Peace Warrior

Written by Julie Taylor

This is a remarkable – and beautiful – story of recovery.  Having been told he would never walk again, Captain Trevor Greene and his fiancée Debbie Lepore delayed their wedding because the vet of the Afghanistan mission plans to walk down the aisle.  And I fully that he will…

peacewarrior2This story, Peace Warrior appeared in the North Shore Outlook (article) Published: November 04, 2009 12:00 PM 
Updated: November 04, 2009 2:11 PM.  The first time director Sue Ridout spoke to Captain Trevor Greene on camera, she went in apprehensive. Less than two years earlier he’d been struck by an axe in the head. After he pulled out of a coma, she’d seen him communicate through eye blinks and sometimes yes and no answers. Greene hadn’t spoken much that she’d seen – it seemed to her he couldn’t.

It was September, 2007. The North Vancouver woman met him at a rehab facility in Ponoka, Alberta where he was trying, against all odds, to repair the damaged connections in his brain. It was also where they would hold the interviews that would make for the most astonishing moments in Ridout’s documentary, Peace Warrior, a recipient last month of a Gemini award for best biography documentary.

His story was widely reported. In 2006, Greene, a 41-year-old reservist with Vancouver’s Seaforth Highlanders infantry unit, had attended a village meeting or a shura in Afghanistan north of Kandahar. When he and his commanding officers sat down with village elders, they removed their helmets as a sign of respect.

A young man stepped up behind Greene, called out “Allah Akbar,” and buried an axe deep into Greene’s head. As his commanding officers describe it, Greene’s eyes rolled back and he slumped to the ground.  And then Canadian soldiers fired more than 10 rounds into the kid – he’s been estimated between 16 and in his 20s – before he crumpled, dead.

They thought Greene dead, too, until a medic was floored to discover he still showed vital signs despite a grisly wound that left some of his brain matter on the ground. He was airlifted from Kandahar, spent a year in Vancouver General Hospital, where he nearly died several times from complications. The doctors said he’d never wake up, let alone speak or move. One doctor told his fiancée, Debbie Lepore, to put Greene in a long-term care facility and just walk away.

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And so when Ridout sat down with Greene at that rehab facility in Ponoka she wasn’t sure what they could really film. Doctors had warned Lepore that he wouldn’t be ‘the same Trevor.’
Ridout started probing the waters.

Do you dream? She said.
“Yes.”
“What do you dream about?”
No hesitation: “Afghanistan.”

Ridout says she felt pure awe coming from thee-person film crew behind her as Greene began to describe a recurring dream in soft, short tones. He was in Afghanistan. He was talking to his “assailant.” They were friends. He told the young man, “Sorry. My colleague shot him dead . . . I was there in uniform with a weapon even though I went to help. He had a reason to kill me.”
Ridout says that conversation “set the tone” for the next 14 months spent filming the fight for Greene’s life: “It was astounding. I think we were all astounded by what came out of his mouth, the thoughtfulness of it, the depth of it.”

Ridout says that conversation “set the tone” for the next 14 months spent filming the fight for Greene’s life: “It was astounding. I think we were all astounded by what came out of his mouth, the thoughtfulness of it, the depth of it.”

Her crew followed Greene through his battle to regain his body, to learn to grab railings, feed himself, hold up his head in a gritty campaign to join Lepore and their toddler, Grace, in a life outside the hospital.
The recurring themes are “faith” and “hope” and “love,” championed tirelessly by Lepore, who put her career as a chartered accountant on hold to be Greene’s full-time advocate, coach and companion. Peace Warrior tells how, while Greene fought for his life in VGH, Lepore was the voice at his ear. He’d walk their daughter down the aisle some day, she told him.

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Lepore tells the camera crew ‘her Trevor’ is still there, “All of those great things I fell in love with, they’re all still there.”  In the early scenes, she sees an articulate, thoughtful man trapped behind those frozen pathways, and she’ll do anything to help him come back.
These are intensely vulnerable, deeply personal moments, as when Greene and Lepore visit a orthopedic surgeon to find out if they can release some of the rock-hard tendons in his feet, opening up a the small chance that he might stand. When the doctor says “I don’t think so,” Greene’s earlier declaration rings out in the long silence: “If I can’t walk, I’m less of a man. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.”

Even more desolate is Greene’s description of the creeping anxiety that tugs at his chest when he declares that he was meant to die in that axe attack.  It feels “like rats eating my stomach and my heart” he nearly whispers.

A year after watching the documentary for the first time, Greene says it wasn’t easy opening his life to the camera, but, “It was good that she (Ridout) showed what Afghan veterans were going through,” He didn’t want his struggle “sugar coated.”

Peace Warrior isn’t sugar coated. Ridout has balanced the dark and the light with a steady, sensitive hand. In the scenes where he slogs through rehab, exhausted, Trevor may feel rats chewing at his insides, but he also knows “Debbie has faith in me,” and he can’t give up.

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NorthShoreWarriorGreene reinforces that statement today: “She (Lepore) had faith in me from the start. That’s why I’m alive now.”

Since Peace Warrior wrapped and then aired on CTV 10 months ago, Greene, Lepore and their four-year-old daughter Grace have settled into life in their Nanaimo home.
Greene and Lepore delayed their wedding because he still hopes to walk down the aisle, and the documentary may have helped in making that possible.

An orthopedic surgeon in Victoria saw the broadcast, balked at the scene where Greene learns he’ll never walk again.
He phoned Lepore and Greene the next day and soon after carried out the surgery no one else would do on Greene’s feet.

“My feet are straight for the first time in three and a half years,” Greene says over the phone. “I’m even standing on them.”
Balancing himself against a ladder, Greene logs 45-minute sessions. He’s practising for the wedding this July at Lepore’s sister’s house. He’s going to walk down that aisle, he says.

Ridout will film that day and the events leading up to it, she says, and hopefully cut an updated version of Peace Warrior.
In the meantime, Greene is also writing a book, about “my experiences in Afghanistan and the follow up, what Debbie went through, what my family went through and the power of hope.”

He now appears at speaking engagements, and this week he travels to Toronto and Ottawa to share some of the ideas he’s been writing about.
He’ll have one more stop in Ottawa, too, just announced the morning this paper went to press. At Rideau Hall Nov. 9, Governor General Michaelle Jean will present Greene with a Sacrifice Medal – to recognize members of the Canadian Forces wounded or killed under honourable circumstances that result from hostile action. There will be 46 recipients, 21 of those awarded posthumously.

It’s a miracle that number isn’t 22, that Lepore isn’t receiving the medal for Greene – but from the strength of their love and conviction, Lepore will be there, watching her husband receive the honour.
kmcmanus@northshoreoutlook.com   (journalist of this story)