By Mark Squibb/November 11, 2021
If you’ve driven by the new LAV III monument nestled next to the War Memorial in Conception Bay South and a question popped into your mind about it’s form or function, Kevin Dunne likely knows the answer.
Dunne, who served in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and is retired after 23 years service in the Canadian Armed Forces, is an expert.
“I specialized in this beast here, the LAV III,” said Dunne. “I would train the gunners.”
As he walks around the monument, which was installed in September, Dunne points out missing components including storage bins, grenade launchers, a solar panel, and winch compartment — the LAV’s vulnerable spot.
“There’s no armament to cover this up,” said Dunne. “It’s a big gaping hole. We used to just stuff garbage in there.”
Dunne, who began his military career with the Newfoundland Regiment while still in high school, explained that Captain Nichola Kathleen Sarah Goddard, the first female Canadian combat soldier killed in combat, died when an enemy rocket hit that exposed area. Goddard was killed in 2006.
Although stripped of many of its components, there is no doubt the LAV is a military machine. Besides the main cannon, the rig is armed with a variety of machine guns, capable of firing 200 rounds a minute, and the aforementioned grenade launchers.
But for many soldiers, the vehicle was a home away from home. Seven soldiers, plus a three-man crew, would live in the vehicle while in the field, and how long you would spend in the LAV all depended on the mission.
“I’ve been out for a couple months at a time,” said Dunne. “Or, for just a couple of days at a time.”
While the LAV III will never be mistaken for a luxurious hotel room, Dunne said there were some improvements over earlier combat vehicles and that living inside wasn’t actually that bad.
“It was a godsend inside,” said Dunne. “It was an upgrade from the previous vehicle we had. Because this has AC power inside, whereas our other vehicles didn’t, so we were always working off a Coleman Stove. There’s a video screen in the back that’s hooked up to the driver’s compartment, so the commander that’s sitting in the back can get a panoramic view of what’s going on outside. So, he normally sits up close to the screen. Then you have three more people on one side and four more people on his opposite side as you’re riding cross country. The vehicle we had before this, was known as the Grizzley, and we only had half the space and were all cramped in there in the fetal position like sardines. But this one here, no, there was ample room. The benches fold down into a bed, if need be, or work as a litter if you had an injured person, so you could strap them do it and not be worried about him falling off.”
There are some other luxuries in the rig — you can even plug in a coffee pot, whereas in other vehicles you had to use a Coleman stove and percolator.
“There’s a video screen that you can actually hook up a PlayStation to if you had the right cables,” Dunne laughed.
Despite its massive size, the LAV III, the modern-day equivalent of a RAM Tank Kangaroo Carrier developed by Canadian Troops during World War II, could reach speeds of 100 km/hr. It was developed in Canada and used extensively throughout the war in Afghanistan.
The monument itself was installed earlier this fall, courtesy of The LAV III Monument Program which provided 30 full-size, demilitarized, replica LAV III’s to municipalities across Canada to recognize the service and sacrifice of the Canadian Armed Forces during the Afghanistan War.
When Dunne saw the monument, some of his first thoughts were whose LAV it might have been, or if it was one he might have ridden in himself. That was until he heard that they had been recreated from scrap metal to be uses as monuments.
Dunne said he hopes the monument’s presence reminds folks of the sacrifice of those who served in recent combat, including Afghanistan, particularly with Remembrance Day upon us.
“It’s a great thank you for my generation,” said Dunne. “Because for the longest time, whenever you heard about Remembrance Day, it was World War I and World War II and Korean Vets.”
Dunne himself was injured in a LAV during a tour of Afghanistan in 2008 in a roadside bombing.
“It took out the back tire and flipped us up on our side,” said Dunne. Using the monument as a model, he can point to where he was standing when the explosion went off.
He was treated for cracked ribs, but remained to finish out his tour. A month or so later, while undergoing his medical examination before being repatriated, the medic recorded his height as 182 cm.
“I’ve been 180 centimeters my whole adult life, so how did I grow two extra centimetres?” said Dunne.
He believes the G force from the blast stretched him an extra two centimetres. When his body began to decompress months later, he found that a vertebra in his neck had come out of alignment, which made him lose sensation in his arms, and that he had developed various conditions that affected his feet.
Following surgery, the unit was ready to retain him, but Dunne said it was time to opt out and take his medical release.
For the last seven years, he has been working as a cannabis educator, teaching folks how to use cannabis as medication.
“When I got out of service, I was on anywhere from nine to 12 prescription meds a day,” said Dunne.
Some of those medications were for anger issues.
“A lot of us came back from over there with, we used to joke about it and nicknamed it ‘Afghan Anger,’ but a lot of us came back angry. Not our normal selves. We were very quick to temper, when none of us were ever that way before.”
Like many soldiers, Dunne suffered from a host of other mental health issues as well, for which he was prescribed medication.
“When I first came back from Afghan, I suffered from night terrors and night sweats for six years before I got things regulated,” said Dunne. “One of the hardest days of my life was the first time I squeezed the trigger. Because it could have been a man, woman or, by North American standards, a child (by Afghan standards you’re an adult at 12 years old.)”
He said that through his cannabis work, he can be a beacon to other soldiers and help them readjust to society and live a better life.
Despite everything, when folks ask if he had his time back would he still enlist, Dunne said he would do it all over again in a heartbeat. “People asked me why I’d do it, and I say, ‘It’s so that my children don’t have to,’” said Dunne. “Now, I enjoyed my job. There’s just different aspects about this job that are not so nice. And now they follow me the rest of my days.