Former soldier on the march to raise awareness about PTSD

A former Canadian soldier who’s marching in every province to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder receives regular shows of support from Alberta motorists.

Former soldier Steve Hartwig is marching to draw attention to post-traumatic stress disorder.

A former Canadian soldier who’s marching in every province to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder receives regular shows of support from Alberta motorists.

A few even turned their vehicles around, rolled down their windows, and expressed their personal appreciation for Steve Hartwig’s cross-country crusade. “They shake my hand and say ‘Thank you. The same thing happened to my partner,’ or my brother or sister or mom and dad,” said the former infantry member and paratrooper.

Hartwig carries a 35-pound pack on his back to represent the emotional burden borne by many returning soldiers, a white wooden cross symbolizing the loss of friends to suicide, and a tall Canadian flag.

“I’m overwhelmed by how many people are sharing their stories,” added Hartwig, during a brief rest stop at the Tim Hortons in Gasoline Alley on Wednesday.

Unsurprisingly, some of his biggest boosters have been other soldiers, police officers, firefighters and paramedics, or their relatives, who best understand the perils of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ironically, a few who have shown the least support are also soldiers.

Hartwig believes they don’t like being portrayed as “broken,” mentally ill, or weak. But the point of his Into No Man’s Land awareness march is to dispel such views.

“This is not an illness or a sickness. This happens to ‘normal’ people — moms and dads and coaches and employees,” he said. “We are not ‘broken.’ It’s our behaviour that’s inappropriate.”

And Hartwig knows all about it — his angry outbursts cost him his marriage.

The now divorced Surrey, B.C. resident realized something was deeply wrong with his psyche immediately after returning from a 1993 peacekeeping mission to Yugoslavia. He broke into uncontrolled sobs at seeing his parents for the first time — and was among a dozen soldiers who automatically hit the ground when a truck backfired during a Remembrance Day ceremony.

As there were no de-briefings or counselling sessions provided for returning soldiers at the time, he tried to suppress these raw and frightening emotions as best he could.

The father of four, who had been injured in Croatia and witnessed various atrocities, said he began to “self medicate” after leaving the army with alcohol, recreational drugs and by running, but discovered it wasn’t enough to stop the horrible dreams that would leave him shaking under a blanket.

The 44-year-old battled rage, depression and suicidal feelings before finding a counsellor who was experienced in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He also derived help from attending aboriginal sweat lodges.

But it’s a long process and Hartwig isn’t home-free yet. He believes the many years he went without help have extended his recovery.

For that reason, he’s pleased that the military now provides more timely support for stressed soldiers. Despite the greater recognition for post-traumatic stress disorder, he noticed government funding was recently cut for some anger management classes and therefore believes more can be done.

Among his most important reasons for marching, he said, is hearing the two oldest of his four children admit they were afraid of him.

Hartwig started walking from Victoria, B.C. on June 23 and is taking 10 weeks off from running his own karate school to cross the country. He averages 32 km a day on foot between various centres, and sometimes gives public talks on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Former soldier Scott McFarlane accompanies him, and sometimes drives Hartwig between locations to stick to the schedule of making it to Newfoundland by September. “I’d march across the world for this man,” said McFarlane, who believes Hartwig’s mission is vital.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Man arrested in connection with violent home invasion

RCMP Emergency Response Team deployed

Gesundheit! Stifling a sneeze can cause injuries in rare cases, experts say

TORONTO — With cases of flu continuing to rise in Canada, there’s… Continue reading

‘Reprehensible’: Trudeau abortion policy raises ire of U.S. right

WASHINGTON — In what’s almost certainly a first in the lengthy history… Continue reading

Japan public TV sends mistaken North Korean missile alert

TOKYO — Japan’s public broadcaster mistakenly sent an alert warning citizens of… Continue reading

‘I shouldn’t have to have a husband:’ Winnipeg woman criticizes men-only club

WINNIPEG — A former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says… Continue reading

Replay Red Deer Jan. 14: Watch news highlights in pictures

Stories mentioned: Red Deer RCMP seize large quantity of cocaine: Read more… Continue reading

Advocate poll takers oppose plastic bag ban

Red Deer Advocate readers like their plastic bags. In an Advocate poll,… Continue reading

Photo: Chilly work in Veterans’ Park

What a chilly job but somebody has to do it.… Continue reading

Boy, 15, one of three hit in Vancouver shooting

Police believe a man in his 20s was the target of the shooting

UBCO psychology professor placed under supervision with focus on “boundary issues”

Dr. Stephen Porter has stepped aside from his teaching duties

Alberta elementary school teacher arrested on child porn charges

Investigators charged a 44-year-old Pincher Creek man with possessing, accessing, and distributing child pornography

Report: Health problems could arise as Alaska warms

Climate change in Alaska has the potential to create serious physical and… Continue reading

U.S. cold snap was a freak of nature, quick analysis finds

Consider this cold comfort: A quick study of the brutal American cold… Continue reading

Canadian Kennel Club seeking to add 12 more dogs to its pack

2018’s incoming class could include the Portuguese sheepdog, Tibetan mastiff, rat terrier and Spanish water dog

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month