Afghan vet wanted to make a difference

Cpl. Andrew Mullett hopes he changed some lives for the better during his time serving in Afghanistan, a land still roiled by conflict.

But there’s no denying the experience has left him a different man.

“It changed me because it made me appreciate what we have here today in Canada,” the 38-year-old says. “There are certainly places in the world that aren’t as fortunate. It really made me appreciate the little things and to be happy for what I have, and I don’t take things for granted.

“Even today, I look back at it – if we were going to be deployed anywhere, I would go again. There is no sense training for something and to not put that to practice.”

In 2008, Mullett was deployed with the Canadian Forces – certain some 13 months of training would serve him well on the mission.

“I felt like I was ready,” the married father of two young children recalls. “What the army didn’t prepare us for was missing our family.”

Serving from March to September, Mullett spent much of his time doing presence patrol – rolling into villages in light-armoured vehicles to make sure everything was okay.

“Lots of times within minutes of us rolling up, kids were surrounding our vehicle,” he says. “They knew we were there for the right reasons and we would hand out water, pens and paper – anything we could do to solidify it.”

While encountering so many children was comfortingly familiar, it was also a painful illustration contrasting the lives of those growing up in the war-torn country compared to those back home.

“It was a culture shock to me,” he says. “I remember this photograph taken of my sergeant with five or six kids and the expression on their faces – it was like the expression my kids give me at Christmas.

“He is on his knees and giving kids cheese crackers. It was just cheese crackers. Some were not wearing shoes and I’m thinking about my kids and how fortunate they are compared to the kids in Afghanistan.”

Then there was just the dealing with the daily unknown when the platoon of about 30 soldiers left the relative safety of their operating base in northern Afghanistan – never knowing what might happen when they did.

“We all deployed as a team,” Mullett says. “We knew what our mission was. We had faith and encouragement from other soldiers that were there, and we all knew what we needed to do and had each others’ back.”

To say being so far from home and coping with a lot of the devastating realities and losses was tough is an understatement.

But Mullett has always reminded himself and found strength in knowing it was an honour to be part of the mission.

“We had many casualties during our time over there and nothing can prepare you for that,” he says.

Now, Mullett is posted to the Military Museums in Calgary where he works as a collections manager for the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry.

And whatever way he can serve suits him just fine.

“I just wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself,” he says of joining the military some 15 years ago. “Growing up, I wanted to be a police officer – I kind of always had that mentality that I feel like I can protect somebody and because I love my country, what better way to serve my country.”

He loves the opportunity to be a serving solider able to share his story with children.

“We share our knowledge and our experience and educate them,” he says.

In some ways, it is a continuation of work done in Afghanistan where the intention was always to play a part in bettering the world.

“If I made a difference in one person’s life over there – that’s great for me,” Mullett says. “We did experience some hard times but had good times as well. It’s what we signed up for. I wouldn’t change anything.”

It has, however, not come without a cost – including the loss of some fellow soldiers – which is difficult but a reality.

“We accept that and we remember them,” he says. “It’s what we do – we remember those who have fallen and I think about my brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives and we always will. That’s how I deal with it – I respect the fact they paid the ultimate price and believed in what Canada was doing, whether it be our mission in Afghanistan or (First World War or Second World War,) – we had a job to do and we did it.”

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