2004

A City Where The Streets Have No Name…

Pte Marc D’Astous, Recce Pl, Z50C, (originally published in the Recce Plt war diary, Sep 2004)

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Culture Shock

To say we hit the ground running would be an under-statement. After being in theatre for barley 24hrs we received our first warning order. The mad scramble ensued getting all the kit and the vehicles ready.  Just when we thought we were going to get away scot free, one of Call Signs vehicles broke down in the car park. Having a spare vehicle on hand, the boys quickly conducted a tactical cross load of mission essential equipment. So after a brief delay with radio’s and vehicle issues, the platoon got our first detachment (det) out the door.

My call sign was attached to another det and we departed on 11 Aug for our designated observation post (OP). The task to get to our location was interesting to say the least. The OP is only accessible by G-Wagon or more realistically by goat.  The patrol quickly got to work setting up the OP and the admin area while the others provided local security. We had a few curious kids come up early that day to see us. I think the first two were trying to act like they were out for their morning jog. I thought to myself, no Afghani in their right mind would run all the way up this mountain, let alone go out jogging in this heat. But sure enough 15 minutes later a young afghan came running up in a track suit, sweating and all. Obviously on his morning jog.  I guess it goes to show you that we must expect the unexpected hear in Kabul.  Things have slowed down a bit since then and we now do some reconnaissance patrols in the city.

Keep your head in the Game

Arriving at the Kings Tomb we quickly located the armoured call sings which we had been looking for. This was a bit of a relief because earlier, before leaving camp, the command post could not confirm the location of the tango (armoured troops) call sings (C/S). We sorted ourselves out and got our patrol ready to go. We, the drivers, droped off our crews at the bottom of the hill and then went up again to provide some over watch. Being co-located with Coyotes was also a new experience for us. So after we occupied and were keenly

observing our arcs, we noticed that a small wall was being constructed directly in front of the OP. The locals Afghanis were going about their business, watering the concrete and so on. All of a sudden, this young construction worker walked right trough the OP with a water hose in hand. To me this seemed odd, but I let it slide because it was not my observation post. Five minutes later the OP commander, an Armoured  Sergeant, was speaking to his crew and the following conversation occurred:

Sergeant –  “where this hose come from?”

Soldier #1 “gee boss I don’t know I was watching my arcs”.

Soldier#2 “Well Sarg, I don’t know I had my face buried in my book”.

Sergeant – “And what about you” said the sergeant to a 3rd soldier.

Soldier #3 – “Well Sergeant, he seemed to know what he was doing so I just let him go through.

Sergeant – “What!!??”

Needless to say the men got a bit of a talking to about letting people walk right thought the observation post. On our end of the shared OP, we got a pretty good laugh out of whole thing.

So we carried on watching our guys do their foot patrol, when I notice out of the corner of my eye that there was a group of young man filming what appeared to be their version of an Afghan dance video with Kabul city as a back drop. So yes it seemed harmless enough at first but then when the backdrop became our Op, we had to go over and tell them to knock it off! Not too long after that we got a call over the means to go pick up our boys at the bottom of the hill. We started to depart when we noticed that our “Afghan video dance crew” were leaving by car and once again filming in our direction. Off we went after them, “Starsky and Hutch” styles, to get that video once and for all. It turned out to be anti-climactic as they were not actually filming us or that they managed to erase the footage in time. We documented the whole thing and let them go. The drive back to camp was your typical Kabul white knuckle driving.  Let me tell you some of those routes during night-times are quite a challenge to navigate. It took us about one hour to get back in to Camp Julien. It was good to get more hands-on driving in the city.  The navigation can get confusing when the streets have no names. Anyways with a few more trips in the city by day and by night, the platoon got the hang of it. Prominent landmarks are already starting to make sense in reference to the map.

Sunday drive in the country

The platoon had the opportunity to go to Baghram airfield recently. The drive out there was not too bad. We made it there in approximately one hour. Upon arriving at the Camp we got familiar with the Canadian quarters and the liaison office. Then it was off to do some shopping and get a bite to eat. They have a Burger King there so most of the men had their grease on a bun for dinner. We also check out the North Face outlet store, they have a few nice things in there at a good price. MCpl Smith* made the real buy of the day when he purchased a fake cobra. I can only imagine the amount of pranks he will lay on unsuspecting soldiers in the future.

Back in camp that evening after dark Mcpl Smith put his fake cobra to work. He had someone place it by the entrance to his tent. This being close to the common area that we have set up between 2 of our tents was a great location. When 3 to 4 of the boys had gathered around the common area, he put his plan to action. MCpl Smith said to Pte White* “ hey White you got a flashlight or something I think I just walked by a cat next to the door”. Pte White unsuspectingly walked over with his headlamp on and shined it in the general direction. Now the trap was set. White seeing the cobra takes a few steps back and utters something to the effect of “ what the hell”? At this point MCpl Smith said “I know what to do, you just grab it by the tail and…” at this point he did so and proceeded to run towards the common area which is dimly light by White’s headlamp. Now you have to remember, that this thing moves like a real cobra, mouth open and all!   Total chaos ensued, body’s sprung up and went flying left, right and center. Guys were up on chairs, tables and hescobation yelling, “snake”!  What a laugh we all had when they finally realized that it was fake.  (names have been changed to protect the soldiers identity)

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“Daddy … can I tell you something?”

Major Mark Bossi CIMIC, 2003 2004 Roto 0

When I returned from Afghanistan my son was four years old (in my mind, I thought it had worked out relatively well for him – at his tender age he wasn’t really able to tell time, much less “count the days” on a calendar – his comprehension was limited to the seasons, and I’d “only” missed fall and winter with him)

I’d mailed home postcards and e-mailed photographs of things I thought might interest him – my task overseas was “Civil-Military Co-operation” (CIMIC), therefore I was able to show him the children we were helping as well as the sights we saw (without dwelling too much on the dangers, weapons or destruction surrounding us).  I realized it had made an impression on him when he suggested we mail some toys back to the children he’d seen in my pictures, and I was so proud of his desire to share with those less fortunate than him.

When I finally came home (and my jet lag wore off) we were enjoying the simple things in life such as walking down city streets without needing body armour or loaded weapons, and jumping in our truck and driving around wherever and whenever we pleased.  He loved to wear my balmoral, with the 48th Highlanders cap badge squarely in the centre of his forehead (instead of over the ear, where the rest of us wear it … chuckle)

balmoral boy

He was still that beautiful age when we’d hold hands while crossing the street, and he wouldn’t let go even after we’d reached the safety of the sidewalk.  Life was good.

Walking along, holding hands, he delighted in asking me “Daddy … can I tell you something?” (it was akin to telling each other a secret, but had evolved into a game)

After I’d answered “yes” and leaned down to listen to him he’d hold my hand even tighter and often say “Daddy … I LOVE you!” (then I’d scoop him up and we’d hug each other ferociously, resulting in much giggling – life doesn’t get much better than that …)

One day we were driving along in our old truck (it was so old it didn’t have an air bag, thus he could ride up front next to me where I could keep an eye on him).  He was belted into his booster seat and had his feet curled up onto the truck seat, watching the scenery go by while I concentrated on navigating the busy city streets.

This time he asked me his usual “Daddy … can I tell you something?” then in the tiniest little child’s voice he said “You know when you were in Afghanistan? … I wanted to go with you.” (you see, he had wanted to help me play with all those Afghan children).

Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Maj Mark Bossi CIMIC ROTO 0

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