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From a Cockpit, to a Cancer Ward, to a Cabin in the Woods

Flying at 10,000 ft as a decorated military pilot then suddenly laying bedridden and motionless in a cancer ward bed soaked with tears. Here is the story of how a small cabin in the woods helped bring me back to life.

I overcame some truly embarrassing setbacks as a teen to become one of the top serving Military Naval Weapons Technicians (NWTs) in my 20s. I sailed through the ranks and took on an epic career change in my 30s when I decided to re-muster and become an Air Force pilot. Following a 9-month deployment in the Gulf I came home 56 pounds lighter and was immediately diagnosed with cancer. My flying career was over. My military career was over. But my real life… it was only just beginning.

Here’s the story of how I left behind an ambitious military flying career as a decorated officer to become a self-made, off grid blogger reaching millions.

My goal right now is to let you know exactly who I am.

Most people’s “about me page” seems to always read like a brag sheet. As if it was there to show off their accomplishments and what kind of business milestones they’ve achieved and never what it took to get there.

Personally, I’ve sacrificed and achieved my own fair share of milestones. My family and friends have been there through the epic highs of seeing me come home a decorated soldier all the way to laying disabled in a cancer ward in a bed soaked with tears.

This is my story, and I hope it gives you an idea of the person I really am…

Steve Barnes and Captain Barnes Who I Am

1973 – Born into the World

I was a crystal blue eyed, wide smiling baby boy. Born in St Mary’s Ontario, February 23rd. I was an only child and always have been. Mom said, she did it right the first time and that always make me feel special. The house, my folks and the entire world always seemed to be all mine.

My biological father was a “rough around the edges” kind of guy. Played in a band. He wore jeans that were rolled up on the bottom, a leather jackets and black pointed boots. He drove a motorcycle and I remember him in dark sunglasses and some smell of old cologne. Every once in a while I’ll get a sniff of something at it sends me back. But, that’s all I remember of him.

My mother on the other hand was completely different bird. She was tall, slender, and more gentle than a lamb. Anyone who’s met my mother will walk away feeling happier and more appreciated. She has a way like that. She would always smile at me from the front window whenever I left or came home from anywhere. She would go to any length for me. So much so that my biological father was out of the picture by the time I was 4 years old. We had a new life to build her and I.

Steve Barnes Green Machine

1977 – My Dad was Real

When I was 4 my mother and I lived in a small apartment alone. The man that came to change the light-bulbs that mom would “accidentally” break became my Dad. I proudly told my friends “That’s my new Dad.” He was right then, and more so today, the most amazing man in the world. Every positive quality I have I can thank him for instilling into me.

1980 Steve Mom and Dad

1986 – Making Money Cleaning Parking Lots and Mopping Hallways

The three of us had moved to Elliot Lake Ontario when I was five so that my Dad could work in the Uranium mines. I started working young at around thirteen years old. Dad taught me right off the bat that half my money was mine to spend how I saw fit and the other half went into a savings account for investing purposes. My first job was sweeping a parking lot that was in front of the local drug store and then afterwards mopping up the hallway of the apartments above the store.

1989 – Beaten Toothless & Determined to Win at All Costs

About the worst thing I remember, more embarrassing and humiliating than anything before, happened when I was in grade eleven. I had always been a “skinny kid” and ranked about second to last on the social scale in school. I was a quiet, had a few friends and no real hobbies other than Sea Cadets and sailing on my parent’s small sailboat.

I now worked at the Foodland inside the mall stocking shelves, bagging groceries and carrying them out to people’s cars. The parking lot was on the roof of the mall and late one cold winter night, long after the mall was closed and the parking lot was empty, I walked to my Dad’s car. Another car was coming around the corner, heading for me. It stopped and four guys jumped out. I knew who they were. I knew what was about to happen. Three of them held onto me while the fourth wrapped a dog chain around his right hand and began to put his fist to my face.

I was more humiliated than hurt but still lost my front tooth and the lower part of my bottom lip in the ambush. As I stood there hot and heart beating they issued me a warning about not telling a soul. I sped home and was beyond seething with enraged. I had been defeated for a reason that later turned out to be a matter of mistaken identity. I swore right there I would not live my life as a second rate punching bag and end up a toothless thug that people avoided like a diseased kiss.

In the end, that single encounter became what I refer to as my first dip in the forge. I’ve only gotten stronger and more determined ever since that moment. However, determined doesn’t necessarily mean smarter.

1991 – You Can’t Truly Appreciate Winning Big Without First Failing Hard

The second most embarrassing moment of my life was when I opened the final report card from high-school. I learned right in that moment that I would not be graduating with all my friends and classmates. I was short one single credit in English. I can imagine my grade twelve English teacher Mr. Young would be shuddering in disbelief today if he only knew my life would one day revolved around writing.

I would go on to complete my grade twelve credit at the adult education center and finally earn my high school diploma.  From there I decided that if I was going to make it I’d need better more advanced grades. I decide to take a grade 12 advanced math course. That single course opened the doors for me to apply for a career that would eventually span twenty-four years, take me to war and home again but also be the career that bore the blame for my diagnosis.

Steve and Ken pre Cornwallis

1993 – The Longest Hug Goodbye

October thirteenth 1993 I hugged my mother the longest hug goodbye in the whole world. I fell numb into the car with my Dad and we drove in silence for two hours to the Sudbury airport. I boarded a plane and flew to Nova Scotia. I was headed to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Cornwallis to begin my career as a Naval Weapons Technician, whatever the heck that was. If you’ve served in Canada before 1995, you’ve either been to Cornwallis or heard of it. And you’d avoid it at all costs if you had the choice.

I practically sailed through boot camp. In fact, I’d been there and done that quite literally. I had not only excelled in Sea Cadets, but I had also become the top cadet in the corps. In fact, I had even already been to Cornwallis when I was only fourteen for band camp. I still have my trumpet today. So polishing boots, ironing uniforms, spotless perfection, attention to detail and following commands barked out by total strangers… that’s my kind of thing. And I found for the first time that I was in a leadership position despite being the youngest man in the room. The platoon Sargent took notice of my expertise and put me in charge on night number one.

Steve Barnes Boot Camp Camo

1994 – The Ocean is a Big Scary Place

With boot camp completed I then moved on to my NWT training for the next few months in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This Is where that advanced math course came in quite handy. An NWT maintains and repairs all the weapon systems on the ship. Everything from the missile launchers and torpedoes to the ship’s main gun and close in weapon system (CIWS: six barrel Gatling gun. I absolutely loved it. This was leagues better than working with Lego or Meccano, which I completely lived off of as a young boy.

Ordinary Seaman Steve Barnes CIWS HMCS Iroqouis Steve Barnes

My first time at sea was seven bone chilling, foggy days and nights off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland aboard the HMCS Fraser. One of the upper deck nightly watch positions I had to stand was called the “fog dodger”. This is where you are literally strapped to the very tip of the ship (like where Jack and Rose stood in the movie Titanic) with a leather belt around your waist listening for any other ship’s fog horn.

Fog Doger Leading Seaman Steven Barnes

Trying to brace yourself with every rise and fall of the ship against the ocean’s swell in the inky black of night and becoming encrusted in salt spray was never my favorite place. In fact, it was downright scary but served the purpose of not running into other ship. Its unfortunately happened before.

The only time I’ve ever been motion sick in my life was when I got off the ship in St. Johns NFLD to take the garbage ashore. I threw up right beside the bin while trying to get my land legs back. I’ve never felt the earth move so much in all my life.

2001 – September 11 Changed Everything

I was on a three month long weapons training course in British Columbia and had just woken up when I heard the sounds of people shouting and sprinting down the hallway of our barracks. I followed them to the end of the hall where we had a large TV room. We stood there in anger and watched September 11 unfold before us. The more senior sailors spoke and muttered how we were all going to war and that we would all get the word in just a few hours. The base went on full lock down and sure enough I got the orders that very day that I was heading back to Halifax to deploy with HMCS Iroquois. We would be one of the three Canadian ships that would help make up OP Apollo ROTO Zero.

Op Opollo 2001 2002

It was Christmas eve 2002 and I was sitting alone in a tiny compartment at the stern of the ship called the variable depth solar (VDS) compartment. My mother had sent me a box with dozens of individually wrapped Christmas gifts. She wrote in a note attached that there was one gift for every day Bin Laden had stolen her boy away from her. I even remember one of her gifts she made me was a knitted fisherman’s toque. Mind you it was 38 degrees Celsius outside, but I wore it on the cooler nights.

Christmas onboard HMCS Iroqouis Leading Seaman Steve Barnes

As I sat there alone on Christmas eve, I thought about everyone else that was away from their family because of what had happened. I asked myself what was it that I was really doing there that was making a difference. What role was I personally playing to help make a change in the overall picture of this war. I had already reached the peak of my academic training. I was one of 300+ sailors on a mission to support military operations against Afghanistan. Sure it all sounded great on paper but to me it wasn’t enough.

I silently said to myself “I’m done”.

I had climbed the ranks to become a senior Leading Seaman. I had taken every trade related course the Navy offered me and then even some specialty courses. I had reached the pinnacle of my academic career and was about to hand in my tools and be issued a “desk job” at the next promotion. Me… I’m a “hands and feet” kind of guy.

2002 – Be Careful What You Ask for in Life, You Just Might Get It

Like a story out of a book I woke up on New Year’s day 2003 and made the decision right then and there that I was going to change my career and play a more direct role as a military member. I was going to trade in my promotion for a chance to become an officer. Just what kind well, I didn’t know quite yet. Not to drag this out too long I actually wrote and published a Military article explaining how I chose to become a Sea King Helicopter Pilot. It even made the front page of the Trident.

From_Killick_to_Captain_Steve_Barnes

CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW TO READ IT

From Killick to Captain Steve Barnes Become Military Helicopter Pilot

So in order to become a pilot, I first had to become an officer. That meant getting a degree. Me, the guy that didn’t finish high school, going to University? To get a degree? Talk about your long shot. At least that’s what my initial thoughts were. What I found as an adult, far from being the stiff minded kid that I was in high school, was that I had actually enjoyed the nine years of academics as an NWT. I now had the equivalence of a four-year engineering degree with all the training I’d been through to this point.

2006 – Bachelor of Science with Three Minors

Remember when I said most people’s “about me” page is full of achievements and never the struggles? Well, let me just say that while I struggled in University I found it a thousand times easier than high school. And remember when I said that I already had the equivalency of an engineering degree? Well, Mount Saint Vincent University seemed to think that same thing and waved nearly a third of my course requirements in order to attain a Bachelor of Science Degree. So, I spent the next three years attending MSVU full-time earning a BSc with a minor in child psychology, a minor in organic and inorganic chemistry and another minor in computer programming. All this to become an officer. In fact, all this to become a pilot.

Steve Barnes MSVU Graduation BSc

2006 – Flight School and a Partially Detached Retina

I first flew the Slings-by in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba in the summer of 2005. This let the military know I had the hands and feet to move forward with the “big boy’s toys”, the CT-156 Harvard II in 2 CFFTS Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. Once I finished up my degree at MSVU I moved to 2 CFFTS 15 Wing Moose Jaw to commence the bulk of my military flying training on the Harvard.

Steve Barnes Slingsby