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March to the Pole an emotional journey for Canadian soldiers

Defending our country from harm is the top priority for Canadian soldiers. And while much of the focus is spent on those who served during the First and Second World Wars, History points the spotlight at 12 who fought in Afghanistan.

The facts are sobering: 30,000 Canadians cycled through Afghanistan during the 10-year conflict, with 158 of those soldiers being killed in combat, 635 soldiers wounded in action and thousands returning home suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Muse Entertainment’s March to the Pole, airing Tuesday as part of the network’s Remembrance Day programming, is certainly an adventure. It tracks a group of civilians and soldiers–the latter led by former Lt. Col. David Quick–as they ski across 125 unforgivable kilometres to the magnetic North Pole. It’s an arduous journey to be sure–sub-zero temperatures, blistered feet and one soldier, Bjarne Nielsen making the trip on a custom-made sled because he lost a leg in combat–but that takes a back seat to educating Canadians about the struggles our soldiers face when they enter civilian life.

I spoke to Quick about his experiences on the ice and what he hopes viewers will get out of watching March to the Pole. He was forced to leave the military after suffering a traumatic brain injury and damage through his spine after the vehicle he was travelling in drove over a mine.

How did you become involved in March to the Pole in the first place?
David Quick: Post-Afghanistan, I was working in Special Forces Command at the time and was doing a bit of a speaking circuit based on my experiences in Afghanistan. I was at a speaking engagement in Toronto about what it was like to be in the trenches because I literally lived in them for a certain period of time. I gave the presentation and met a gentleman named Shaun Francis, who is the founder of True Patriot Love Foundation. He and I hit it off and had a great discussion and exchanged business cards and that was it. We spent the next few years emailing each other and exchanging Christmas greetings.

When I found out that I was going to be forced to leave the military for my medical conditions I reached out to Shaun to say, ‘Hey, I have to look for a job. What do I do?’ He helped me out with that and became a bit of a mentor for me as I transitioned out of uniform. He reached out to me and said, ‘Dave, we’re doing this expedition and I’d like you to be team captain.’ I said, ‘No thank you.’ But then he told me that it would introduce me to a new way of life and that they needed my help shaping the team. I became, in essence, the recruiter to go through the application essays of the soldiers.

How many soldiers applied to go on this journey?
DQ: There were several dozen applications. Some of them were easy to whittle down because they didn’t have authority from their bosses. The real challenge came in Gatineau, QC, during a training session. In that session we had to whittle the group down to 12. That was tough because during that we had a sharing circle where the soldiers addressed the civilian team and told them who they were and why they were there. One of the most emotional moments for me was to listen to a guy like Bruno Guévremont, a great mountain of a man, go to places most men don’t go. It was very difficult. He made the cut, but there were lots of stories like that.

As I watched March to the Pole I became aware this is much an education for viewers into what soldiers go through as it is the journey to the pole.
DQ: I’m very keen to make that the focus of our discussion not only with you but with the dialogue in Canada. The challenge for the soldiers is: what next? What do they do when they are out of the military? How do they adjust? It opens up a lot of things that we as Canadians weren’t aware of and that I hope people walk away from this smarter and will be part of the solution. This isn’t just a military problem. This extends to emergency services and the security forces that protected our Parliament; these are extraordinary people that serve our country.

We’re just the expedition party, the vehicle to translate this message. It’s very important and I believe in it. The education is a lot more important than watching a bunch of soldiers get beasted in the North Pole.

Shauna Davies remarked on how when you were out there it was very quiet and you had your own thoughts to listen to. What did you learn about yourself out there?
DQ: My personal healing came from the soldiers. They cornered me partway into it and told me, ‘You to stop being Lt. Col. Quick. You need to start being Dave.’ I didn’t know who that was. Dave was always there in uniform and bred for mission and men first. I was always last. What kind of guy is Dave? What kind of husband am I? Am I a good husband? Am I doing all I can for my wife? Maybe not. Maybe I should invest more in her. Am I a good dad? These are the things, without any distractions, that really drove to the heart of who I was. I was somewhat ashamed that I had focused on so many other things and didn’t focus on the things that in this stage of my life I should be. I’m lucky and fortunate to have what I have today. You take your uniform off at the end of the day whether you are a general or a soldier. It’s probably best to take that uniform off and have a family there than to have a nice, shiny uniform on a hanger and be alone.

March to the Pole airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History.