Two years ago while serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, Master Warrant Officer Stanley Mercredi disarmed his neighbour, a fellow soldier who threatened to kill himself.
“In the military, we’re always being taught to watch for signs of people in distress, watching to see how their reactions are from one day to another, make sure that they’re on,” he said. “It just happened to be that the guy who actually did this was living in the room next to mine.”
For his act of valour, Mercredi – born in Inuvik and raised in Fort Smith – was honoured with a medal of bravery by Governor General David Johnston, at a ceremony held in Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 26.
“I was pretty shocked. I actually thought at that time about being humble; having Aboriginal roots, I learned to be humble from my grandparents,” he said.
The incident took place on Jan. 13, 2013, when Mercredi noticed a military member from another country acting erratically nearby.
“I went and rapped on the door, he was very agitated and he wanted to be left alone,” Mercredi said. “He left the room, then he came back and I heard screaming. I knocked on the door again and I asked him, ‘Are you O.K.?’”
The next few moments moved in slow motion, Mercredi said.
“He just looked at me then looked at his friend,” he said. “Right behind him was his service pistol, it was sitting in the holster. He started to reach for that and his roommate wasn’t fast enough, he was only able to grab the holster.”
Decades of military training and instinct kicked in as Mercredi sprang into action.
“After he drew his pistol, the guy spun around. I believed at that time there was going to be danger, not just to myself but to all the other soldiers that were around us, which was several Canadians, him and his roommate,” Mercredi said.
“I didn’t have a choice because at that time the pistol was coming around in my direction. I had to run into the room, tackle him and his roommate to the ground and twist the pistol out of his hand. I removed the pistol from the room and unloaded it, then ran back in to secure the member until the police in Kabul came over.”
Mercredi later learned the soldier had received bad news from home, which caused the member to act irrationally.
A shift in military mental health
Since the 1990s, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have put a renewed effort into offering suicide prevention and mental well-being services for military personnel and their families.
Providing greater access to clinical and non-clinical interventions, mental health education and suicide awareness information are only some of the measures being taken to address the matter, according a document on suicide and suicide prevention in the CAF published by the federal government.
Still, incidents can happen. Between 2010 and 2014, CAF recorded five suicides in female regular force members and 68 males in the same time frame, 16 of which took place within the last year. CAF continues to offer preventive initiatives with the intent of decreasing these numbers.
Hanging up his rucksack
No longer touring, Mercredi now lives about 150 km west of Ottawa by the military base in Petawawa, Ontario. As of this November, he will have served as a CAF member for 33 years, with tours in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Germany, and two tours in Afghanistan.
Looking back on his career, every so often Mercredi will reflect on the events of Jan. 13, 2013.
“I think when you look at situations like that, it does have an effect on you because every time you think of something or you see something on TV, you rethink the moment,” Mercredi said. “You learn to live with it because it’s part of being in the military.”