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Military Father Kidnaps Afghan Veteran Son From CFB Petawawa To Get Him Treatment
May 19, 2012. 11:04 am • Section: Defence
After three years, Greg Woolvett finally lost patience with the way his war-damaged son Jonathan was being treated at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
So he kidnapped him.
It happened May 1, barely a week after Jonathan, 30-yearold Afghanistan war veteran, had been released from The Ottawa Hospital’s General campus, where he had been taken following his second suicide attempt.
“The military was told precisely (by doctors) that Jon couldn’t be left alone and had to be under constant supervision,” Woolvett says. “They took him home and left him and he relapsed immediately.”
Depressed and upset, Jonathan stayed home, not reporting in each day as required at what is known as sick parade. Woolvett tried to monitor the situation from his home in Burlington, Ont., and was told by one of Jonathan’s superior officers that, if his son didn’t show up for sick parade, he would be disciplined.
“I had a gut feeling they were going to arrest him for being AWOL,” Woolvett says, “so I had a friend go to Jon’s house and keep him overnight so they wouldn’t be able to find and arrest him.”
In the meantime, Woolvett quickly rearranged his life and left Burlington at 4 a.m. to drive to Petawawa, where he picked up his son, turned around and headed straight to the Brentwood addiction centre in Windsor.
“I got so sick and tired of repetitive inaction by the military I had to take matters into my own hands. Jon was a dead man walking and sooner or later he was going to kill himself,” Woolvett says.
“Jon has lost his wife, his child, his home and his career. Once he had an idyllic lifestyle: His wife was in the military, they had a brand new baby and he was on a career fast track to become sergeant. It’s all gone.”
In the days after Jonathan was taken by his father to Windsor, his military superiors threatened court martial. The idea was dropped – at least temporarily – five days later.
More recently, Woolvett says, a military doctor refused to fill Jonathan’s medication prescription unless he returned to Petawawa. His father declined on his behalf: “I wasn’t going to risk them arresting him.”
The Department of National Defence won’t discuss individual cases because of privacy issues and had no comment on the Woolvetts’ situation.
Jonathan’s story has come to light just after the release of several reports critical of the military’s handling of war-damaged soldiers. Last month, a group of civilian clinicians working with Afghanistan war veterans authored a report slamming mental health care at CFB Petawawa, saying soldiers there are suffering because of inadequate treatment.
Woolvett, who describes himself as self-educated in the ways of the military, says he snatched Jonathan from the base not just to save his son’s life, but also to help other veterans of the decade-long Afghanistan war who are suffering from trauma.
“I know there are lots of them out there. Many are from broken homes to begin with and the military becomes their family and they get kicked around by a second family,” he says. They aren’t always highly educated people, he adds, “but they are the guys who face daily combat and, like my son, are the ones who are suffering.”
Woolvett is also angry about the way he says the military characterized his son’s illness.
“They say Jon is an alcoholic and that his PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a very secondary issue,” he says. “I don’t know whether it’s ignorance and a lack of understanding of the link between PTSD and addiction, but these soldiers suffering from PTSD use the drugs and alcohol to zombie out.”
Despite his recent clash with the military, Woolvett says his family has worked hard for soldiers over the years. Jonathan’s mother, Diane, and sister, Jennifer, launched the Operation Santa Claus, a hugely successful drive to send Christmas gifts to soldiers overseas. Defence Minister Peter MacKay also presented Diane with a plaque for her work on Operation Hero, a scholarship program for military families.
Jonathan, a combat soldier, did two tours in Afghanistan, six months in 2007 and seven months in 2008-09. He returned to Canada at the end of his second tour suffering from chronic night terrors, profuse sweating and recurring nightmares. In one, he is drowning in sand. In another, he is forced to stand helpless as people around him are being killed.
“He has been afraid to sleep,” Woolvett says. “I’ve seen him go three or four days without sleep. Like others, he used the drink and drugs in the hope of sleeping without the nightmares.”
Jonathan had an especially rough time in Afghanistan, where three good friends, including Matt Mc-Cully, were killed.
Woolvett recalls being in Montreal when he received a satellite phone call from his son in Afghanistan.
“He said, ‘You’re going to hear something on the news tonight, and I want you to understand that I’m OK.’ That night I read that Cpl. Matt McCully had been killed by an IED. Jon was 100 metres behind him on the radio in a LAV (armoured vehicle) and McCully came on and said, ‘I think we’ve got an IED here, Jon. Don’t go anywhere near it.’
“I guess he got down to take a closer look and Jon heard him say, ‘It looks like a hockey puck.’ Then the radio went dead.”
On another occasion, Woolvett says his son was ordered to guard “the entrails” of three American soldiers – also IED victims – until U.S. military help arrived to reclaim the bodies.
“He was shooting at Afghan dogs to prevent them dragging the body parts away,” Woolvett says. “It must have been horrible.”
In January 2009, Jonathan wrote about a harrowing event that happened at the end of a long day on patrol close to a forward operating base. Four Afghan children ran toward the Canadian soldiers asking for candy and, almost simultaneously, gunfire started.
“Our surroundings erupted like a volcano,” he wrote. “Somebody screamed ambush and everyone looked for cover … the volume of enemy fire was both accurate and overwhelming. The platoon’s grenadiers were lobbying grenades into anything that could conceal an insurgent. I realized we might be in some serious s—. We were being hit from four, maybe five sides.
“I cringed with fear and threw myself into the embankment, praying … all I could think about was never getting to see my wife and children again. It was only one day after my 27th birthday. The fear of death was short-lived and after a very sobering moment I accepted my fate and a sudden calm came over me. My situational awareness jumped to 100 per cent.”
Jonathan goes on to describe lifting his rifle scope to his eye and calmly shooting an enemy gunner and his loader.
The four children, likely used by the insurgents as a lure and distraction, were all killed in the initial wave of machine gunfire. Incredibly, no Canadian soldiers were killed. A U.S. attack helicopter called in for help strafed the insurgents while the Canadians ran to safety.
Later, though, Jonathan had a meltdown over beer with a few friends.
“A couple of guys took him to the base medical centre and a doctor gave him an anti-depressant and they sent him back into active duty,” his father says.
Jonathan also lost two other close friends – Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Cpl. Tyler Crooks – just he was about to leave for Canada after his final tour. Both were killed by an IED. The three men had played hockey together at Petawawa.
After his return to Canada, and following his divorce, Jonathan was charged for threatening a woman he had been seeing.
According to Jonathan’s father, the woman removed all of his son’s alcohol from his house at the request of the military. The court gave him a conditional discharge.
“A probation officer told me that about 60 Petawawa soldiers are currently on probation for offences related to PTSD,” Woolvett says. “The military needs to monitor these guys and they need to be treated on base but now certain members (of the military medical hierarchy) have no training in either addiction or PTSD.”
Typically, recovering soldiers are placed with the Joint Personnel Support Unit, which Woolvett says isn’t doing enough.
“What they do now is find them menial jobs,” Woolvett says. “They had my son, a master corporal, sweeping the stands at the arena while members of his battalion were playing hockey. It’s humiliating.”
DND says plans are under way to improve help for those who return from combat with mental problems.
As for Jonathan, he has two more weeks at the Windsor facility and his military leave has been extended to 30 days to allow him to finish his treatment there.
“He sounds good and positive and is doing very well,” Woolvett says hopefully. “He was even talking about resuming his military career out of the infantry and at another base.”