Michael Terry spent 23 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. Earlier this year he retired, but now faces his toughest battle to date, the struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Armed with a motorcycle and good intentions, he set forth on a 23,000-km journey, travelling Canada and speaking to veterans about the stresses of life during, and after, military service. Mike’s Dispatches: Ride for Veterans campaign hits Calgary this weekend, where long-time friend Jonathan Stoddart (Ricca Razor Sharp) has planned a benefit show on the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 19 at the Palomino, featuring himself, Kandid King Lou and Jazzlib.
A rapper and a military man walk into a bar. It sounds like the setup for a snappy joke, but in fact, it’s a preview for an event taking place Sunday, Aug 19. The people in question are myself and my longtime friend Micheal Terry, and the bar is The Palomino. An explanation might be in order.
Mike and I were friends when we attended Barrington Municipal High School back in Nova Scotia. We had a lot in common when we graduated in 1995 — we listened to music, we shot pool, we stole from his dad’s liquor cabinet — but since then, our experiences have been quite different. I moved to Calgary and became a musician, while Mike joined the military and spent the last 23 years proudly serving our country.
Earlier this year, Mike retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and began his re-integration into civilian life. It wasn’t an easy transition.
“It’s its own sub-culture,” explains Terry of military life. “I think the thing that I notice, and this is coming from 23 years in the Forces, essentially from the time I was a kid until now, is the fact that we live in a bubble. I didn’t have to worry about a health card, Accessing different resources like that, all of that was looked after in-house. We are insulated from Canadian society in that regard.”
Terry saw a lot during his military time, including deployments to Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was focussed and dedicated, and continued to move up the ranks. Despite the success, however, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
“I think deep down I’ve known for a very long time,” says Terry, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, “but it became undeniable.”
Things came to a head, he says, on Feb. 12, 2017, when a meeting about his next post didn’t unfold the way he had hoped. Feelings of stress after a chat with the higher-ups is, of course, not a unique experience, but Terry knew this was something more.
“ ‘Am I just upset because I didn’t get what I want?’ ” he recalls wondering. “My honest answer was, ‘No.’ There had been a hundred times I hadn’t got what I wanted, and it was always OK, and this time it wasn’t. I’ve seen that in personal relationships as well, I’ve become very rigid in recent years.”
In April, Terry left his military housing and moved to rural Ontario, where he is set to begin college in September. While the prospect of a low-key summer spent relaxing and preparing for life’s next phase might seem like a welcome vacation for some, Terry says the lack of structure was frightening, and left him craving purpose.
“When that culture and infrastructure is gone that leaves a big hole, and there’s definitely some feelings of, I’m gonna say almost out-and-out dread or depression.”
Out of this desire for structure came the idea for the Dispatches: Ride for Veterans campaign. Terry immediately went to work planning a 23,000-km motorcycle journey throughout Canada’s many regions. The goal would be to talk to veterans, giving them an avenue to open up about the challenges they face in their daily lives.
Since beginning his journey in June, Terry has visited Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, the Northwest and Yukon Territories and British Columbia. Throughout his journeys, he has had countless conversations with veterans eager to communicate their experiences with him. Some of these conversations have been documented through his social media platforms, while many have not. Nobody, however, has been more sharing than Terry himself.
“The fear of trying to be open and vulnerable and honest about the things I’ve struggled with are foreign to me,” he admits. “It’s completely counter to that culture to talk that way.”
Nonetheless, Terry has bared his soul through radio, television and print interviews, as well as through intimate posts. It’s a truly courageous endeavour, and as he has asked others to share with him, he has led by example.
For Terry, travelling the land he has spent so many years representing has been a special experience.
“I am absolutely awestruck by what I see every day,” says Terry of his epic journey through our sizeable nation. “The biggest change I see is in myself. My mind is always going. I have to make sure I’m open to receiving. There’s such an amazing beauty in this country. On the bike, I feel every breath of wind, every bump in the road, it’s an amazing experience.”
Now I’m pleased to welcome Mike to the city I’ve called home for 19 years. I figured that after putting that many kilometres on his bike, he deserved a good plate of BBQ, so I have organized a fun show for the afternoon of Sunday, Aug 19, at my favourite venue in town, The Palomino. The festivities kick off at 2 p.m., and will feature myself (Ricca Razor Sharp), along with drummer Drumaschine, as well as performances by Kandid King Lou and the super-entertaining Jazzlib. The show will feature free admission, although anyone who feels motivated to slip a few bucks into the hat will be helping to fund Mike’s worthy cause.
And to Mike’s Dad, you live thousands of kilometres away, so I guess you won’t be there, but if you do show up, I owe you a bottle of Golden Wedding.
Jonathan Stoddart is a hip-hop artist, writer and Calgarian socialite. He can be found this Sunday afternoon on stage at The Palomino with ribs and corn on the cob stuck between his teeth.