Cover

IN HARM’S WAY

JOHN GEDDES October 13 2003
Cover

IN HARM’S WAY

JOHN GEDDES October 13 2003

PRACTISING MEDICINE ON THE FRONT LINE

MASTER CPL. MARIO CHARETTE

WORKING AT HIS COMPUTER in Camp Julien’s medical facilities, Master Cpl. Mario Charette doesn’t stand out. But this unassuming operating room technician is a decorated veteran of four previous postings, including the Gulf War and Somalia in 1992-93, where he was caught in a riot at a hospital in Belet Huen. In the ensuing chaos, bystanders were hit by gunfire—and Charette jumped in to help. “I was a junior medic at that time and helped provide triage for the wounded outside the hospital,” he recalls. “The whole event must have lasted something like three or four hours, but it seemed like just five minutes to me.”

Charette, 36, who was awarded a medal for bravery for his heroism during the riot, found himself on the front lines again last week when two Canadian soldiers died in a land-mine explosion, and three others were injured. “Knowing it was a mine, I was preparing for more than one casualty,” he told Maclean’s shortly after helping care for the victims. “We’ve had a lot of exercises preparing for this type of eventuality but this wasn’t an exercise. There were a lot of very serious faces.”

Before that, Charette’s stay in Kabul had been relatively peaceful. He kept busy by maintaining equipment and helping with French-language classes. His partici-

pation in the camp’s Terry Fox Run is legendary: four 10-km runs were held in 35° C heat on a course littered with loose rocks—and Charette ran them all. But with injured soldiers arriving, the real reason for his presence in Kabul was driven home. “Having been exposed to various traumatic scenarios prepared me for what just happened,” he said. Fortunately only one of the injured men, who suffered second-degree burns to his hands, required surgery.

Over the past 15 years, almost every aspect of Charette’s life has been connected to the Forces. “My wife, Geneviève, proposed to me in a letter when I was in Somalia,” he recalled. “We got married when I came home.” He’d hoped his daughter, Naomi-Nisha, now 8, would be born during a leave from Croatia, but the clock ran out. “On the flight back to Croatia the captain patched a radio line through so I ended up sitting in the cockpit talking to my wife,” he recalls. “Three days later she gave birth.” Last week, with casualties casting a grim mood over Camp Julien, Charette was definitely in the right place at the right time. Once the emergency had been tended to, he was relieved. “All the preparation my team has done definitely paid off,” he said. “We came together in a stressful situation and proved that we can get the work done.”