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Road to recovery

Master Cpl. Chris Drewes hopes to make it back to Canada in time for Pte. Tyler William Todd’s funeral.
Chris Drewes shows off the Thunder Bay flag in Afghanistan in this undated photo. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

Master Cpl. Chris Drewes hopes to make it back to Canada in time for Pte. Tyler William Todd’s funeral.

The 24-year-old Drewes is recovering in hospital in Kandahar City, Afghanistan with extensive shrapnel wounds to his shoulder, a day after a remote control explosive device was detonated while he and his 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia Light Infantry unit were on a routine foot patrol about eight kilometres from the Afghan capital.

Todd, a native of Kitchener, was killed instantly in the blast, while Drewes, who grew up in Thunder Bay but now resides in Edmonton, faces multiple surgeries to repair the damage.
"He was right behind me," Drewes told his father Jack Drewes, who took the overseas call from his son while being interviewed on Monday afternoon.

"I’m trying to make the funeral," he said, adding that Todd was a good friend of his, the radio man on their foot patrol that night. Dressed in pajama bottoms and no shirt, the injured soldier did make Sunday’s ramp ceremony, saluting his fallen comrade on the tarmac before Todd’s remains were returned to Canada.

The initial call, which came on Sunday, hours after the incident, was a call his parents – mother Maureen, father Jack and stepmother Julie – would rather not have received, and although they’d prefer not to think about the alternatives, they know their son, who was leading the fateful patrol, had luck on his side that day.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Jack Drewes, an electrician at Lakehead University. "He was 10 feet away from the poor soldier who died. He was witness to it all … They were coming back to get more water when it happened early in the morning their time.

"His voice was a little hoarse, he said, from screaming at the other guys to stay away, because they’re always very concerned about secondary blasts. (Insurgents) have a tendency to plant more than one mine, because they know if they get one all the other Canadians will rush in and then they try to get some more. But he knew enough to try to keep the guys away."

The elder Drewes was just happy to get a chance to speak with his son for a few minutes after the explosion, despite the fact Chris was feeling a little groggy at the time.

"He was drugged with morphine quite a bit, but I did get to chat with him. He said that he had some good news and some bad news. The good news is he’s coming home, and the bad news is he got caught in a bomb blast.

"He’s gonna be OK. He says he might have to go through a series of operations on his shoulder. He did say, ‘Dad, I lost my tattoo.’ So his tattoo was blown off his shoulder somehow."

If that’s the only permanent damage, mother Maureen can breathe a little easier. She got her call late Sunday night, while her son was still in a military hospital in Afghanistan.

"I really don’t know how much more damage was done to his upper arm," she said. "He told me that he had use of his fingers and he could bend his elbow, so to me that’s a good sign. He said he was fine, he told me don’t worry."

Though concerned about his mental state, she’s sure her son won’t let what happened overwhelm him.

"Chris is pretty strong individual, I think he’ll pull through it fine," she said, adding she hopes to visit him in Edmonton once he comes home to Canada.

Stepping outside normal policy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper indirectly mentioned Drewes in giving his condolences to Todd’s family.

"The thoughts of an entire country are with you in this most difficult time," he said in a statement. "I also hope for the quick and full recovery of the other Canadian soldier injured in the same incident."

A Department of National Defence spokesman said it is Canadian Forces policy not to comment on injuries, other than to release year-end casualty figures. Capt. Dan Menard said the policy is in place for privacy and security reasons.

Drewes’ friends were quick to the charge, typing words of encouragement on his Facebook wall.

"Glad to hear you’re OK, hope to see you soon," wote Danny Basdarik.

"God speed home, Chris, very happy to hear you’re OK," wrote Bill Wolowidnyk.

None were happier than his parents that Drewes, in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, is likely coming home for good.

Jack Drewes, who said his son is deeply committed to the military, said he’d like to see Chris pursue a possible posting to Montreal where he could teach basic training to new recruits.
That would suit Jack Drewes just fine, travel plans already starting to form in his mind.

"I want to watch some Montreal Canadiens games," he said.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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