Being a better man
Corey Anhorn finds growth in travel and military service
By: Amy Crofts
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 06:00 am
Corey Anhorn: Q&A
Where do you live?
"Montreal, in the Mile End district on the border of Plateau Mont Royal."
What did you do after high school?
"Joined Katimavik, where I lived in three different provinces in three months, volunteering in different community projects."
What is your favourite school of the universities you have attended?
What is your favourite city?
"Copenhagen, where I spent a year abroad"
What is the quote you live by?
"'Let each new year find you a better man'" – Benjamin Franklin."
What is your favourite book?
"The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera."
Where are you travelling next?
"Korea and Japan."
What is your advice to travellers?
"This whole idea of I don't have time, I don't have money to travel, it's not an excuse. I managed to travel when I was 21 and 22 when I had no money and no time. You make time, you can find travels."
Atop a 1,000 foot limestone bridge, he looks into the rushing water of the Cahabon River below. The water disappears into the earth at a point called "El Sumidero," powerfully rushing into a series of underground caves.
He has eight seconds from jumping off the bridge to resurface in the frigid waters, and if he doesn't, he will undoubtedly meet his death over the sharp rocks of the rapids.
Corey Anhorn has hiked through caves by candlelight and through a swarm of bats to reach this moment at Semuc Champey, deep in the jungle of Lanquín, Guatemala.
"I can't swim great, but I think I can make it," he says of his attempt to reassure himself before the jump. "I'm never going to be here again and I'm never going to do this again."
He jumps and he lives.
After a death-defying plunge, Anhorn and his friend Pablo make their way to the pristine turquoise-green pools of Semuc Champey to relax. The site is described in the Maya Qéqchi´ language as "where the river hides beneath the earth."
"Pablo looked at me and I looked at him and it was one of the most freeing moments. Just perfectly content," the 28-year-old recalls of his travels in Guatemala, during a trip to Nicaragua with the non-profit organization Project Hope.
"You're outside of everything; you don't have to worry about anything else beyond that exact moment, which is really rare nowadays."
Growing up between Edmonton and St. Albert in a single parent household, Anhorn admits there wasn't much money for travel, which is one of the reasons why he continuously searches for what he calls "waterfall moments."
"You always worry about bills, school, laundry … it was this pristine moment where you don't have to worry about anything. I try and travel to recreate these moments."
Anhorn's quest for these "excellent pieces" has worn his passport down with stamps from 35 different countries. A sense of adventure and curiosity has brought him from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, to Michaelangelo's statue of David in Italy, and swapping life stories with Palestinian Arabs in Israel.
"You can never live the Israeli experience or the Palestinian experience, but you can have a better view of what actually happens on the ground," says the man that always vacations solo. He explains the purpose of travelling for him is getting out of his shell and meeting people.
Learning about other people's lives and their cultures is also one of the perks of Anhorn's job.
At the time Anhorn sat down with the Gazette, it had been two months since he finished his first tour with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
After moving to Montreal (where he currently lives) in 2008 for J'explore, a five-week intensive French language immersion program, he decided to stay and finish his honours anthropology degree at Concordia University. Two years later, he joined the Canadian Grenadier Guards as a reservist.
"I started reading books about how everyone should have an intellectual, a physical and a social aspect in their life. What I was missing was the physical aspect," says Anhorn of one of the reasons he joined the military. He notes influence from his dad, a member of the U.S. armed forces, as well as the large military presence in the Edmonton area, also prompted him to join.
Anhorn started off as an officer cadet in administration, working one day per week with occasional weekends, but quickly worked his way up to the rank of Junior Lieutenant and was put in charge of 40 people after two years.
He recalls that Basic Military Qualification – recruit training – was tough, but the two-and-a-half month infantry specific training was even tougher.
"It (was) a lot of patrols for eight days in the field straight with no sleep, just go-go-go, hasty attacks wearing 100 pounds of kit …"
"In one of the marches I passed out, broke my knee, broke my finger, broke my tooth (and) broke my toe. I was on crutches for a couple months and physio(therapy), but I went back next year and completed it."
Anhorn's first attempt at infantry qualification may have flopped, however there is a 70 per cent failure rate of first years from injuries, voluntary releases and training failures, he explains. He passed the second time around and was a better man for it.
"They want you to be the best. And with Afghanistan they wanted the best officers that could be there."
Shona ba Shona
After four months of pre-deployment training, Anhorn joined Operation Attention, Canada's contribution to the NATO training mission in Afghanistan to provide training and mentorship to the Afghan National Army.
Anhorn was stationed at Camp Blackhorse, a garrison of 5,000 Afghan national soldiers at the Pol-e-Charki military reserve on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. He took on the role of VIP visits officer, touring high ranking military members, politicians and journalists through the consolidated fielding centre.
Meeting the Canadian Minister of National Defence, the U.S. Secretary of Defense and three star generals from all over the world were career highlights, admits Anhorn, but his favourite part of the tour was learning the Dari language and speaking with the locals.
"The Afghans are some of the friendliest people I've ever met. They will invite (you) into their home for tea and food, they love gift-giving," says Anhorn of his daily talks with mentees, which would start off with a cup of chai and inquiries into the well-being of their families.
He admits that compared to the direct-to-business nature of the North American military, adapting to Afghan customs was frustrating.
"It's a very different culture. You really have to build a rapport."
"You can tell when it happens because they're very affectionate people. They like to hold your hand, give you hugs and snuggle up to you. You'll see a bunch of these warrant (officers), 25 years in the military, walking hand in hand with an Afghan soldier."
"Shona ba shona" in Dari, which means "shoulder to shoulder," is how Anhorn describes working alongside Afghan soldiers, from teaching them survival tactics to weapons training.
"It's bittersweet. A lot of the troops – you know that many of these guys aren't going to survive," he says. "But I feel like I'm a better equipped officer to lead (my home) troops now than I was before. Any situation I can hit in life nowadays, the reserves has taught me that I can make it through it, literally no problem.”
One of the main tenets of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan is to deliver humanitarian assistance, promoting regional diplomacy and developing child and youth programs in education and health.
It was these principles of the tour which meshed with Anhorn's interest in international development and made him proud of his involvement in Operation Attention.
"I think we get a bad rap as the military of what we do because we are a war fighting group. You carry weapons, you shoot people and you get shot at, but you have the force, you can be a change for good as well."
"That's something I didn't think for a very long time."
Anhorn admits that coming from a "very liberal background" where he volunteered with non-governmental organizations and advocated for child and women's' rights, it was difficult becoming accustomed to the military mentality.
"A lot of my friends ask, 'Why are you in the military? It's complete opposite to what you're doing in development.' And a lot of my military friends are very conservative and they'll ask, 'Why do you hang out with the hippies?'"
"But you can't have development without security."
After a trip to South Africa post-deployment and a short stint in Alberta to visit family, Anhorn is now back at home in Montreal. He is now a platoon commander and is contemplating joining the infantry full-time or applying to the special operations regiment, while finishing the last course of his anthropology degree.