From combat to recovery: A veteran's 12-year journey 'learning how to live a normal life'

The chaos of combat was Jody Mitic's workplace and he didn't want to be anywhere else, and then he stepped on a landmine.

He lost both his feet and his career as a soldier was over. It was the beginning of a 12-year battle to figure out what life after combat would mean.

Mitic was a career soldier, joining the reserves in high school in the early 1990s. He told CBC's Island Morning there was a very different view of the military then.

"The debate was let's disband the army, let's stop doing Remembrance Day, war is stupid," said Mitic.

"I remember a kid from Toronto saying fighting over land is stupid I would never do that and I said, 'Man, you're fighting for a way of life.' That was the '90s. It hurt a little."

Joining the regular forces Mitic became a sniper, and led a team in Afghanistan.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC

He worked in an environment that is difficult to understand for people who haven't seen it. But he was good at it, and he enjoyed his work.

"Gunfire, explosions, burning vehicles," he said of his workspace.

"I didn't want to be anywhere else when I was there, and I loved every second of it right up until I stepped on that landmine. If there was technology that would let me soldier again I probably would."

But he did not have that choice.

New challenges

What followed instead after that day in January 2007 was a painful journey, both physical and mental, to a place where he could become comfortable in his new life.

He continued to challenge himself, taking part in the Amazing Race Canada with his brother (finishing second!) and in the Invictis Games, carrying the torch in Kabul. That trip gave him a sense of accomplishment for what he and his fellow soldiers had done.

"There's gas stations everywhere. There's a life. It's a city again. It's not just a pile of rubble and, you know, I was actually pretty proud of the work that we did," said Mitic.

He has little patience for critics who say Canada's mission changed nothing. Perhaps the country will go back to the way it was, but for 10 years they had an opportunity to see a different way of life, he said.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

But the journey also had setbacks. He was prescribed OxyContin for the pain in his legs, and became addicted. He has struggled with addictions to other substances since.

In the depth of those struggles, he came to new realizations about how his life should be.

"I'm finally on the other side of, 'Sorry Jody, you don't have your legs anymore.' I'm just learning how to live a normal life," he said.

"You don't have to be action hero, an action movie star doing TV shows and writing books and bodybuilding and racing cars and all this other stuff I've done since I got blown up. You can just be a dad and a husband and be a good Canadian and a good citizen. You don't always have to be out there looking for the razor's edge."

A quiet Remembrance Day

With Remembrance Day coming up, Mitic thinks back on how people around him viewed the military in the 1990s, and is appreciative of the changed attitudes.

"Now it means pride again," he said.

"We really do exist, I think, as a democracy because of the soldiers that came before me."

But Mitic won't be with the crowds. His soldier habits are too deeply ingrained, and he's not comfortable being around all those people.

"I tend to avoid the bigger events now," he said.

"I take a few minutes and remember some of the good buddies that didn't come home."

But he appreciates the refound respect, he said.

Mitic will be a guest speaker at Charlottetown's True Patriot Love tribute dinner Tuesday evening, along with Dr. Trevor Jain.

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