Canadian medics just as hardcore as combat troops in Afghanistan

PANJWAII, Afghanistan (CP) - Don't let the blonde hair, blue eyes and dazzling white smile fool you. Cpl. Shannon Fretter of Springhill, N.S. is as hardcore as any grizzled fighting man in the Canadian Forces.

Fretter, a medic who has been stationed with troops during the heaviest fighting in Panjwaii district, was on her way to Kandahar Air Field on Friday for a couple of days of downtime. "I just want to smell like a girl again," she lamented, pulling at a strand of hair sticking out from beneath her toque.

Fretter, 32, is a mother of five and has a husband waiting at home in Petawawa, Ont. She has become a popular subject for members of the Afghan National Army, who are forever begging her to pose for pictures with them.

"It's the blonde hair and blue eyes. They don't get to see it that much here. The boys keep teasing me that they're lining the grape huts with my picture just like they do with their porn for their vehicles," she giggled.

"They think it's cool that I have a gun and I stand there with my rifle and do action poses. I've had at least 200 photos so I'm a pinup girl for the Canadian army," Fretter said.

But look behind the aesthetics and you find someone who has been in the heat of action and watched close friends die.

"I've never hated anyone in my life until my buddies started dying and there's nothing in the world that can bring them back," Fretter said thoughtfully. But the words sound little like those of a medic.

"There is the satisfaction that these people are not going to be able to do it again. We're pushing them back as far as we can every time we get a chance to go out there. The Americans call it hunting," she added. "I look at it this way - the more we get of them the less they get of their own people."

Fretter was providing aid and support the day a suicide bomber on a bicycle killed four Canadian soldiers. It was her first time dealing with mass casualties.

"They're killing their own people. I mean there was two little girls that got blown up for no apparent reason other than the fact they want to hurt us and that is wrong," she said.

There's another conundrum facing medical staff working in "kill zones" like the one in Panjwaii district, west of Kandahar Air Field. It involves having to give medical attention to the enemy in some cases.

Fretter has treated her share of enemy combatants, but she said it's not something she likes doing.

"It's just the fact we know these are the people who are the ones killing you off. We treat them because we have to but there's not one person who will say that they want to."

The only time Fretter has been injured was when she was taking care of a soldier from the Afghan National Army who had been injured in by an improvised explosive device, or IED. His unit was ambushed shortly after.

"He started having seizures and he started beating the living crap out of me. I went to give him some morphine and the auto injector was loaded backwards so the needle went right through my finger and he has just vomited blood all over my hands," she said.

"It was a needle prick so I got evacuated 24 hours later and started some HIV treatment but it came back and was negative so that's all that counts."

Fretter spent some time visiting with fellow medic Pte. Melissa Wiseman of Clarenville, N.L. on the brief stopover at the camp. Wiseman, who turns 26 on Sunday, hasn't seen the same sort of action has her colleague.

"We haven't had any Canadian casualties - only civilian casualties," Wiseman said. "It's kind of a rush when it happens."

Recalling the major anti-Taliban offensive Canadian troops launched in September, she added: "We were out on (Operation) Medusa and we were there for all of it but with the Bison (troop carrier) you're kind of out of it behind the front line. You kind of hear it all but that's about all."

As for treating the enemies for wounds - Wiseman said it's just something you have to do.

"We had one. But when it came back he was just a civilian fighter so I guess he wasn't Taliban. But you do what you can. They're still people and you still have to help them even if they're Taliban," she added.

The Canadian Press, 2006

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