary Award and spawned documentary and feature films.

On Tuesday, Dallaire talked about leadership and how his experiences are “transportable to situations back home.”

He urged people to “get involved” to help their communities weather difficult times and make them even better in the good times.

“Individuals can change things significantly by commitment and in so doing, that’s how our societies continue to progress,” said Dallaire. “By individuals leading and taking charge and helping others and influencing others.”

He also touched on post-traumatic and operational stress, something he knows about all too well.

“Speaking of those terrible scenarios that we live through is not negative,” said Dallaire. “It does bring up a lot of emotions, but part of the healing of those who are injured by operational stress is the ability to find a place where you can talk.”

The stress took such a toll on him that he attempted suicide a number of times. Now he talks about it publicly to help others suffering the same “injury.”

Some of those have included Windsor soldiers. Among them were Trooper Stefan Jankowski, 25, who served in Afghanistan. He died of a prescription drug overdose in July after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m doing it to not only influence the other soldiers to come forward and seek some support and help, and their families, but also to hopefully change policies in how we handle these injuries and how we take care of those people,” said Dallaire, who takes medication for the affliction.

He said there have already been great strides in how operational stress is dealt with.

“I’ve been at it since ‘97, we’ve seen massive changes,” said Dallaire. “We actually deploy therapists in theatres of operations. It was absolutely unheard of. We’ve got clinics across the country. We now recognize it as an injury, and not as a disease. And we are seeing more and more research being done on how to not only help those who have got that injury, meaning post-trauma, but how to attenuate the impact of it before they deploy.”

Those advances came with a change in attitude about the problem and those experiencing it.

“That change that happened was the realization that this injury can be terminal and that there were soldiers who served in operations including Rwanda who were killing themselves,” said Dallaire. “That families were being split up. That guys and girls were going to drugs and booze and getting into trouble. Not because they were bad, it was because they simply couldn’t handle the stress of living day to day.”

twilhelm@windsorstar.com or 519-255-6850

Source: http://www.windsorstar.com/news/Dallaire+recalls+horrors+Rwanda/5605740/story.html

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