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Bombardier (Retired) Adam Jones

Bombardier (Retired) Adam Jones expected to be in the Canadian Armed Forces for at least 25 years. "My family are black Empire Loyalists," says Adam. Black Empire Loyalists were slaves who settled in Canada at the end of the American Revolutionary War in exchange for military service to England. "My service was the result of my family legacy, which dates back to 1777. I was very motivated to do my part for the country."

Unfortunately, injuries in 2013 and 2014 brought Adam's military career to an abrupt end.

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Transcript: Adam Jones - Veteran Stories

Alvin Jones: The military way is that if you get hurt within the military, that's to stay within the military, and that's not to be shared with family. And so there's some things that had happened to Adam that we, as a family, were unaware of. The severity of the injuries, how they happened. And so some of those things left us in the dark about what was going on.

Adam Jones: While undergoing training, I fell off the top of an obstacle, and was pretty severely injured. I damaged several parts of my hand and arm, and additionally, I suffered a concussion. But I convinced the nurse practitioner at the MIR that I was pretty much good to go, and I returned to duty. I suffered another concussion, but this one became a traumatic brain injury that presented with a seizure. My recollection of it is a little weird, but you know, one minute I was doing my job, and the next, I was on a stretcher. I seized pretty severely, and then all of the symptoms of that initial concussion and the follow up one came to the forefront.

Donna Matheson: Adam was really struggling with a lot of the cognitive issues that related to a brain injury. So that can be anything from memory, that people have an easy time to relate to forgetting things, but also concentration, focus. Was he eating? Was he getting dressed? At that time, Adam was quite reliant on his… on the military support that he was receiving, to help keep his appointments and bring him to and from appointments.

Adam: Initially, I was very reluctant to do occupational therapy, but my attitude towards occupational therapy was improved by the fact that she was a civilian. I could be candid about the things that I was having difficulty with, and I could receive feedback on ways to work on them that didn't make me feel like I was being a bad troop.

Donna: Adam really identified with the sports that he'd been involved in, skiing, team sports, and that was a real area of struggle for him that he wouldn't be able to do those anymore. But then we did a lot of exploring into what are alternatives, which brought us to running, cycling, working out, rowing, and then it's progressed since then, all the way to his varsity team and the Invictus Games.

Alvin: Adam came across a doctor in Ottawa that recognized his intelligence. That recognized that he was different than the average soldier, to say, "You know, you're going to go to school. You're not going to be successful, but you are going to go to school. And over a period of time, you are going to become more and more successful."

Donna: The role of occupational therapy really shifted to helping him with those courses. So we spent a lot of time to improve Adam's ability to focus at school, writing strategies. Adam was required to read for school, but he also reads as a leisure activity. So, how do you start off a few minutes a day, and then build up to reading and enjoying that aspect of his life?

Adam: So by enrolling in a university, not only was I able to see the extent of my recovery, but also, it gave all of my supporting specialists metrics to gauge my recovery by. I'd say that was definitely a turning point in my recovery, and also the beginning of a transition to civvy street.

Alvin: For us, as we saw Adam go through this transition, because of what the system was doing to Adam, was very frustrating. What we're very proud of is how he sort of raised himself above that and started doing Invictus. Started the Carleton Veterans Association. Being engaged in different ways, not for himself, but to help others.

Adam: You might never be able to shake all of your belief in belonging in yourself as a soldier first, but if you start developing in ways that you haven't experienced before, it relieves that mental pressure. So for me, although leaving the military was a negative experience, I believed that there would be a positive outcome in terms of university education at the end. My service was the result of my family legacy. My family are Black Empire Loyalists. It's been a military family since 1777, and that generation has continued until the present day.

Alvin: I didn't think I would have the opportunity, as a Jones, to serve in the military. Now, it followed Adam, so he was there first, and his line was, he says, "You know, dad, I'm glad to see that you're in the military, and I'm glad to see I'm out before you're in, so I don't have to salute you."

Motivated to serve

Adam’s father, Honorary Colonel Alvin Jones, says that from a young age his son enjoyed learning about the military and could identify tanks and other equipment. “He’s always had an intense love and commitment to serve and be engaged in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Adam applied for the military after high school. He began his service in 2011 as a Field Artillery soldier, now called a gunner. “My job was to be a primary crewman on a C3 Howitzer or M777 Howitzer,” says Adam.

In 2013, Adam fell off the top of an obstacle during the confidence course. He injured his hand and arm and suffered a concussion. “At the time, that concussion wasn’t considered a serious medical issue,” says Adam. “I convinced the nurse practitioner at the medical unit on base that I was pretty much good to go. They put me in a neck brace and put a brace on my arm and I returned to duty. I was able to advance my career, but I never really addressed the injury.”

The following year, Adam suffered another concussion. It developed into a traumatic brain injury that presented as a seizure. “One minute I was doing my job, the next I was on a stretcher.”

Someone in his corner

This time the concussion could not be ignored, forcing Adam to undergo emergency treatment. “All of the symptoms of that initial concussion and the follow up one came to the forefront. All the long-term symptoms happened, including difficulty with my cognitive ability, motor skills, language skills and vision.” Still, Adam tried to conceal his injury. “I disclosed, in what I thought was confidence, to my civilian occupational therapist. Then the following day, I got a call from my medical officer saying, ‘What do you mean you’re not eating, not sleeping, don’t remember anything and can’t remember any words?’”

After emergency treatment, Adam received a Temporary Medical Category. His medical officer wrote the temporary chit. “Part-time university studies” was among the orders on the chit. That’s when Adam’s recovery really started. “My medical officer ordered me to go back to university, which meant the military had to facilitate that,” says Adam. “I was injured in May and I started at Carleton University in September 2014 because the medical officer went to bat for me.”

Leaving the forces

The extent of his injuries meant that Adam eventually received a Permanent Medical Category. Adam was posted to a Joint Personnel Support Unit in Ottawa in 2017. There, he began the transition process and officially released in 2018.

The last few years of Adam’s service were focused on recovery, which included physiotherapy, speech pathology and occupational therapy. However, the time leading up to his release also included personal and professional achievements. Adam was selected to compete for Team Canada at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto. He competed in the rowing and track and field events. He received commendation and a promotion to the rank of Bombardier. The professional validation meant a lot to Adam. “It gave me the sense of leaving the Canadian forces with some recognition.”

While Adam could see the positive outcomes of leaving service, like having a university education, transition was not easy. “When I transitioned out, my greatest feeling, besides the sense of familial disappointment, was also the lost sense of belonging that comes from being in a battalion. I had accepted that my identity was as a soldier and as a member of a military family. To lose that was devastating.”

A shift in perspective

“My biggest psychological obstacle, with injury and transition, was that loss of identity as a soldier, because the way I evaluated all of my recovery was in terms of ‘Well, am I meeting the requirements to do my trade again?’” A shift in the way Adam approached life after service happened thanks to an important realization. “Rather than measuring up to who I had been, it was, Who can I be now?”

Adam started to pursue new hobbies and find different ways to challenge himself. “I started to develop in areas that I’d never explored before.” One of his new pursuits included learning to play the cello. “It gave me the opportunity to still push myself, still be in the driver’s seat of my recovery, but to also take the pressure off, do interesting things, round out my character and start separating my identity from being a defective soldier.”

Paying it forward

Adam is building a community of Veterans on Carleton’s campus. He started Canada’s first Student Veterans Association. The association welcomes Veterans onto the campus, offers a peer support network and provides tools to integrate with the school’s existing mental health services. As many as 40 people attend the meetings.

“The average age of a soldier is 25,” says Adam. “Incoming university freshmen are 18. Having something on campus where members wouldn’t feel like they were 10 years older than their classmates was a big leap forward for us.”

Advice to other Veterans

Drawing from his own experiences with recovery and transition, Adam recommends that fellow Veterans find ways to develop as people. “You might never be able to shake all of your belief and belonging in yourself as a soldier first, but if you start developing in ways that you haven’t experienced before, it relieves that mental pressure. It lets you gently transition over. It lets you come to terms with where you are.”

Date published: 2021-02-01

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