Chief Warrant Officer (Retd) Bill "Mother" Irving

“When you leave the military, it's like you leave everything.”

Winnipeg, Manitoba

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Afghanistan Balkans

Joined

Joined the Regular Forces
in 1989

Postings

  • Calgary, AB: 1990–1995
  • Edmonton, AB: 1995–2006
  • Wainwright, AB: 2006–2009
    (IR: Imposed Restriction—family remained in Edmonton)
  • Kingston, ON: 2009–2012
  • Edmonton, AB: 2012–2013 (IR)

Operational experience

  • Bosnia: 1994, 1997
  • Kosovo: 1999
  • Afghanistan: 2002, 2006
  • Haiti: 2010 (DART – Disaster Assistance Response Team)
  • Malta (NEO – Noncombatant Evacuation Operation)
  • Philippines (DART)
HTML5 Transcript/Captions

[Bill Irving, Veteran] You know, you could see...

see the carnage...

I was a mess.

Veteran Stories: Bill Irving

[Mike Rose, neighbour] The first time I saw Bill,

I think he pulled in with a motorcycle.

Then I thought,

“Uh-oh, what kind of a neighbor am I going to have here?”

[Bill] I usually give a pretty

foul first impression,

and that I'm not really talkative,

I don't want to talk to you.

I mean, you know

I'm bald and covered in tattoos

and there's motorcycles everywhere.

[Mike] He had his...military stuff on

first time I shook his hand.

Quite a contrast from a motorcycle

to a military outfit.

That was the first day I met Bill.

[Bill] With the eight deployments, they all vary,

but I think the common thread is just being away.

I'm not sure that we were completely prepared

for what was happening in a battlespace there.

When that vehicle got hit, I was leading.

Heard it, felt the blast, traversed the round

and there was no vehicle.

It felt like, to me, minutes.

It wasn't.

But then the vehicle came back to rest.

Losing the guys,

you can't prepare for that.

You can't prepare

for the sights and sounds

at that moment leading up to it.

You know.

Yeah, the cliché...It's not even a cliché term,

but survivor guilt. Why them?

It should've been me. I was leading.

[Laurie Barnes, local business owner] It is hard for us as civilians

to even grasp

what these members have been through,

what they've seen, or what they have done.

[Bill] I put an ad in Kijiji

and it said Veteran support group looking for space.

Our ad was about to expire,

and René and Laurie answered the ad.

[René Barnes, local business owner] He came in and he was beside himself.

[Bill] We come here to get together.

We have people that come here

that don't ride motorcycles.

We have friends of the club,

mainly all Veterans.

Our concept is

"Get out of your house. Get out of your bunker.

Come hangout."

[René] We met five of them.

I think it was in the initial meeting.

They were like, "Why are you doing this?"

I said, "You've served now it's our turn to serve.

This place is yours. Do what you need to do with it."

[Bill] The thing that keeps me going

is what's behind me

and what's in front of me. It's my family

and my friends,

without that,

I don't know where I'd be today.

[René] We all have baggage.

We all have bad things that have happened in our lives.

A lot of us hide.

A lot of us avoid what it is.

You need people around you

that care about you to help you through

and walk through life.

Don't be scared of this, of being real.

You don't have to walk this alone.

[Bill] If someone needs help,

there's help available.

You could at any given time pick up a phone,

you know call a peer, call the chain of command,

call the padre, call members assistant program.

It's there. You need to get to taking that step.

The hardest thing I feel and talking

with all the guys I ride with

and everyone I've served with is,

just having the rocks to make that step.

[Mike] One time

I was in my service truck with a customer

and Bill's at the opposite traffic light.

He waved at me, and the guy sitting beside me said,

"Wow, I wouldn't want to meet that guy in a dark alley."

And I giggled to myself.

I looked over and I said,

"Yeah, he's probably going to save your life."

veterans.gc.ca

Government of Canada

Introduction

Bill Irving is armoured by trade, 'Mother' by nature. A light armoured vehicle (LAV) crew commander, he's been around. The Balkans in the mid to late 90s. Two tours in Afghanistan. He's seen it. Lived it. He earned his nickname as the guy who takes care of everyone else. On his second tour in Afghanistan, being 'Mother' meant serving as LAV commander for the commanding Major-General. "He hated being in the office," says Bill, "so we spent a lot of time getting him in and out of the battlespace. Our job was to keep him out of the way. It was like the Wild West."

Staying connected to the military

Bill 'Mother' Irving had a hard time with transition to life after service. So hard that he went back in. "I got a call from a buddy who's the Regimental Sergeant Major for a reserve unit. Bill, come on down for a beer.' 'No man, I'm out,' I said. 'Just a beer,' he says. Two weeks later my beard is gone, the earrings are out. I'm back in the army."

Veteran Bill Irving petting his dog.

His two years in the Reserves helped with the shift to post-service life. He struggles every day with the pain and survivor guilt of having lost four guys to an improvised explosive device (IED). "There's not a day goes by that I don't think of those guys," says Bill. "I finally met one buddy's kids years later. His kids then are my kids' ages now. They're amazing people. So resilient. Why can't I be?"

Bill's therapist told him he's similar to many Veterans who have PTSD. "You're like kettles," he quotes her. "The lid rattles around and then something happens that blows the lid right off, and then it's all out."

Bill finds strength in remaining 'Mother'. He's part of a group of Veterans and spouses who know the importance of being together. "We used to get together at somebody's house one week, someone else's the next week. Then the group got so big, I put an ad in Kijiji that read, 'Veteran support group looking for space.' We got a couple of hits from retirement homes, which was amazing, but we weren't quite ready for that," he laughs.

Bill throwing a baseball to his son.

Community support

Laurie and René Barnes were ready. They set Bill and his group up with the space they needed to create a clubhouse. "You've served," René told Bill. "Now it's our turn to serve." Bill shakes his head. "You don't meet people like that every day. But that's the kind of community support that makes all the difference to Veterans."

The clubhouse occupies the front of a non-descript single-storey building in an industrial park. But to Bill and his group, it's sacred ground. "It's important to have a space," says Bill, "because when you leave the military, it's like you leave everything. When I left my regiment, I was sure it was going to cease to exist without me. But the door wasn't even closed behind me and it was like, 'Who the hell is Bill Irving?'"

A place to connect with other Veterans

"The concept of the club is to get Veterans out of the house," says Bill. "Get out of your bunker. Come and hang out with your people. Every single member of this group has been affected mentally or physically by their service. This is a safe space. I hate that term, but it's true. We have people who have addiction issues. We get calls, texts every day, people saying 'I'm struggling.' That's why we're here. There's no judgment. No pressure. Just be respectful and fit in."

Bill standing in his driveway.

The clubhouse is available around the clock to members. Thirsty Thursdays provide a weekly opportunity to bring everyone together. "If a few weeks go by and some guy or gal hasn't shown up, we pick up the phone," says Bill. "Especially with winter on the way, it's too easy for people to hunker down. They need to reach out. It's okay. That's part of asking for help. If you're emotional, call someone and let them know."

Bill is the first guy to tell you that he gives a lousy first impression. But he's naturally outgoing, a straight-shooter. His neighbour, Mike Rose, picked that up soon after they met. He hired Bill to work with his company, which runs a 24/7 road service for trucks. "Bill and his friends became my friends," says Mike. "They shatter the misconception that Veterans are damaged and don't contribute. Veterans like Bill have a lot of integrity and conviction—an inner strength. They're a real asset to the community."

Advice for transitioning members

Bill is always ready to share his thoughts on transition. "Yes, it can be hard," he says. "For 30 years, the military dressed me, told me where to go, told me how to get there, fed me, clothed me, medical, dental, everything is done for me, and now my wife's telling me to go put on better clothes because we have to go and interview a family doctor. It's just another world."

Take the time to get ready for transition, he advises. "Do you have a plan? Often I get 'the stare.' Your date's coming up, what are you doing? Go to the SCAN [Second Career Assistance Network] seminars. Talk to VAC [Veterans Affairs Canada]. Learn what's out there. Engage with peer support groups. Talk to the padre, your chain of command. If you can't rely on family, look to your friends, your sports teams, your community."

Bill's final thought: "Just don't isolate yourself."


Where they served


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