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Honourary Lieutenant Colonel Lee-Anne Quinn

“It’s extremely difficult at the beginning. You need to be open.”

Peterborough, Ontario

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Balkans Rwanda

Joined

Enlisted in Peterborough, ON: 1987

Postings

  • St. Jean, QC: 1988
  • Ottawa, ON: 1988-1992, 1995-1996
  • Trenton, ON: 1992-1995
  • Val Cartier, QC: 1996-1999
  • Kingston, ON: 1999-2004
  • Borden, ON: 2004-2008

Deployments

  • Former Yugoslavia: 1992
  • Somalia: 1993
  • Rwanda: 1993
  • Deer Lake and Fort Hope, ON: 2000-2007 (multiple tours)
  • Whitehorse, YT: 2006-2007
  • Afghanistan: 2007-2008
HTML5 Transcript/Captions

[Lee-Anne Quinn, Veteran] I'd be in my office looking after a patient, doing some charting, [Finger snap] and I would hear the chopper.

I'd be down and outside my building, before I even realized that, Lee-Anne, you're in Peterborough now.

[Paulette Quinn, sister] She came out of the womb as a military person. Everything was all regimented and ordered.

[Marilyn Simmonds, sister] A week's clothing set out for school. It was set out by her,

and that's what she wore. Never get up in the morning and go, "Well, I'm not going to wear that." That is what she wore.

[Lee-Anne] I joined the Canadian Armed Forces and remained in for 22 years,

which was absolutely outstanding, and I would not change it for anything.

The very first deployment I went on was the former Yugoslavia,

and I was doing air-med evacuations out of Sarajevo into Ancona, Italy.

I was an air-med evacuation nurse at the time.

[Marilyn] When she went to Afghanistan, and she was leaving out of Trenton,

and everybody of our family and cousins went to Trenton to see her go.

And my mom is standing at this fence hanging on,

and she's 80 years old, seeing her daughter going to a war.

We're going to leave here, and then we're all going to get together and have a dinner.

It just didn't compute.

One particular case, flying out of Sarajevo,

and as you know, the rocket-propelled grenades are flying

and lots of fires, lots of burns.

Have you ever smelt burning skin? It's a disgusting, disgusting smell,

and my good God, humans can be awful to each other.

I'm wearing a blue beret for United Nations and peacekeeping,

and these traumatic injuries are taking place.

Just so inhumane for me. I will never understand war.

I will never understand why the human race cannot get along,

and we all make differences for each other. I don't think I will ever get over that.

[Music]

[Paulette] All those things that you saw, that you were witness to,

throughout the military, you had to deal with it.

She knew she could get herself out of it,

and she knew she could count on us. She's not going to give up.

That's one thing about Lee-Anne. She will never, ever give up.

It was just really good. It was just really good to have her home,

and to have her here in Peterborough, across the road.

[Lee-Anne] I'd have flashbacks and nightmares,

and I'd be jumping out of bed at three o'clock in the morning, looking around this house, looking out the window, looking to my side.

To tell you the truth, I didn't even know what I was looking for.

Then I'd eventually head back to my bedroom, but I would not sleep the rest of the night.

I've got to be able to quiet my mind from time to time.

I can just take all of those military images, all of those struggles from those tours,

and I can wash them away by going for a run, going for a 10k hike,

getting downstairs on my spinning bike, getting on my elliptical.

It's the number one stress reliever for me. It's an important element in my day, every single day.

It's extremely difficult. It's extremely difficult at the beginning.

You need to be open. You need to be open to your loved ones.

You need to be open to family members and friends

who knew you as before, know you now, but know that something's different.

Sometimes when you tell the story, then you just put it on their shoulders,

and they carry it for a while, and you can walk a little bit lighter.

I am so fortunate to have the sisters, brothers, and mom that I have.

They have endorsed and engaged and supported my military career from day number one.

[Marilyn] She has so many accolades. I don't even know them all. There are so many.

When you go there and they introduce her, and there's this and this, and Lee-Anne has done this and this and this and this.

All their generals, and colonels, and

majors, and captains, and sergeants, and everything, they're all there, and they just look at her like...

it was so heartwarming for us to know that she was as appreciated in the military, as she is in her own family.

veterans.gc.ca

Government of Canada

Introduction

Lee-Anne Quinn feels she was destined to join the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). She has a lifelong passion for physical activity, teaching others and making a difference in the world.

These traits, and others, proved invaluable during her 22-year career as an Air Medical Evacuation Nurse with the CAF. She now serves as the first-ever woman Honourary Lieutenant Colonel in the Hastings and Prince Edward County Regiment. Her work with Veteran organizations is extensive. “She came out of the womb as a military person,” says Paulette Quinn, Lee-Anne’s sister.

Family first and forever

Lee-Anne comes from a big family—four sisters and three brothers. Her loved ones proved to be her greatest support during service and after she released. The whole family joined Lee-Anne in Trenton the day she left for a tour in Afghanistan. Lee-Anne’s mother was 80 years old at the time. “She was with me on deployment every single day,” Lee-Anne says. “She always believed I would come back from every single mission. After service, it was extremely important to me to get a house in close proximity to my mother.”

Lee-Anne and her sister sitting on a bench.

She got her wish. Her mother, now 95, lives across the street with her sister Paulette. During a time of struggle after her release in 2008, Lee-Anne asked another sister, Marilyn, to sell her house and move in. Marilyn put her house on the market that day. A week later, she was living with Lee-Anne. “I am so fortunate to have the sisters, brothers and mom that I have,” Lee-Anne says. “They have endorsed and engaged and supported my military career from day one. They understand my hardships. They know when I need a shoulder to lean on.”

Lee-Anne running on her elliptical.

Hard mission, harder resolve

Those hardships came in many forms over the years. Marilyn recalls one difficult assignment in Northern Ontario. “To say it was isolated is an understatement,” she says. The posting was in Deer Lake, Ontario, a fly-in community a three-hour flight north of Thunder Bay. The Ontario healthcare system needed support, which the CAF provided through personnel. Lee-Anne worked as a nurse practitioner, though Marilyn says that, “she was as much a doctor as anyone up there would see.”

Lee-Anne treated substance abuse, mental health issues, cancer, gruesome logging injuries and a range of other conditions. Beyond her medical duties, she devoted her time to leading a hockey program for youth in the community. “She single-handedly shoveled a huge rink on Deer Lake,” says Marilyn. “She was all about the kids. She loved them all.”

The greatest outlet

It came as no surprise to Lee-Anne’s loved ones that she devoted her time to a sports initiative. “I’m a sports fanatic,” Lee-Anne says. “I love sports. I grew up playing ice hockey and baseball here in Peterborough.” In fact, Lee-Anne was inducted in the Peterborough District Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 for her accomplishments in those two sports. Lee-Anne calls physical activity her most important stress reliever. She makes sure she has time to be active every single day.

Lee-Anne in uniform behind a desk.

Lee-Anne recalls tours in Afghanistan where 16-hour days were standard. No matter how tired she felt, she would put on her gear and hit the tiny gym all the multinational soldiers shared. “Can you imagine in the middle of a war that we’ve got this gymnasium?” she asks. “But obviously the powers that be know it’s extremely important. It allows us to just release, reset and start over.”

Changed for life

Along with staying physically fit, Lee-Anne uses guided meditations to quiet her mind and relieve anxiety. “There’s got to be some time for quietness,” she says. “That’s when my therapy comes in. It’s extremely helpful for me. I’m able to just settle my mind.”

Lee-Anne says it took years for her to reach the point in which she can talk openly about her tours. When she left the CAF in 2008, she immediately started working as a nurse practitioner in the civilian world. “I needed to be doing something as soon as I left the Canadian military,” she says. Yet she found herself stuck between the two worlds. “I’d hear the chopper come overhead of the hospital and I’d be down outside my building before I even realized,” she explains. “It was automatic. It was the sound of Afghanistan.”

Lee-Anne carried on this way for three and a half years before contacting Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). “After I asked for some help, I promised myself that I would never let any other Veteran wait as long as I waited,” she says. Now Lee-Anne works with her individual caseworker to access a variety of therapies. “What VAC does for soldiers, how they intervene and figure out what services a Veteran needs at the time, I’m forever grateful.”

At her happiest

Lee-Anne’s loved ones see her at her happiest now. She continues to be a leader, teacher and athlete. “There is a lot to admire in Lee-Anne,” says Paulette. “It’s her dedication and commitment to everything she undertakes.”

One of Lee-Anne’s greatest joys is sponsoring 15 Syrian refugees in Peterborough. “She’s happiest when someone asks her about those families,” Marilyn says. “I relate it to her time in Somalia and Afghanistan. The children there, she wanted to bottle them all up and take them home.”

Lee-Anne goes out to play road hockey and soccer with the Syrian kids, often stopping to visit her mom on the way home. She spends time studying the medical world, always building her knowledge of the field. She is always prepared for another challenge. Lee-Anne says, “In a nutshell, that’s who I am. I care about making a difference.”


Where they served


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