As a small-town girl living in Northern Saskatchewan, Master Corporal (Retired) Natalie Forcier was initially attracted to the idea of joining the Canadian military because it offered a chance to travel, explore, and of course, serve her country. Little did she know that her time in the military would take her on a 14-year journey of growth and self-discovery.

Her travels took her from Montreal to Winnipeg, to France, and so many places in between.

Natalie fought through mental health challenges following her medical release from the military and was chosen to participate as a Veteran in the True Patriot Love Women’s Expedition to Baffin Island in 2018. The first-of-its-kind adventure brought together a group of all-female Veterans and business leaders from across the country as they snowshoed across the Arctic Circle, traversed the Akshayuk Pass, and visited the northern section of the Owl River Valley. Throughout the journey, Natalie gained valuable mentorship from business leaders, which motivated her to start her own business to help Veterans in need.

We had a chance to catch up with Natalie about how the expedition impacted her life and why she continues to support True Patriot Love.

1. What memory from your expedition stands out for you?
The memory from my expedition that stands out the most for me would be the profound impact that being part of this experience had on my life beyond the trek. It was impactful to be able to share my experiences during the expedition with the business leaders and them showing their genuine interest in the trials and tribulations soldiers experience in the military.

The impact of it all became so undeniably true when we landed in Pangertang, our final destination before flying back to our start locations, and sat down as a group for one last sharing circle. Libby, the oldest lady in our group, shared that she had so many accolades from friends and family for her determination to trek through the arctic for 100kms. She consistently shrugged it off as not a big deal. Having completed the hike, she realized that it was no small feat. Her words that followed have impacted my life ever since: “I will not diminish my accomplishments.” These words made me realize that the stories I’d shared with the business leaders to which they seemed utterly fascinated with, were of far greater value than my heart and mind were giving them credit for.

For me, it was a turning point in my life where transitioning from the military gave me hope and the realization that my story and my accomplishments didn’t deserve to be diminished. It gave me strength to face my struggles without lessening the traumas I’d endured, and to honour my accomplishments without diminishing their impact on my life.

2. What did your expedition mean to you?
When I signed up for the expedition, I had recently been medically released from the military and was profoundly lost in my transition to civilian life. Having moved back to my hometown in northern Saskatchewan, I found myself completely disconnected from the life I’d lived my entire adult life up to this point.

I had several military friends send me information on True Patriot Love’s mission and expeditions which they thought I’d be interested in. Feeling isolated and lost on how to move forward, I felt compelled to step out of my comfort zone and get involved in a cause that plays a significant role in supporting Veterans and their families.

Little did I know that being part of TPL’s mission to impact the lives of those who serve, would give me back a part of me that I’d lost in the training and indoctrination of being a soldier. It helped me realize that the unique experiences I’d lived in the military also gave me a unique perspective on being able to carry on supporting our uniformed men and women after service. The expedition helped me find my voice and gave me a purpose to pursue.

3. What advice would you give someone embarking on their first expedition?
The best piece of advice I could give someone embarking on their first expedition would be to “embrace the suck”, an all-too-familiar military saying that embodies the notion that growth can only come from challenging oneself.

The expedition will allow you to fully embrace an experience with like minded individuals who have your back, who are rooting for your success and achievements. Very much like the military, there will be moments where your inner critic will divert your attention from the mission ahead of you. Believe in yourself and your capacity for strength and resiliency. Disconnect from your habitual comforts and everyday connections – there’s a tremendous amount of healing that will come from this!

4. What did you learn about yourself while training and then trekking?
Getting out of my comfort zone to train, to reconnect with an incredible group of strong-willed women and getting through as a solid team during the trek reminded me of my strength and resiliency to face challenges head on. I had to relearn my capacity to adapt and overcome, as I’d done all too often throughout my military career. I also learnt the biggest lesson of all: there was life for me after serving. It renewed my sense of being and purpose, through the conversations, the silences and the determination to succeed as a team!

5. How does your life look different now than it did before you went on your expedition?
When I’d initially signed up for the Baffin trip, I was at the depth of my struggles from transitioning to a civilian, and not yet diagnosed with PTSD. I was isolated from the only life I knew as an adult, one that was super fast-paced and constantly shifting or evolving. The expedition allowed me to continue to pursue life after service in an area that I am most familiar with, the medical world and military life.

Since the trip, I have owned two medical clinics that have recently been acquired by a larger company in order to expand our reach for Veterans’ healthcare to include their families. I am a Veteran outreach coordinator supporting Veterans to access medical supports as well as connecting them with community socioeconomic supports. It has been my greatest source of healing to be able to reconnect with my military brothers and sisters.

I am also heavily involved with an international research team bringing Veterans suffering from combat PTSD to Peru to disconnect from the world in the middle of the Amazon jungle, reconnect with our brethren and to experience the life-changing healing effects from a myriad of plant medicines. I feel like I’m a completely different human and have regained my passion for life and the world of service, one that I was drawn to at the tender age of 18.

6. What did you learn from the civilian mentor(s)?
The biggest lesson I learnt from my civilian mentors was that my experiences, the challenges and the things I’d endured while serving were not something any of them had ever known or understood about the life of a soldier.

I realized that being fully entrenched in the service, everyone around you is going through the exact same things. Everyone has turned themselves off as an individual and focused solely on the mission ahead. Because you don’t identify as an individual, every struggle or service-related “normal” become less of an oddity or unique in your life.

When the civilian mentors would seem shocked or astonished by my stories, it really opened my eyes to the fact that soldiers underestimate the exclusivity that comes with serving your country.

7. What do you think they learned from you?
I would strongly believe that the civilian mentors had a much greater understanding of the “normals” of the military, and the profound resiliency of the men and women in uniform, from basic training, to tours in Afghanistan and the struggles the families face while their loved ones serve.

On the lighter side, I also think that my amazing tent mates also learnt that sleeping in full winter gear is not the way to keep warm at night! A lesson I shared and learnt sleeping on the frozen ground almost 20 years prior as a young recruit – it was usually a source of comedy that I was the only one crawling into my sleeping bag with simply shorts and a tank top, while the civilian ladies were hopping in with their parkas.