Stuart grew up in Richmond, British Columbia with two brothers, his mother and step dad. He had a happy childhood and his signature grin and giggle are well remembered.
Stuart enjoyed football, soccer and Cubs but his life changed on his twelfth birthday. Finally old enough to go to Army Cadets he began his time in uniform and at seventeen he moved up to the British Columbia Regiment as a Reserve. His grade twelve year at high school was a busy one as he also completed basic training on the weekends. A measure of his pride in the military was that Stuart volunteered and stood guard for Remembrance Day ceremonies at Cenotaphs in Richmond as a cadet and in Vancouver as a reservist.
In 2000 he joined Regular Force and became an armoured crewman with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse. During his service Stuart deployed overseas to Bosnia and Afghanistan; he was a gunner for the Can-Am Cup tank competition and he competed in the Mountain Man. He earned two Commander’s Coins and his personnel file reflects that he was highly rated and had been recommended for promotion.
In March of 2007 during his PLQ Stuart experienced chest pains which caused him to be returned to base from Wainwright for medical care. Initially the problem was diagnosed only as ‘anxiety related’ and he was treated with multiple prescribed medications. Chest pain is a classic symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Over the next year, still under medical care, his condition aggressively worsened with night terrors and sweats, self-medication and five now documented suicide attempts. Finally, in desperation and determined to be a good soldier Stuart took himself to a local psychiatric hospital and asked for their help. Whilst a patient there he began to disclose that he was troubled by his experience in Afghanistan. Tragically after thirty days Stuart was summarily released after the hospital confirmed with the base that he was to report back to his regiment.
An officer would later relate to investigators that a decision had been made that Stuart was not to be afforded the opportunity to attend a further treatment program. He added that the program cost would have been about $50,000.
Back from hospital to CFB Edmonton Stuart was subjected to what was to later be euphemistically described as ‘structure.’ Records showed preparations for a suicide watch but the official version is that his ordered restrictions, which included living in the Defaulters’ Room, working an extended day and reporting every two hours, were neither suicide watch nor discipline.
Suffering the humiliation and hopelessness of his situation Stuart took his own life a few days lateron the 15th of March 2008. His military funeral service was on what would have been his twenty-ninth birthday.
Remarkably a 2009 Board of Inquiry speciously opined simply that Stuart could not have acquired PTSD from patrolling in Afghanistan as a recce soldier. Perhaps an explanation lies in the fact that a former base psychologist who had actually assessed Stuart was not called as a witness. His report indicated that symptoms pointed to PSTD and he recommended further exploration of that diagnosis and a medication review. It is not clear from the records that his recommendations were ever in fact actioned. That psychologist would later testify at a Commission Hearing where he stated his opinion that Stuart had most likely been suffering from PTSD.
Thankfully since Stuart’s death PTSD and OSI have come out of the shadows. It is being acknowledged now as real and efforts are being made to remove stigma and to provide support and treatment. It is a bona fide hazard of military service and thankfully those lost are beginning now to be formally recognized as fallen too. More still needs to be done.
In 2010 Stuart added to his medals with the posthumous award of the Sacrifice Medal which formally acknowledged that his death was a result of service.