Remembrance Day’s significance not lost on Langford veteran

Dealing with PTSD inspires effort to help others

Graeme Hafey stands by one of the Sea King helicopters he piloted during the Second Gulf War circa 2002. (Photo contributed)

Graeme Hafey stands by one of the Sea King helicopters he piloted during the Second Gulf War circa 2002. (Photo contributed)

The significance of the eleventh day in November will be part of Graeme’s Hafey’s DNA forever.

“I think for most veterans, despite how proud we are of our service, Remembrance Day is about the mental and physical wounds, the lives lost and the sacrifices made by everyone who ever served,” he explained. “It’s about the sacrifices made, what we do on deployment, putting yourself in a dangerous environment.”

The fact his father served in the British Navy played a role in Hafey’s decision to sign up for service in 1985 when he was 25.

“We spent our summers sailing and fishing,” he recalled. “We grew up on the water. We used to joke that I could swim before I could walk. Joining the navy seemed like a good fit. Four years in, I realized I wanted to fly so I went back to school to get the prerequisites I needed for flying.”

After enlisting in the air force once he completed his schooling, Hafey earned his pilot wings in 1993. Ironically, Hafey eventually ended up back on the water, flying Sea King helicopters off of Canadian navy vessels during the Second Gulf War in 2002.

“We were hunting down the bad guys in the Middle East. It was interesting work in a high-risk environment,” Hafey. “They definitely didn’t want us there and you never knew who was going to start shooting at you. Everyone worked very hard. It was pretty dangerous work, lots of hours in the air day and night.”

All these years later one incident, in particular, stands out.

“I still have vivid memories of a close call where I was on the ship’s deck when we were refueling and I noticed a suspicious boat was coming straight at us at high speed,” he recalled.

That was especially concerning because the boat could be on a suicide mission filled with explosives, Hafey explained.

READ MORE: Courage Remembered

“The mental and physical wounds from operating a helicopter, landing and taking off, particularly at night or in storms leave an indelible mark. Flying old Sea Kings was always a challenge, lots of high-risk situations where you’re pushing yourself and that machine.”

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder eventually took its toll on Hafey in 2011, with “too many close calls” putting a halt to his career after 21 years of service.

Although he still battles the effects, Hafey has found a variety of ways to cope with PTSD, including counselling.

“It’s made me acutely aware of the need for support for veterans and first responders through PTSD programs,” said Hafey. That’s the reason he founded V2V Black Hops Brewing in Langford. The V to V stands for Veterans to Veterans, a non-profit organization run by veterans for veterans.

The beers, currently available in only a small number of locations, are dedicated to the military and police, with profits going to support PTSD and therapy programs, as well as Cockrell House, a Colwood shelter for homeless veterans.

“We opened in March and although it’s been brutal because of COVID, we’ve managed to donate $6,500 so far,” Hafey said.

“The pandemic has really hurt our walk-in business. We’re counting on the support of the community to keep us going so we can continue to support veterans and first responders.”

Hafey has just added a large, multi-purpose U.S. Marine Corps tent like the ones that were a frequent setting on the television series MASH. There’s plenty of room for socially distanced tables so people can sample the variety of beers, have something to eat and enjoy events like movie screenings, which Hafey hopes will provide a much-needed boost to the bottom line.

rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazette.com

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Veteran Graeme Hafey at the controls of a Sea King helicopter during the Second Gulf War circa 2002. (Photo contributed)

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