Canadian Dave: View from Afghanistan

“From a human perspective, we have a responsibility that if you’re in a position to do well and help others and guide others, you should do it.”

The Humanitarian Mission in Afghanistan:

Canadian Veteran Dave Lavery’s recent involvement with the Veterans Transition Network (VTN) has been instrumental in facilitating the evacuation of thousands of Afghan refugees. After the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021, Dave, along with his dedicated team at Raven Rae Resources, worked tirelessly to support the evacuation and resettlement efforts for Canada’s Afghan allies. His commitment to VTN and Raven Rae’s duty of care extends beyond security, emphasizing the importance of providing hope to those they assist.

A moment that stands out is the chaos at Kabul Airport in August 2021. Dave, his wife Junping, and his son Brant were the only Canadians left to help desperate Afghan families get on the final flights out of Kabul, Afghanistan. He describes moving people in and out of the airport, babies being thrown at them, and crying and screaming behind the closed gates. He attributes his survivability to staying positive, even in horrific events like this, and credits his wife for keeping him strong mentally and physically and staying by his side during their commitment in  getting people to safety.

Dave’s team continues resettlement efforts for Afghans still at risk. His military training, life experiences and approach to adversity allow his life-saving work – on guard for so many – to move forward and mobilize on the ground in desperate times.

“I always look at a negative and away a positive – from a crisis, I try to walk away with some positive attributes to pass on, and lessons learned.”

Canadian Armed Forces Veteran Dave Lavery worked to get at least 100 Afghans through the chaos of the Kabul airport to safety. 

Intro:

Sergeant Major (Ret’d) Dave Lavery, also known as “Canadian Dave” to those fleeing Afghanistan, learned his soldiering basics as a teenager in the BC cadets, 1st BN NFLD Regiment, & Governor General Foot Guards, leading to his distinguished career in the Canadian Armed Forces and the United Nations, and his current work assisting Afghans and those caught in conflict zone. Dave’s journey has been marked by a deep sense of duty and a passion for making a positive impact.

“As a young man in the airborne regiment, I’m supposed to be a tough guy, ranger qualified, pathfinder qualified… you go through a whole bunch of training to get to that level and you think you’ve seen it all and done it all, but the minute a crisis happens, it really challenges you. You start to develop, over the years, a skillset and understanding to harness some of these adverse, not normal situations. To try to calm yourself down and look at things with another perspective in real time.  It’s a toolbag I’m carrying around with me.

This ‘toolbag’ grew to help what I do to this day. It isn’t just me – I’m holding the toolbag, but it’s also the people working around and supporting me. At some point, it feels like you’re on your own and you’re physically on your own, but I know I still have so much support in the background. People are there. I’m never alone.”

Early Years in Uniform:

“I always had the desire to be in uniform,” reflects Dave, as he recounts his entry into the Canadian Armed Forces in 1979. Prior to that, he spent time in the BC cadets, the Reserves in Ottawa with the Governor General Footguards, and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. His time in the Forces spanned the Cold War, marked by intensive training, airborne missions, and deployments to places like Norway.

Graduation Ranger School (Dave pictured 4th row, 7th from the left)

Joining the Anti-Terrorism Effort:

After quickly advancing in the ranks at CAF, Dave received an invitation to join the Joint Task Force II, a newly established anti-terrorism team. Serving as a founding member, he dedicated himself to the Task Force until his retirement from service in 2000. Following this chapter, Dave ventured into working with the United Nations, remaining committed until his retirement nearly a year later.

On September 11, 2001, Dave returned from a morning run in Perth, Ontario, and turned on the news. He saw two planes hitting the Twin Towers in New York City. “Everything’s changed,” he remarked to his friend that day. Almost immediately, Dave received calls from the UN, urging his return from retirement to join a new task force set up to assist the refugees fleeing from Afghanistan he was assigned toTurkmenistan. He boarded the next flight.

Dave (right) during his work with the United Nations. In 2006, his helicopter crashed during an evacuation in Darfur, Sudan.

A Decade with the United Nations:

Dave’s tenure with the United Nations as a senior security advisor spanned a decade. From setting up operations in Afghanistan to addressing crises in Sudan, Somalia, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka he played a crucial role in providing assistance, risk management, crisis support, and security to the UN Agencies, INGO’s, international communities, and host governments.

A noteable experience during this period was responding to a tragic plane crash on a mountain 30 kilometers southeast of Kabul. He provided immediate support but also faced personal risks, surviving a fall while recovering bodies from the crash site. Another experience was playing a key role in an emergency medical evacuation, where the helicopter he was in, dispatched to rescue an Irish NGO trapped in a combat zone in Darfur, Sudan, crashed. His journey took another unexpected turn when, during a medical examination following the incident, he was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma cancer in his right kidney.

All of these challenges further shaped his perspective on life, instilling in him an enduring instinct to seek positivity in the face of adversity.

“I’ve had a lot of horrific incidents that have happened. You take the strength from them, and you harness them in a proper way so you can execute whatever you have to do when you’re doing it – it all comes back.”

Dave (first row, third from left) was involved in the crisis response for the Kam Air Flight 904 that crashed on Feb 3 2005 on a mountain in Afghanistan.

Establishing Raven Rae and Embracing a New Mission:

Upon retiring from the United Nations for a second time, Dave transitioned to the private sector, managing operations for Hart Maritime Security. Part of his job was providing risk solutions and riding shotgun on ships to watch for pirates and protect client vessels. However, his life took a turn when he witnessed an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul on CNN. He called a friend, who was the Head of Security at the World Food Program in Kabul and offered to immediately send armed guards to his friend’s facility. Then he jumped on a plane headed for Kabul.

Motivated by a desire to stay in Afghanistan and set up a business, Dave left Hart and set up a business foundation with CANPRO in 2010, and later established Raven Rae Afghanistan. The company offered holistic life services, secure accommodations, and strategic business support for clients navigating challenging environments.

Raven Rae was named after the raven in Dave’s family coat of arms, and his deceased brother Rae (left).

From Personal Struggles to a Positive Outlook:

Despite personal and professional challenges, Dave remains resilient. “When you have all of these things, you have to stay positive. I love life and I want to stay positive. All of that other stuff is a disease, it’s negative, but you have to take the strength out of it. I’m also vocal and verbalize. I write it out, I talk it out. That’s my release mechanism.” He believes there is a positive lesson learned in every situation.

One significant moment that represents this for Dave was meeting his wife, Junping. On January 28th, 2011, there was an attack on the Finest Supermarket in Kabul. Dave and Junping were at the supermarket that day and caught in the deadly blast, but he found strength to carry her out of the rumble with others, while injured himself. “Ten years later, I carried her on the beaches of the Seychelles, and I married her. The positive out of the horrific negative is my rock, Junping.”

Dave and his wife, Junping, were married on the beaches of the Seychelles

Legacy of Charity and Community Involvement:

Dave believes that we have a responsibility to contribute to the communities we live in, and he has lived by this principle throughout his life.

Dave’s commitment to giving back is evident in his involvement with many charitable initiatives, including the Perth Polar Bear Plunge. An activity originating from his military service, Dave began taking cold-water plunges for charity in the mid-80s. After moving to Perth, Ontario, and joining the local Crime Stoppers, he recognized the potential of organizing a Polar Bear Plunge as a fantastic means to raise awareness and funds for the organization within the community. Over the years, the event has grown, while continuing to support different local charities. January 1, 2024, will mark the 30th anniversary since the inaugural plunge in Perth and Dave will be there.

Dave continuing the tradition of his annual Polar Bear Plunge while in Afghanistan. Dave launched the first Perth Polar Bear Plunge 30 years ago.

“It’s a good way to start the new year. The minute you jump in the water, you rejuvenate. It’s a rebirth. You’re celebrating the start of hopefully a great new year. And it’s a great bond. Hundreds of people jump in, and hundreds are cheering us on. It’s a memory you’re going to cherish.”

Canadian Dave’s journey, from a young cadet to his involvement with conflicts around the world, reflects a lifetime dedicated to service helping others and the pursuit of positivity and strength in the face of adversity. His story serves as an inspiration, showcasing the profound impact one individual can have when surrounded by a supportive community and driven by a desire to make the world a better place.

Dave ran an ultra marathon in Kabul, Afghanistan to raise funds for local Afghans
Dave supporting kids with their flu shots in Afghanistan