Captain Simon Mailloux awoke in a military hospital in Germany and looked askance at what remained of his broken body.
"I woke up and saw my cut-off leg," he recalls. His reaction: "You're in shock."
The infantryman had been grievously injured in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His jaw was fractured. His head was spinning. His bones on his left leg were exposed, smashed to pieces.
He returned to Canada to begin a gruelling rehabilitation and adjust to life with a prosthesis. But as far as Capt. Mailloux was concerned, his business in Afghanistan was unfinished.
This November, two years after losing his lower left leg to amputation, Capt. Mailloux is to return to continue his mission. He is not just a symbol of the sacrifice of the more than 1,000 mostly anonymous Canadian soldiers who have returned home from Afghanistan physically diminished. He is also a face of the dedication of Canada's troops, and of the new frontiers being reached by people with physical disabilities. A military spokeswoman said she believes Capt. Mailloux is the first amputee to return to service in Afghanistan.
"Apart from the prosthesis, I am the soldier I used to be," Capt. Mailloux, 25, said Wednesday from CFB Valcartier in Quebec City, where he was completing his training along with regular troops.
"I left my team a bit abruptly," he said of the troops in Afghanistan. "I want to return and continue the work we started. I am a soldier."
He has not received any special treatment from the Forces because of his disability, he said. For his fitness training, which he recently completed at Valcartier, he marched 13 kilometres on his artificial limb with a 27-kilo (60-lb.) pack on his back (he completed the trek in two hours and 22 minutes, together with his comrades-in-arms). He carried a fellow soldier, who bore his full military kit, for 100 metres. He dug a foot-deep trench.
In Afghanistan, Capt. Mailloux will be assigned to be a staff officer at Kandahar Air Field headquarters under the command of Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard. But his duty requires him to be battle-ready, too.
"A soldier deployed to Kandahar has to be ready to go to combat at all time, and that is what I'm prepared to do," he said.
Examples of the wounded engaging in military combat are legend; British Second World War hero Douglas Bader lost both legs in a flying accident in 1931 but returned to the cockpit as the pilot of a Spitfire, destroying an estimated 30 enemy planes. He inspired a feature film.
Georges Vanier, who went on to become Canadian governor-general, lost his leg in the First World War and while he did not return to active duty, he was awarded the Military Cross and took over command of the Royal 22nd Regiment at La Citadelle in Quebec City.
As for Capt. Mailloux, he set out soon after his return from Afghanistan in 2007 to offer hope to wounded Canadian soldiers. Then a lieutenant, he visited rehabilitation centres and hospitals, telling soldiers their career was not over.
"He wants to set a precedent, and help them get back [to duty]as well," says his fiancée, Kitchener native Kari Pries.
He was promoted last year to captain and worked as an aide-de-camp for Governor-General Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall.
Ms. Pries says her future husband, whom she plans to marry after his mission ends next year, felt he needed to return to Afghanistan. The night of his injuries, he was part of a convoy setting out near Kandahar when the bomb exploded. Two Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed. Capt. Mailloux was airlifted to Landstuhl, Germany.
"He always said that he didn't quite feel that the job was done, and that he didn't have closure because of the way he left," Ms. Pries said.
Steve Harris, chief historian with Department of National Defence in Ottawa, says Capt. Mailloux's action exemplifies soldiers' sense of loyalty, which grows out of working in tight-knit units where members rely on one another for survival.
"It shows complete dedication to duty, to the mission," Dr. Harris said, "and also to your buddies."