“Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper” is the autobiography of Jody Mitic, who lost the lower half of both legs to a land mine in Afghanistan in 2007. He rose to fame in Canada when he and his brother raced their way to second place on “The Amazing Race, Canada” in 2013. In June 2014, he officially retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, but like many of us, he strongly felt the desire to continue to serve his country. He ran for city councilor in Ottawa, winning the position by a wide margin in October, 2014 (Wikipedia, 2015).

In many ways, Jody is the embodiment of the modern veteran. He served his country proudly and has paid a steep price for that service, but make no mistake, Jody is no victim. He has become a leader and an inspiration for modern veterans, demonstrating that the end of their time in the service does not mean the end of service to your country or the brothers and sisters you served with.

Jody’s story isn’t one of the hero destined for greatness. He almost didn’t make it. He started out in the reserves in 1994 before making the plunge into full-time in 1997. After a direct transfer into the Regular Force (active duty), he showed up at his battalion ready—or so he thought. Dropped into First Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment (1RCR) in the middle of their training for deployment to Bosnia, he had to hit the ground sprinting. It didn’t pan out very well, and he was sent back to complete battle school for a second time.

As would be expected, this initial failure didn’t sit well with him. He had a poor attitude and made some bad decisions. One night, out of misplaced loyalty to a fellow recruit, he accompanied him as he attempted to buy cocaine. They were both detained, although Jody was quickly released without charges. It would haunt him for years as his career hung in the balance; there was a concerted effort to boot him from the forces.

But a funny thing happened along the way: He realized he wanted to stay. Not just stay and finish his contract, scraping the bottom the same way he had so far, but to reach his full potential. This didn’t happen in a vacuum, though; his regimental sergeant major, a grizzled old vet, gave him a nudge. He saw a spark in Jody. He saw potential and told him so. Despite all the negative reviews he had heard up to this point, a kind word was all he needed, and he returned to battle school for a third time with a new attitude and determination to finally fulfill that potential.

From there, it’s more or less the standard arc. Jody graduated as top candidate and top shot. He deployed to Kosovo in 2000, returned, and set his sights on becoming a sniper. His first tour in Afghanistan saw him in Kabul in 2003 as a driver and bodyguard, leading convoys through the city. It wasn’t exactly action packed, but it was enough to get his feet wet, and he would return as a sniper detachment commander in 2006.

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Things had changed dramatically since 2003; the Taliban was in the midst of its resurgence and was making a play for taking control of Kandahar. The 1RCR Battle Group, supported by elements of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and 3rd Special Forces Group (3rd SFG), would push back, launching Operation Medusa in August 2006. The largest allied offensive to date, it was a bloody battle that would eventually claim the lives of 12 Canadian soldiers (Wikipedia, 2016).

Afterward, Jody became an integral part of an information, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) unit and was deployed to Sperwan Ghar, the mountain dominating the Panjwaii Valley that Op Medusa had wrested from the control of the Taliban. Here he bonded with the men of 3rd SFG frequently providing support and overwatch, lobbying to be allowed to provide more. Integrating was the most natural thing in the world; they understood each other once they had their different terminology sorted out. “It was like we had been [together] our whole careers” (Mitic, 2016).

On 11 January, 2007, one week after his 30th birthday, Jody took his final steps on his original legs. In a typical mission on a typical day in Afghanistan, Jody and his sniper detachment were moving into place to support elements of the battle group in an operation. They moved through an opening in a wall into the village—Jody the last one to step through. No sooner had he gotten inside the wall when he was blinded by a flash, and his life changed in an instant. Although dazed, no one else in his detachment were hurt, and they worked quickly to save his life and get him evacuated.

His recovery wasn’t easy. Supported by his regiment, friends, his American brothers from 3rd SFG, and Alannah Gilmore, the medic who had helped save his life in Afghanistan (and would become his wife when they reconnected back home), he struggled to come to terms with the new Jody. His first instinct, like most of us, was to work his ass off to get back to where he was and doing what he knew best. But after completing the Army Run half-marathon on his new legs, he slowly came to the realization that there was no going back.

There were more bumps. He became addicted to his pain medication. He struggled with Veterans Affairs Canada as they were swamped and unprepared for the modern veterans and their injuries, struggling to overcome bureaucratic inertia to become more responsive and agile. Jody spoke out. He was “only” a master corporal (MCpl, E5 equivalent), but his story had inspired many and his profile was high.

Whenever he was asked, he gave his honest and unvarnished opinion, unflinching as always, but loyal and committed to helping make things better. He was tapped to help establish the Directorate of Casualty Support Management at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ, Canada’s Pentagon) and worked with “Soldier On,” a program dedicated to helping soldiers adjust post-injury.

While still figuring out what the future would hold, he auditioned for “The Amazing Race, Canada,” and raced his way to second place with his brother, Cory, in 2013. This of course raised his profile further, and he found himself being urged to run for office. Although he knew Jody the soldier was dead, he still felt compelled to serve, and he realized politics was a way to do that.

While the constituents in his ward are his main focus, his seat has also allowed him to represent veterans and our viewpoints. He has certainly helped keep our profile high and positive, demonstrating daily the contributions the veteran community continues to make to our country long after we’ve hung up the uniform for the last time.

“Unflinching” is a very Canadian story. It straddles the two modern post-Cold War eras of the Canadian Armed Forces: the last gasp of peacekeeping in the late ’90s and the shock of counterinsurgency warfare in the post-9/11 era. It captures the struggle of the modern veteran to overcome injury, and to reinvent and reintegrate. For those thinking of a career in the army, it is an unvarnished window into exactly what it’s like—the highs and the lows.

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For those looking to make it their career, you can learn a lot from his example. He messed up, but never lacking in determination, he turned it around and became one of the best soldiers in his unit. He was humbled by that tiny hockey puck-size pack of explosives, but not for long. It wasn’t easy, but he found a way to overcome. He has found another way to serve his country and his fellow veterans. He kept repeating to himself, “Never quit.”

“Unflinching: The Making of a Canadian Sniper” can be found here. For further information, see unflinchingbook.ca.

References:

Mitic, J. (2016, February 14). Unflinching Interview. (W. Kennedy, Interviewer)

Wikipedia. (2015, February 14). Jody Mitic. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jody_Mitic

Wikipedia. (2016, February 14). Operation Medusa. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Medusa