The Poppy Memorial Team invited a new member to join their ranks this past January. Master corporal (ret’d) Colin Fitzgerald, accepted the position and will join the team on their mission to bring the Poppy Memorial to the families of fallen soldiers across Canada.
Warrant Officer Renay Groves, in charge of the Poppy Team, thinks she has chosen wisely.
“Colin will play a multifaceted role on the team. He will build bridges with serving soldiers, families of the fallen, and his fellow vets through sharing his experiences with them and setting the example of turning pain into purpose,” said Groves.
Fitzgerald served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, deploying to Bosnia twice and Afghanistan once in the years 2001 to 2006.
When he came back to Canada, he was in a very dark place, struggling with as yet undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.
Groves and Fitzgerald met in 2014 while both were seeking treatment for PTSD. Groves was on her way to completing her program, and Fitzgerald was beginning his journey.
Over the years since his deployment Fitzgerald moved forward and back through his PTSD. He was an angry person, barely coping with what he had seen and been through while deployed.
In the past year Groves and her team of soldiers, veterans and civilians surrounded him with support until he reached the point he wanted to find his purpose in life.
Groves believes Fitzgerald’s purpose as a team member will be to build bridges of communication, sharing and hope with the people he comes in contact with as he and the team move the Poppy Memorial across the country.
“As the newest member of the Poppy Team Colin brings to us so much. He acts as an example of a vet with PTSD to members of the CAF, who have no experience with deployment or PTSD. He can relate to the families of his comrades who fell, because he actually saw them fall. Finally, he can relate to vets, with or without PTSD, because he has lived through what they have lived through,” said Groves.
According to Fitzgerald, the stigma of having PTSD can be paralyzing and debilitating. Only when he openly acknowledged his PTSD and talked about it did his individual journey to healing begin.
“When there is trust people can get better and slowly bring home the part of themselves they left behind on their deployment,” said Fitzgerald.
With a lot of work and struggle, using the same laser focus that earned him a Medal of Military Valour, the third highest award for military valour in Canada, Fitzgerald intends to bring the Poppy Memorial to the families of the fallen.
As a member of the Poppy Memorial Team, the former soldier’s priorities are clearer today than they have been in years. He is turning his pain into purpose and building his own bridge home.
The Poppy Memorial is a piece of art made of three distinct pieces. The base is a road wheel from a battle-damaged Leopard tank, the intermediate section is made of engine vents engraved with names, and the top is a maple leaf shaped spire. The final addition to the memorial bronzed poppies representing each of Canada’s fallen soldiers. The memorial is taken across Canada, by the Poppy Memorial Team, to each fallen family as an act of respect and closure.
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