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Surviving just one tour in Southern Afghanistan is no mean feat. Many of the world's best and brightest soldiers have fought and died here, and still more return home irrevocably shaken. There are among us, however, soldiers whose mettle has been cast in the furnaces of war, and who feel it is their duty to return, having emerged battle-tested and knowledgeable.
Army Cpl. Corey Sagstuen, a combat medic currently serving in a Canadian Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, is one such soldier. In 2007 he deployed to the Kandahar province with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in the Pan'jwai District. Now, he has returned to Kandahar's Zhari district on the opposite side of the Arghandab River to lend his skills and experience to his fellow Canadian soldiers and Afghan national army soldiers alike.
There are a lot of green medics coming to Afghanistan, and it's a bad place to make mistakes, said Sagstuen, an Edmonton, Alberta, native. Making sure they get back in one piece is how I make a difference, he said.
Sagstuen's history with the Canadian army dates back to 1991, when he joined after graduating high school. Over the next 10 years, he went through a NATO deployment, to battle school to become a rifle company gunner, and night school to become a paramedic. When the war in Afghanistan began, he was serving as a medic in a reserve unit.
He began seeing many of his former colleagues from the previous decade leaving for Afghanistan. Of them, three very close friends were killed in the line of duty. When the time came in 2007 for his unit's tour in Afghanistan, Sagstuen drew upon both his grief and his brotherhood with his fellow soldiers for motivation. "I wanted to be there with my buddies - then, if they should die there they'd die with me," he said.
"He's a top notch medic and [infantryman]," said Shaw. "Having him on the team is a huge asset – no one needs to worry about injury because he's got their back. He has the calmest demeanor around when it comes to a mass-casualty situation...not once does he worry about his own life."
Warrant Officer Gerald Shaw, an operational mentor and Sagstuen's senior non-commissioned officer in Kandak Mentorship Team Charlie, said that Sagstuen's presence in the OMLT has made operations safer and the ANA training more fruitful.
Shaw pointed to an incident in which Sagstuen's vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. Quickly and without regard for his own safety, Sagstuen removed the casualty from the vehicle and performed first-aid. It was both Sagstuen's calm and his immediate willingness to risk his own life for the patient that struck me, said Shaw. "He wasn't worried so much about himself, but the person inside of the vehicle with him," he said.
However, heroics should be the last thing on the mind of a medic new to Afghanistan and working in the heat of the moment, Sagstuen said.
"Take the time, breathe, don't rush into it. Don't be the hero. Your head's going to be on a swivel. Talk to the experienced medics, soak up everything like a sponge. Pay homage to those who have walked before you. Learn from your mistakes – we can always improve," he said.
With his experience and technical knowledge, Sagstuen believes he's in the right place at the right time.
"I'll always be honored to come back here and serve. This is my calling," said Sagstuen.
And he's ready to answer the call to return should it come.