2006

Preparing for Op Medusa

Maj (since promoted to LCol) Mark Gasparotto

(excerpt from the 23 Field Squadron book CLEARING THEWAY: Combat Engineers in Kandahar  - Available at Amazon.ca)

Majors Trevor Webb and Mark Gasparotto

Majors Trevor Webb and Mark Gasparotto

Knowing that my soldiers would soon be scattered all over the province in support of the various and far-flung elements of the Battle Group, I gathered them all together and told them this:

This is likely the last chance that I will get to address the Squadron as a whole. As such, I wanted to pass on some insights into this place and the mission but also to articulate what I see as our keys to success.

 From the beginning of our training, I’ve tried to put you in the mindset that we would be fighting a war. I’ve been here just under two weeks now; with four ramp ceremonies, incoming mortar fire and three rocket attacks later, make no mistake, we are very much in harm’s way.

A fight is shaping up west of the city in the near future. So we can’t waste any time preparing for that eventuality – equipment and vehicle preparations and becoming familiar with the area of operations. In the chaos and fog of war, it will be a section commander’s fight. So get yourself ready.

 Keys to our success defined:

This will be a marathon. We may have to sprint now and again but it will be a six-month grind. Therefore, sustainability is paramount. So prepare yourself mentally for the long haul.

Flexibility of mind, body and spirit will be essential.

Take your job seriously, never yourself. Sense of humour is a must.

Do not rush unless ordered to. Most things can wait until tomorrow. So if you have to abort a combat patrol because of external or internal circumstances then do so.

A vehicle recovery, IED strike or casualty will become the mission at the expense of the original one. So plan accordingly. Remember the enemy has a vote and wants to kill you.

Foster a bullet-proof mind – never talk yourself out of the fight. In LCol Dave Grossman’s3 words, “no pity party, no macho man and avoid a state of denial.” Do not feel sorry for yourself and seek help if required. Soldiers experience fear and I’ve seen many weep for their fallen comrades. It is not to be ashamed of. Some of us will undoubtedly see and/or experience terrible things. We will get through it together. As such, anyone involved in a critical incident will talk to the mental health folks as soon as practicable.

 I’ll sum up with the orders that General Hillier had passed on to us in Trenton.

 “Take care of yourself and take care of each other.”

 I have every confidence in each and every one of you to be professional and honourable soldiers. Chimo4.

By mid-August, the planning for Op Medusa was gathering momentum. Unfortunately, the Squadron was still incapable of offering any meaningful mobility support to the Battle Group as large quantities of our heavy equipment remained unserviceable. We continued to scrounge for equipment and hound the chain of command and the mechanics to get our vehicles repaired. I do not blame the mechanics, as they could and would work around the clock to repair our vehicles, provided they had the parts to do so. The issue was more about commanders prioritizing which fleet of vehicles to fix. LCol Lavoie understood the value of what we could offer with respect to mobility support. He accepted our concerns and threw his weight behind our efforts to get those assets back in the fight. As for the troops, the ones that had not been ‘outside the wire’ were becoming very anxious to see some action. All I could tell them was to be careful what they wished for. Their time would soon come.

August 19th marked the official Transfer of Command Authority; the 1 RCR Battle Group was formally in charge. Three hours after the ceremony, elements of A Company under the command of Major Mike Wright were involved in a vicious and protracted nine-hour battle with hundreds of insurgents in the vicinity of Ma’sum Ghar. Over seventy insurgent fighters were killed with no Canadian casualties. Along with the CO and many anxious Battle Group Headquarters staff, I followed the battle from the Battle Group Command Post at Kandahar Airfield. Situation reports (sitreps) came in over the radio and we could watch parts of the battle in real time from video feeds provided by Canadian and US Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

In the following week Taliban fighters attacked both 1 and 2 Troop as they transited through Ambush Alley on Highway 1 to improve the defences at Patrol Base Wilson. Cpl Austin, the Squadron’s storyteller and blogger, describes these events in the chapters named “Ambush Alley” and “Mortar Attack on Patrol Base Wilson.” Because of the condition of our own heavy equipment, we attempted to hire civilian contractors to perform force protection works at Patrol Base Wilson. None would accept the very lucrative contracts offered due to Taliban threats of retribution and the intense violence in the area.

As part of the planning for Op Medusa, another helicopter recce was conducted, this time focusing on Pashmul. Masters of using camouflage and concealment, no enemy was seen and there was no pattern of life detected within the entire three-kilometre-wide strip of land between Pashmul and Highway 1. Pattern of life is a term used to describe the civilian population’s activities within a certain geographic area. In the months previous, the Taliban had evicted all the civilians within that area in order to prepare defensive positions in and around the existing compounds. This action on the Taliban’s part created the unintended consequence that the coalition forces no longer had to discriminate our fire, as they were all targets. Essentially, it became a free-fire zone and if it had two legs and moved, we could and did kill it.

Formal orders for Op Medusa were received from Regional Command South Headquarters on or about August 21st, via e-mail. Curiously though, considering this was the largest NATO combat operation in its history, the only face-to-face meetings involving all force commanders occurred at the back-brief a few days later. On August 24th, I issued a Warning Order to the Squadron, detailing as much as possible the probable tasks for each field troop and specialist section. Along with the other OCs, I received orders from the CO on August 27th. Despite almost two weeks of preparation there were still substantial gaps in the engineer portion of the plan. By this time we had borrowed a D6 armoured dozer from the UK and the German made Zettelmeyer (pronounced “Z-L” for short) front end loader was finally repaired and outfitted with steel plating (ad-hoc up-armour), however, that was the extent of my “breaching” capability.

The ZL

The ZL

My staff continued to pursue other options, including shaming the Afghan National Army into lending us their D7 dozer and possibly renting another. Furthermore, we were waiting for word from the US if they would send two Route Clearance Packages in support of the mission. A Route Clearance Package is a suite of vehicles designed to detect and neutralize IEDs. The Battle Group still hadn’t received any real quantity of either Afghan National Army or Police personnel and we still did not have a great appreciation for the ground and the enemy disposition. The most comprehensive and accurate intelligence brief that we had received came from the Special Operations Forces community, and their bleak assessment was that in August of 2006, ISAF was losing the war in Kandahar.

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But they all came back today

My name is Leigh Clements, and I am a civilian
that served in Afghanistan for Roto 0 and Roto 1.  I was placed at Camp
Nathan Smith, PRT from January 2006 – Aug 2006.  I was one of only two
Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency  (CFPSA) members that lived and
worked on camp for the duration of my tour.  My job was to operate a small
canteen (CANEX) for the Soldiers, however living on such a small camp in the
middle of Kandahar city, it quickly became much more than that; we became
family.

Leigh Clements and Gen (ret) Rick Hillier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was forwarded the brochure by my friend Sgt
Vanessa LARTER- SMITHERS, who I served with on Op Archer.  She suggested I
submit a poem I wrote while there, and I respectfully do so.  I wrote this
in April 2006, as the soldiers were called out yet again. This, for me, is what
it felt like to sit and wait for the troops to come back.

 sitting thinking,
silent weeping

waiting for the
news

fear of trouble,
heart rate double

there is so much
to lose.

tears are
welling, eyes are telling

clouds of stormy
hues

all this waiting,
turns to hating

a match without a
fuse.

within this
violence, an eerie silence

that echoes deep
inside

proud and stoic,
the troops heroic

they will not run
and hide.

inside this
setting, there’s no forgetting

what lies outside
the gate

there’s no
regretting, or useless fretting

while we sit and
wait.

friends are
dying, hearts are crying

real life is far
away

again tomorrow,
we’ll live this sorrow

but they all came
back today.

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Rain in KAF

Marion Glover

I had the opportunity of serving as a civilian in KAF from August 2006 until February 2007.  It was an eye opening experience and one that will stay with me forever.
I remember landing in KAF in the middle of the night and was greated by another member of CFPSA who took me to my tent.  I was told there was a ramp ceremony in the morning.  That was the first of many that would take place during my tour.
My days were filled with long shifts at Tim Horton’s and the other retail outlets but this did not matter as I realized what I was doing was nothing compared to what the troops were doing outside the wire.  I had a bed to lay down on at night….they would lay their heads down wherever, whenever.  I had a shower to go to in the morning……they made due with what little they had. I waited in lineups at the DFAC (dining facility) for up to 3/4 of and hour…….they ate when they could.

In spite of the “fireworks” that took place on many occasions there were many days when I could admire my surroundings and found beauty in things I would never have considered beautiful before my tour.

This is an entry from my diary from November 18, 2006

The rain here stopped yesterday and the sky was filled with the most beautiful blue colour. The scent from the eucalyptus trees was a bit stronger today and called my name as I walked beneath them. I stopped and took a few minutes to take in all its wonder. Trees that can survive drought during the hot months along with thick dust….the water they get in the rainy season must be enough to keep them going for a long time. Their bark appears to be quite loose almost like it has been peeled away by mother nature. Perhaps that is normal on these trees…. I will have to research that one day. I doubt that they could grow in Ontario but, if they could I would definitley look into planting one….in my backyard on the other side….where my hostas are. This morning I was woken by the wind as it grabbed the tent door and slammed it several times. I looked at the clock and saw it was only 4:30 am….way to early to get up so I rolled over covered myself with my blanket and instantly fell back asleep. Soon after the rain started to pelt against the tent and I realized we were once again in for a wet day. I lay in bed until 6 am then headed for the shower. I kind of like the rain here but don’t really like all the mud that comes with it. They have been putting down loads of gravel in the lower lying areas here….so hopefully it will not be as muddy as it has been. Today will tell the story. Actually the weather report is for 48 hours of rain!

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IED and a LAV

Corporal (ret) Eric HJALMARSON. CD LAV III gunner, 1 platoon, A company, OP Archer – Task Force Orion, Kandahar, Afghanistan , January 06 – August 06

It is the 9th of February 2006 I am on my second tour of Afghanistan. We have drawn are kit and done our training for the last two weeks. Now we are  outside the wire on our first patrol. Headed to a small village called Gumbad where we will set up a patrol base.

We have been traveling down the wadi’s and dusty roads since 0800. We stop at a small village about 10 km from Gumbad to put on a show of force for the villagers. So they can see the power firepower that we carry. During this demonstration I  noticed that my night vision site for the  25 mm cannon has stopped working and will not restart.

As we are leaving the village threading our way through the narrow roads that are just wide enough for vehicles, one of our LAV III miss’s a corner and winds up on its side in the ditch against a mud wall. As a recovery team works to get the lav out of the ditch. The platoon Commander decides to split the convoy  in two and carry on to Gumbad. It is now getting dark and as my night vision site is not working. I have to stand in the turret and use my helmet mounted monocle to scan the hills for threats.

Our half of the convoy now consists of an American Humvee followed by my LAV, a G-Wagon, a second LAV and a truck of ANA behind us. As we come down a small hill and into the low ground. The LAV commander is using his night vision goggles to help direct the driver as we‘re driving in blackout mode. I’m using my night vision monocle to scan the hills on the left side.  I start to turn, to scan in front and then the right side, there’s a bright  flash, and an ear splitting explosion. The front of the LAV is lifted in the air and as it comes down, I feel my legs and knees being smashed against the controls in the turret. I am now in a crumpled lump on the gunners seat. I am also tangled up in the two belts of machine gun ammunition from the ammo bin on my left side. The concussion of the blast is knocked the wind out of me. As I gasp for air. All I can taste is cordite and dust from the explosion. The engine is died and all turret controls will not work. As the LAV Commander is yelling IED IED over the radio, I replied. I know I know. I had thought he was using the intercom, not the radio.  Hearing my reply. He knows that I have survived as well as him. Now he is just worried about the driver and people in the back. After not receiving a reply from the driver. He orders everyone to evacuate the vehicle . He heads to the front to check the driver, the three people in the crew compartment evacuate through the back door all appearing to be ok. I grab my tac vest and  rifle from the side bin and evacuated over the back of the turret down through the family hatch and out the back door. My head is foggy, my legs and elbows are stretched bruised and beat up, I find it hard to walk. I take up a fire position in the ditch on the left side and rear of the vehicle. watching as the ANA and a section from the other LAV sweep the hills looking for the perpetrators. Luckily, there is no more to this attack. The medic comes by and asked me if I‘m okay. Yes I‘ll be fine. I said, and asked how the others were. He said everyone was shaken up but will be all right.

We spent the night on the side of the road next to our vehicles and waited for the EOD to arrive by chopper the next morning to evaluate exactly what explosives were used and how it was detonated. I was later told that it was two antitank mines and a bunch of armoured piercing rounds piled on top, remotely detonated. By early afternoon with our destroyed LAV in tow we continued on to set up our patrol base. This was the first LAV III to be struck by an IED in Afghanistan. And we all survived.

Cpl Hjalmarson and his damaged LAV.

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Comrades

Cpl (Ret) Eric Hjalmarson. CD

In 2006 I was on my second tour in Afghanistan. This was Operation Archer, Task Force Orion. In the region of Kandahar.

Corporal (ret) Eric HJALMARSON doing the wash at FOB Martelo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 17th of May after 3 ½ months in theatre I was heading home for my mid tour leave. We flew from Kandahar Air Field to Camp Mirage arriving late at night.  The next Morning the 17th we were informed that Captain Nichola Goddard had been killed in a fire fight in the Pangwii district. That afternoon on my 17 hour flight back to Canada, I was exhausted  and coming down from a 3 ½ month adrenalin high. Unable to sleep and with the thoughts of all that had happened over that time and the fresh news of Capt Goddards death flooding my mind, verses and lines started to emerge. The following poem is what became of that long sleepless flight.

Comrades

I looked around and saw them,
At their faces “O” so clear.
I looked around and saw them,
As we moved across the field.

They moved with pride and valour,
Their objective was quite clear.
Not a moments hesitation,
Not the slightest sign of fear.

“O” what a band of brothers
We have gathered at this place.
And it matters not their cap badge,
Their religion or their race.

The goal was clear and common,
As we marched toward the guns.
The objective will be taken,
And the battle it will be won.

I looked around and saw them,
And their faces weren’t so clear.
I looked around and saw them,
At our numbers growing fewer.

Their faces fade in memory,
But their names are etched in stone.
And the list is ever growing,
As the missions carry on.

But we the old survivors,
The ones that made it home.
Will not forget the faces ,
Or the names upon the stone.

Rudimentary comforts of a FOB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be the Wolf (excerpt)

Cpl Gordon Whitton

March 5th

Whitton028.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never did get to do that Ramp ceremony for Cpl Davis; instead I was doing battle procedure for another mission. This mission was to insert a seven man team with a 50 caliber McMillan sniper rifle on three mile mountain because of all the shit that’s being going on in that area lately. Orders and timings were quick so we had little time to adjust our kit for dismounted mountain operations.

There was a funny moment when Sully Jack and I met up with the four snipers and joined 9 Platoon for Captain Alcock’s orders, the three of us were the only ones in the tent with cam paint on our faces, some of the Charlie Company NCOs including Sgt Austin Williams and Kiwi got a kick out of us and I felt like an idiot. We departed KAF on the night of the 3rd, the seven man team we were made up of all crawled into the back of a LAV from 9 platoon C-company; from the beginning I didn’t like the mission, it just seemed we were to exposed in an area that had to many sets of eyes, the American LRSD guys told us they once put an observation post on No drug mountain and they got compromised. As we were driving north on highway #4, a rocket flew right over our LAV, Sgt Ingram and Cpl Nolan were up doing air sentry, they ducked down below and looked at each other and said “holy shit did you see that man”

The four LAVs from 9 platoon C-coy were to do routine patrols on trails around Three Mile mountain, they stopped at our insertion point on the north side of the mountain at 2245 hours, one of the vehicles faked a blown tire as a distraction for my seven man team and Sgt Patrick Tower’s section to crawl into a Waddy, Sgt Patrick Tower’s section was only there if our patrol ran into trouble on the way up, we also suspected there may be an enemy observation post up there so we needed the extra fire power, once the position was secure they would climb back down to be picked up and we would carry on for a mission approximately 30 hours long. So after the four LAVs continued on we did a ten minute listening halt, it seemed so quiet after the vehicles left us, so alone, we needed to get up that mountain undetected and find the quickest route to be in place before first light.

Under the cover of darkness Sgt Tower’s section lead the way up, it felt more like he was running us up because we were carrying almost one hundred pounds of kit, those guys were only wearing their fighting order. The climb was more miserable than it was dangerous, I actually thought climbing that mountain would be a walk in the park but it was more like one of my hardest humps ever, I soaked my uniform with sweat even though the temperature was almost freezing, sometimes it was so steep we were using all four limbs to get over a ledge. I remember looking back down the mountain at times and you could vaguely see the place were we were inserted, we just kept on going up, it seemed like it would never end. In a way I needed that hump, I knew the next time I had a mission like this I’d have way less kit, I was already carrying ammo, 10 liters of water, rations for three days, a Sophie, extra radio batteries and a claymore. Every time we would do a halt I would feel my homemade deer antler knife on my hip, I thought “I’m never taking that thing out on another mission” I remember the Americans telling us “ounces make pounds” and I would start thinking of what else I could get out of my rucksack. After climbing up the north side of Three Mile mountain for four hours, the point man reached the summit.

The summit of the mountain is like a razorback, we established a position of observation looking down on a stretch of highway #4, and a village just to the south of the mountain. Dave and Myles spent over an hour looking for the perfect position for the 50 Cal. Sgt Towers section turned back down the mountain and got picked up with no problems. That was one of the coldest nights I did in a long time, I was soaked with sweat, when my heart rate slowed down I began to shiver, and the only trick I could think of to keep warm was deep breaths. So many times in my military career I can remember being out on cold nights waiting for the sun to come up, us soldiers call this “the heat tab in the sky.”

We had to lay low up on that mountain until first light; we then waited all day in the hot sun because these ambushes have been happening in the evening. Our plan was to catch them red-handed setting up an ambush along highway #4 and seeing were they came from, we also noted all suspicious activity with as much detail as possible. Jack and I took turns doing sentry on his C-9 light machine gun to the west, the entire day I could hear the villages at the bottom of the mountain going about their daily business, we had such little cover up there we had to piss laying down. The faint sounds of the tractors and jingle truck horns made me nervous for some reason; it seemed the longer we got into this mission, the more nervous we became. As I was lying down near Jack’s Machine gun, I noticed a pebble sized black human skull in the dirt. The thing freaked me right out, I rolled over to Jack and said what the hell is this man and he said “It’s one of my patrol beads that fell off my vest, they sell them in the kitshop, where have you been man”

After almost a full day of roasting in the sun the sounds of tractors and jingle trucks started to decrease, we knew it would soon be dusk and that’s when the bullshit usually happens. I was sitting against a rock close enough to Sully to whisper in his ear when Miles looked over at me and made the signal that someone is close to us, I gave Sully a shake and we put our fingers on our triggers. Jack was facing west on his C-9, I looked back at Miles and you could tell he was looking at someone approaching at the way he was looking and slouching down like a cat, all of the sudden this kid stumbled right on our position, he let out this horrible scream and continued to scream and cry all the way down the south side of the mountain. We immediately threw our rucksacks on and Dave the patrol commander reported the incident to c/s 0; they gave us a “wait out” so we sat in place hoping we would get orders for an immediate extraction, we had plans of our own to extract ourselves to an alternate pre-designated position, the village at the bottom of the mountain were going nuts, women and children were fleeing, it was evident that our gig was up. After about ten minutes, the unthinkable happened.

We had established an all around defense, the alternate position didn’t have the vantage point this one had to see the base of both sides of the mountain so we had plans to just stay put. I was covering to the North looking down the mountain when I witnessed impacts near the base of the south side of the mountain, the sound immediately followed and I was in disbelief, it was so loud and those impacts were so big it was just unbelievable. At first the words RPG came out of my mouth but after those initial four impacts more started coming in, they were creeping up the mountain towards us. We were being mortared and they had us for line, they were simply walking them in towards us, we all jumped to our feet, Miles yelled out “Down the face of the mountain” Miles and Cory briefly stayed in position attempting to locate where the rounds were being launched from but they had to move. Just as we started to run down I felt the shock wave from one of the impacts, as we were moving a round impacted right where Jack Sully and I were laying, someone’s Rucksack flew right on by me. Looking down that mountain I wondered where the hell are we going to go, our extraction point was back on the north side where the mortar tube can see us and the south side has the village at the bottom. Falling rocks were becoming dangerous so we quickly found a reentrant where we could spread out in another all around defense and call the contact in to c/s 0. We could tell whoever was dropping mortars on us had lost sight of us because he seemed to be dropping them all over the place now. As Dave was giving Grids and situation reports over the radio, Cory who is one of the snipers was observing the village on the base of the south side of the mountain, all the women and children had fled and men were gathering, there was even traffic being directed towards the village from the highway. I remember asking Cory if he could sugar coat those SITREPS for me, he said “no, sorry man.” If we could just hold out long enough for an Apache to get to us, we could get off the mountain under the cover of darkness.

The mortars continued to impact on the mountain, they had someone calling the shots because it now seemed like we were being bracketed, a round would land east of us, then less than a minute later one would land west of us, every round would get closer. The tubes could not see us but someone was calling their shots probably by a cell phone on the south side of the mountain. Those rounds make such an eerie sound before they impact, the more rounds that came in the angrier I was becoming. Once the rounds would be getting to close to us we would pick up and move locations, the guy calling the shots and the guys on the mortar tube would have to start Bracketing all over again. It was hard for the sniper on the radio to communicate while on the move so we would stop and spread out, we also had so send a new Grid reference every time we moved. We could hear the sound of a chopper which reminded us to turn on our Infra red strobe lights on our helmets, the chopper found us quickly and we asked him to do a thermal sweep of the mountain just to ensure we’re up here alone. Those bad guys were so bold; every time the chopper would turn to face south another round would impact, all the men that had gathered at the village seemed to disappear when the chopper showed up and we had an armored convoy on route to a Grid Sully eye balled beside the town, I was starting to think we were going to survive, it was just about dark enough to use our monoculars and the mortaring was tapering off, we started our slow descent.

The descent was going faster then the climb the night before, we were more at risk of injury but we all knew how important it was to get ourselves off that mountain in one piece. It had become so dark that we could only see with night vision, this was to our advantage, everyone had their finger on their laser which you can only see through your monocular. It was kind of funny to see all the lasers scanning every suspicious looking rock on the mountain. There was this cave we encountered and I swear we almost blasted the shit out of it, it only took us about an hour to reach a safe little ditch at the bottom but we were basically in someone’s back yard. I pulled out a two quart and passed it around, we heard our rescue convoy driving around trying to get to the Grid Sully gave them, they got on the radio and told us we must walk to them, they were parked on the other side of the village. It was the final leg of our journey; I quickly pulled out my two quart of water and passed it around, Myles turned around and said ”this is it boys” we walked through that village with our weapons at the ready, it seemed like we were walking through a ghost town it was so quiet, but we weren’t, you could feel the eyes looking at you, they knew the night belonged to us and they probably didn’t want to fuck with anyone brave enough to walk through their village like they owned it, especially after what we just went through, once we cleared the village and a Cemetery, there it was, our armored convoy waiting with their ramps down.

It was such a relief to crawl into the back of a LAV, I knew the mission was over and I could take my guard down. It was a convoy from A-company that just happened to be driving back to KAF from up north, Cpl Simpson looked down from the air sentry hatch and said “Gordo, is that you man” Jack was sitting beside me and I asked him if he wanted to go for a coffee with me later because I sure feel like one. It was one of the best rides I’ve ever been on; I thought I was dead up there, when those first rounds impacted my mind went somewhere else for a split second. It was weird because I’d seen my kids, I’d also seen every happy moment I’ve ever had with them, my overall feeling was, what a shame.

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Ramp Ceremonies

WO Mark Finucan, Air Maintenance Superintendent

In the fall of 2006 I was promoted to Sgt and given a crew of 10 technicians to go to Camp Mirage and then KAF to maintain our CC130 Hercules aircraft. I was an Aviation Systems Technician and the honour of being the crew chief was awe inspiring for me at that time. I arrived in KAF in late October 2006, I worked and lived inside the wire but I worked on the flight line right beside the Role 3 medical centre.

While working on and/or waiting for our aircraft to come and go I would always see the medevac choppers coming and going. I went into work one morning and the phones and computers were down so I knew a Canadian had been killed that morning, comms blackout. As the only Herc maintenance crew in KAF we had the unfortunate pleasure of prepping the aircraft for the latest Canadian casualties. There were two men killed, CWO Girouard and his driver Cpl Storm.

I met CWO Girouard a few weeks earlier in Camp Mirage, we spoke briefly about a guy we both knew that was now in the Air Force. He asked me to say hello to him when I got back, which I did. Standing their on the ramp in KAF, that was all I could remember, his voice talking about a mutual friend, as CWO Girouard’s coffin was placed on the aircraft. That was not my first or last ramp ceremony, just one I seemed to remember more then the others. In my time in KAF andCampMirageI saw a lot of happy faces as they were heading home for good and a lot of concerned faces as they headed back to War.

Life inside the wire was a picnic compared to those that lived outside the wire and I salute those men and women that had to endure that hardship.

English/Anglais

AR2006-G047-0021, 30 November 2006, Kandahar, Afghanistan

On a brisk November morning, members of Canadian Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-AFG) and a delegation of the British, American, Dutch, Danes, Romanians, and the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency (CFPSA) pay their final respects during a ramp ceremony for Cpl Albert Storm and CWO Robert Girouard before their final journey from the Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Cpl Storm and CWO Girouard were killed by a suicide vehicle born improvised explosive device (SVBIED) on Monday morning.

Photo by: MCpl  Yves Gemus, Task Force Afghanistan Roto 2, Imagery Technician

French/Franais

AR2006-G047-0021, 30 novembre 2006, Kandahar (Afghanistan)

Par un matin frisquet de novembre, des membres de la Force operationnelle en Afghanistan (FOA), une délégation des contingents britannique, américain, néerlandais, danois et roumain ainsi que des représentants de l’Agence de soutien du personnel des Forces canadiennes (ASPFC) se sont réunis sur le tarmac du terrain d’aviation de Kandahar, en Afghanistan. Ils venaient rendre un dernier hommage au Cpl Albert Storm et ˆ l’Adjuc Robert Girouard avant qu’ils ne s’envolent pour leur dernier voyage.

Le Cpl Storm et l’Adjuc Girouard ont été tués dans un attentat-suicide ˆ la voiture piégée (SVBIED).

Photo : Cplc Yves Gemus Force opérationnelle en Afghanistan, ROTO 2 Technicien en imagerie

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Sounds

Mark Finucan – WO – RCAF, Op Archer, Crew 21C in KAF, 07 Nov-29 Nov 2006

Written in November 2006

As I enter AAA6, which is our tent number here in KAF, I take in all the new sights, sounds and smells. For those that have been here this will bring back memories, some good, and some bad. I stop before entering, but only for a moment. It will take a few days to actually figure out what all those new sensations are. First we have the ever-present aroma from the golden ponds, that is the open sewage system just a short few hundred meters away, this is hard on the nostrils but that is it. It is the sounds that get me the most. As I stand in that doorway a UAV motors overhead ever watching out for those of us that are asleep and unaware of what lies just outside the wire. Just down the road on the flight line two Harriers take to the night sky, and as they scream off in one-direction two attack helicopters lift off in a beating roar in yet another direction. It is late now almost midnight and this place is wide awake, ever vigilant. As I stand there choking back the dust constantly blowing around, filling your nose, mouth and lungs I wonder what this trip will be like. Once inside the tent I find my small bed space that is separated from the next with hanging sheets. There is not much separating me from the outside world meaning all those noises come blaring in. Oh did I say that AAA6 is right beside a major road! Vehicles of all types and sizes move around all night, I hope my earplugs stay in or it is going to be a long night.

We settle in for the night and hope that we get some sleep as we have a very busy first day, the first of 22 days here at the Kandahar Air Field or KAF. We drift off to sleep, which means we force ourselves to try to get some rest, very noisy, not easy. Then at about 0200 the rocket man makes his frightful visit. We don’t know where the rockets land only that the wailing siren is telling us to get to the bunkers. We await the all clear then head over to Canada House to sign in, and make sure everyone is accounted for. I find out the next day that a lot people didn’t even get out of bed, those are the ones that have been here awhile, used to the sirens. How would anyone get used to those sirens I think, after the fourth siren in a week I understand all to quickly. I am also told that the sirens usually go off after the rocket has hit the ground, can’t confirm that one but we all believe it and wind up as ones that don’t go to the bunker when the sirens wail.

The first few days go by quickly, the old crew leaves and we try and make heads or tails out of this camp. The first order of business is place of work, sleep, and eat then bathrooms. For some the order is different depending on what is the immediate requirement. We start a routine of work, rest, eat, and sleep. The aircraft is pretty good, some problems but we are a very experienced group and stay on top of things. Soon enough the weather changes from hot dry, sandy and dusty to rain, rain and more rain. It rains so much that some tents are flooded; everywhere you look all that dust is now mud. The water has no place to run and it does not sink into the ground like back inCanadait just sits there. We are of course kitted out for hot dry weather not cold wet weather. All of a sudden three of us are sick, one with pneumonia and we consider sending people back to CM for a few days to recuperate.

After a week we are in a groove, but the sounds still play in our minds. In the day there are many types of aircraft flying in and out. There are medivac choppers bringing the wounded, unfortunately too many of those. There are plane after plane of supplies coming, Il76’s and the AN12’s, then at night the C17’s show up. The C17’s don’t like to show up in the day because they are a big target of opportunity. They leave at night as well, and you do not see them only hear them, no lights at all. This is how I started this, the sounds, it is the sounds that make you think. We heard mortar’s being fired at night with the bright illumination rounds, heard attack helicopters on the range firing hundreds of rounds. All sounds we are not used to.

One day the EOD techs decided to blow up something huge on the range. Now when you are in an area of war you want to know if someone purposely blew something up right! The only thing we heard was the thunderous boom and the shock wave. It took a good 30 minutes for all of us to calm down. It sounded as if someone had blown up the building next door this was a massive explosion. I find out later that there was a warning you just can’t hear it in the building we work from. I say building, well it was once a complete building but now has a bombed out area in the center and charred ceilings. The name of the building is TLS, short for Taliban’s Last Stand. This building is just that, the last hold out of the Taliban when the coalition forces tookKandahar. You must walk through this building in order to appreciate it. The pock marked walls from bomb shrapnel, the burnt archways and ceilings, the flag pole at the center of the bombed out area with the stars and stripes fluttering in the wind.

All these sounds shape our minds and make us think about things in a different way. This is a war zone, we are inside the wire, but it is close, we are nervous people never truly sleeping sound. There are no days off here as we are here for only 22 days and those days get long two weeks in. We start to get on each other’s nerves a little, you can’t help it. You work, eat and sleep in close quarters with the same people; it’s like brothers bickering. We might argue some but we still have each other’s back should things go wrong. As the tour winds towards the end of our 22 days in KAF we are looking forward to going back toCampMirage, which seems more and more like Club Medd compared to this place.

The sounds will always be there in our heads. The sounds of war, the sounds of what it costs for peace in the world. We hear the laughter, the sirens, the roaring jets, the beating helicopter blades, the sounds of guns and artillery, the vehicles constantly moving past our tent, and in the end we all hope for different sounds. Suddenly the sounds of our children fighting or spouses arguing seems to be something we look forward to hearing again, the sounds of our lives continuing back home. For some the last sounds they ever heard were here inAfghanistan, sadness creeps in when thinking of that.

I step from the doorway of AAA6 one last time and wonder if I will ever return. This is not a place to want to make home, too many sounds.

Sounds: Part 2 – Mark Finucan

On my second last day of my tour in KAF two men were killed outside of the base, within about 10 kilometres. Their wives went to sleep married and woke up widows, lives shattered, ripped apart, everything changed in an instant. I can hear the explosion in my head, I did not hear it really just imagined. What I can hear is the voice of the RCR RSM, CWO Girouard as he spoke to me a month earlier. I hear the sound of his voice speaking of a mutual friend. A man that was once in the Army with him but changed into the Air Force a few years earlier. I can point to the spot where we spoke; I hear the sound of his voice. I remember the sound of his voice because that is all that is left of that man, sounds. Sounds make us known to people; sounds take us from the ones we love.

If I think about how I got here than I must say it is the sound of an airplane crashing into the WTC in New York. Then it was the sound of the phone ringing to say you are leaving for a far away land. The sound I heard next was that of my wife and children crying for me not to go, then to be safe that they loved me. I live in Trenton and the sounds of the planes bring home the dead heroes from a far away land. I have seen my wife weep when watching the ramp ceremonies of the coffins arriving as she knows that I am heading to that place where the sound of a bomb could take me from this world.

It is the sounds that make this world a scary place. The sounds have changed me for good, well lets hope not. If they have then I am hopeless, I will be mired in this rut of depression spiralling deeper and deeper into the abyss. Tomorrow the sound of an aircraft will take me from this place and the day after that the sound of the bugle and bag pipes will tell everyone that two more fallen heroes will start their journey home to Canada. I can say many good things about sounds. The gentle whisper of a loved ones voice in your ear, a child’s laughter, the sound of silence. It is the sounds of all things violent that takes the life from you. Maybe that sound takes your life all at once; maybe it takes it one day a time. I can only hope that those exposed to those sounds leave them behind somehow and move on with their lives.

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Remembering Three Tours

Warrant Officer Randie Potts, CISTM – 1 Service Battalion Edmonton.

I have done three tours in Afghanistan, 2002, 2006 and 2011. All three tours were based out of Kandahar Airfield.  I would like to share some changes that I experienced over there.

2006 – The Canadian C-130 transport did stop its engines and actually parked but not over night.  The tarmac had been extended and we stopped in front of the hanger filled with holes in the roof.  Longer briefings this time and we were directed to Modular tent until the guys from Kabul vacated our quarters.  Weather havens eight guys per tent and dividers, cots with mattresses and electric power were our new quarters.  A month or so later we got air conditioners put in. Light discipline gone, light standards everywhere.  Three different mess halls to have meals.  Our work area was a MEC shelter, sea can office and only one LSVW MRT.  The PX was a building now by Role 3.  The board walk was being built and Tim Horton’s trailer arrived.  This time I brought family with me.  My eldest son Adam, with Multi National Headquarters (MNHQ) and my youngest son Ian with the Battle Group (BdGp) and I worked for National Support Element (NSE).  One of the better kept secrets from the media, I did not want too much attention directed to the family back in Canada.

Back MCpl Kopp, Cpl French, Cpl Thistle, Cpl Fingal, MCpl Pivonka

Spr Ian Potts, Cpl Adam Potts, Sgt Randie Potts

 

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“Bringing it back to the basics”

Sgt Judge GS, 1 Svc Bn , Tn Coy, Jan 27/ 06 – Sept 21/ 06, ROTO 1, Op Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan.

During my tour in Afghanistan, I faced events and situations at a level of intensity that I will never experience again during my career in the CF.

Sgt Judge photo 1

 

The age-old mentality of can’t or won’t was non-existent, instead the catch phrase” What else can we fit on that truck?” was more commonly used. With so few personnel within the platoon, days and nights all became one and the same. Sleep, in some occasions, became minimal to non-existent.  Loading of vehicles became entertaining at best; for example: we loaded 360 jerry cans of fuel and 2 x Gators on the back of a 10 ton truck, all the while knowing that if the load was too big, we not only became a target and a liability, we would be putting the entire convoy at risk.

With the never-ending challenges of trying to keep up with the faster and much more agile LAV III and Coyotes, we continually had to remind the Combat Arms or Force Protection personnel to slow down. It was the only way for us to keep pace and keep up convoy discipline, built of speed and road dominance.

During the deployment, I was primarily employed as a recovery asset, operating the heavy wrecker that has a maximum load of approx. 25 tons. However, due to operational requirements, “NO” was not an acceptable answer to loads that were too heavy or too large, we took them anyway. This was standard procedure for daily operations. On one occasion, I departed KAF with a G-Wagon on the wrecker, traded it for a seized motorcycle from a detained POW, and finished off my run by picking up a 50 ton excavator to return it to camp.

Being a member of 1 Service Battalion for almost 12 years, I learned to appreciate the procedures, repetition and the common Phrase “Bringing it back to the basics”. I also realized that as a part of a Combat Service Support company, it was important to remember you were a soldier first and a tradesman second.  Also, you soon discovered the appreciation of the repetitive drills which created muscle memory for quicker responses in a time of need. Without this mindset, you can and most likely will become a liability to yourself, team and the overall mission. With the mindset to overcome all obstacles, anything is possible.

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“A Soldier’s Tale A Newfoundlander in Afghanistan” (excerpt)

Cpl Jamie MacWhirter

One day we had to lead an Afghan fuel truck onto the camp to re fuel him.

Once the refueler was in position I told the driver to shut off the engine. He did so and then got out of the cab of the truck and quickly climbed up onto the large tank of the truck. I moved over to work the fuel pump while Doug climbed up onto the tank with the Afghan man. I pick up the hose and carry it over to the truck and then I pass it up to Doug. The Afghan driver opens the cap on the tank and Doug places the hose in the hole and gives me the thumbs up to let me know they are ready for me to turn on the pumps. The Afghan driver decides to help Doug and holds the hose to keep it in place. When I get the thumbs up from Doug I give him thumbs up back and slowly turn on the pump. I don’t want to turn it on too fast in case it comes out too quickly at the start and Doug can’t hold on to it. Fuel starts to flow out of the hose and into the tank.

Everything seems to be running smoothly. The fuel in the tank is now past the halfway mark. And then suddenly without warning something goes wrong. The Afghan driver’s watch strap comes undone and falls into the tank. As soon as this happens, the driver stands up and jumps into the tanker without a word. I watch in shock as the man jumps into the tank full of fuel.

Not knowing what else to do, I shut off the pump. Doug stands up and places the hose to the side.

Doug – Oh my God! Jamie, what do I do?

I stand there in shock over what has just happened.

Doug – What if he dies in there, Jamie? Nobody is going to believe us when we tell them he jumped in. They are going to think we killed him.

Doug was right. If he dies, nobody will believe he jumped in. They are going to think we pushed him in there, then what? We are going to go to jail because this crazy guy went in after a watch. Doug and I stood there not knowing what to do. It’s not like we could go in there after him. Then just as suddenly as he jumped in, I watched as two hands rose from the hole and the Afghan driver climbed out of the tank and picked up the hose like nothing had happened.

It must have been at least one minute that passed while Doug and I just stared at this guy. He sat there holding the hose and waiting for the fuel to start pumping again.

Doug – Are you okay, man?

The Afghan driver looked up at Doug with bloodshot eyes and red coloured skin. He blinked his eyes over and over, not saying a word. I thought to myself ‘I can’t let the guy just sit there like this.’ I got him to come down from the top of the truck and I took him to a bathroom not far from our area so he could wash himself.

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“A Soldier’s Tale A Newfoundlander in Afghanistan” (excerpt)

Cpl Jamie MacWhirter

It was around five in the evening and a few of us just finished eating at the mess and we were headed back to the sleeping area.  On the way back we passed by the gym where Americans were playing some ball hockey.  Jason and I decided to stay and watch a little.  We might have been there twenty minutes when we were approached by one of the players.  The first thing he asked us if we were Canadian and we quickly responded with a “yes.”  He then asked if we could get a Canadian team together so we all could play Canada vs. U.S.A. in a ball hockey game.

Both Jason and I thought that was a great idea, so we told him to give us thirty minutes to get some people together and we would return.

It didn’t even take us thirty minutes to find enough people to make a team, it seemed like every Canadian I asked wanted to be on the team.

Around twenty minutes later we showed up with team Canada all ready and rearing to go.

The game was a very close game, for us being a close group of friends it wasn’t the first time we played ball hockey together and we soon discovered that it wasn’t the first time team U.S.A. played together.  There was no referee for our game and both team used that to their advantage by playing a rough game.  There was no fighting but both teams played a rough game.

After the first period we were down two to nothing, and we were a little worried that we might lose this game.  We were talking about our game plan for the next period and drinking water when WO Baker showed up carrying a large Canadian flag with him.  He had it tied to a broom handle and was waving it around.  But he wasn’t alone; our Officer was there along with many other Canadians, all there to cheer us on.

By the end of the second period we had taken the lead 3-2.  It was just like being at a gold medal game.  Every close call or goal that happened the crowd watching would cheer.  Plus after the end of the second, more Americans showed up to cheer on their boys.

By the time we were into the third period there was so many people watching the game from many different countries, all cheering us on.

We were getting close to the end of the third period; the score was tied 3-3.  Both teams were having close calls but no one could put the ball in the net.  By this time, even though the sun was going down it seemed just as hot as it was at noon today.  But it didn’t affect anyone’s pace; both teams were still putting their everything into winning this game.

With only minutes left the camp was suddenly hit with a rocket attack.  The thunderous sound of the rockets hitting the camp put the game to a halt.  Both teams had people drop to the ground on their faces; others took off running to find shelter in a bunker.

But for us truckers, we had become used to getting fired upon, so when the camp came under rocket attacks, we didn’t run for cover like other people.  We stood there waiting for the rockets to stop.

But Jason had other plans.  He saw the rockets as his chance to win the game.  With people lying on the ground and others running for cover, Jason runs down the court with the hockey ball and with a wrist shot put the hockey ball into team U.S.A’s net.

Jason – Canada Wins!!!  Canada Wins!!!

When the rocket attack was over, the Americans argued the fact that we cheated.  But we all laughed at what Jason did and we claimed the game a win for Canada.

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“A Soldier’s Tale A Newfoundlander in Afghanistan” (excerpt)

Cpl Jamie MacWhirter

It was a pretty quiet night so I thought it would be a good idea to call Emma. I climb up into the cab of the truck and grab the satellite phone and dial her number. She answered the phone with much excitement in her voice. With caller ID she can tell when it’s me calling. Once again I didn’t have much to say. It’s always hard for me to tell her how my day went because we are not allowed to tell our friends and family back home anything that goes on overseas. So once again I spent most of the time on the phone listening to her. We had been talking for about twenty minutes when I heard a pop noise off in the distance. From my location I could not see where it came from. I heard something fly over the top of my truck. Then I heard a siren and the words ‘Stand-to’ were shouted across the camp.

Emma – What was that?

I stuck my head out the door of the truck and looked up. When I did that, I heard another pop noise and something flew over the top of my truck.

Emma – Jamie, what is that noise?

Jamie – Emma, I have to let you go. Everything is okay.

She didn’t want to let me go but she said goodbye and I hung up. As I placed the phone down another object flew over my head. I realized that someone was shooting rockets at my truck. We are trained to stay in the vehicle when we are shot at, but because the enemy was shooting at my truck I decided it would be better if I exited the vehicle.

The camp was surrounded by a large brick wall and my truck was parked alongside that wall. I jumped out of the truck and landed next to the wall. When I did that, machine gun fire hit along the wall. I sat there and looked up at my truck and saw another rocket go over the top. I knew if a rocket hit my truck I might not survive.

My thoughts went to Emma and Alex and then to Mom and Dad. I thought how crushed they would be if I died right here and now. Without a second thought I decided I would call Mom and Dad. If this was going to be my last night alive I wanted to hear their voice one more time.

As I dialled their number another rocket just missed my truck. It was then I thought I was going to die, and this would be the last time I talked to my parents.

When Mom answered it was just like when Emma answered, with a voice so filled with excitement it made me feel like I was missed. Mom told Dad it was me on the line and he picked up the phone in his bedroom so we all could talk at once. When I heard their voices I started to get choked up and tears began to roll down my dirty face. I thought this was the last time I would ever talk to my parents.

Mom – How are you, my love?

Jamie – Don’t worry about me. How are you guys doing?

They started to tell me about how they are getting ready to go to the cabin and that Dad still had a bad back but they were doing just fine.

Jamie – Mom, Dad. I want you to know that I love you very much. You guys have always been there for me for my whole life. The reason I am the man today is because of the love I received from you two.

Mom –Is everything alright, Jamie?

Jamie – Yes, Mom, everything is fine. I just wanted you guys to know how much you mean to me.

Dad – We know you love us, buddy. And we are very proud to call you our son.

Jamie – I know you are, Dad, and I’m proud to have you guys as parents.

We said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone. Then I sat there waiting for more rockets to be fired. I looked around the camp and there were LAVs running and prepared to fire. The problem was they could not identify where the enemy was located. Our orders as Canadians are that we cannot shoot at the enemy unless we can identify the target. But it was dark and no one could see where the

shots were coming from, so I had to sit there and hope not to get hit. In the end, the enemy fired seven rockets and some machine gun fire, all at me, but never hit me, and we didn’t fire anything back.

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Combat Recovery

Major Douglas Thorlakson, Deployment dates: 25 Jan 06 – 26 Aug 06, Mission: Op APOLLO / ATHENA Roto 1 (TF 1-06)

August 3rd, 2006

The day began like so many before during the 1st Rotation into southern Afghanistan in 2006.  The call from the Battle Group Tactical Operations Centre (TOC) in Kandahar Airfield set off the pagers for the duty recovery low-bed to report to the TOC.  Six months of supporting what had turned into a shooting war, led the troops from the Transport Platoon to become combat veterans, accustomed to being shot at and responding to the aftermath of Improvised Explosive Devices.

Maj Thorlakson Combat Recovery pic 1 copy

An Afghan National Police Officer passes by the remnants of the destroyed vehicle of a suicide car bomber.  The engine block had travelled more than 200m before coming to rest.  Panjiway District Centre, Afghanistan. 3 Aug 2006.  Photo by Doug Thorlakson

The duty low-bed tractor-trailer deployed in less than ten minutes, fully kitted out for the dangerous roads of Kandahar Province.  We received word to prepare a second low-bed truck and a Bison armoured vehicle to transport the troops from those vehicles.  Private Mark Pinsent from 1 Service Battalion volunteered to drive the Bison and Corporal Jordan McAuley from the Defence & Security Platoon volunteered as our air-sentry.

We rolled from KAF and were soon in front of the local district police centre in Panjiway. On the other side of the hill about a kilometre away, smoke from mortars and artillery rose into the clear blue sky.  Machine gun and rifle fire was punctuated by the continuous hammering of the 25mm chain guns of the LAVs and AH-64 Apache helicopter cannons.  This battle was definitely a major engagement.

Casualties mounted and our escort vehicle and armoured ambulance left to assist with the wounded.  We re-oriented our convoy to provide all-around security on the roadway.  For the next couple of hours, we maintained our security cordon while the fighting around the now-famous White School continued into the afternoon.

Standing watch in the hatch of the Bison, I saw a car turn the corner at high speed, unusual in a built-up area.  I raised my arm to signal the driver to stop and pointed my C-6 machine gun at his vehicle.  The driver pulled over on the roadway and stopped about 50 metres away.  He sat there for twenty to thirty seconds.  Suddenly, he stepped on the gas and accelerated straight towards our convoy.

Time slows down – in real time I have less than two seconds to decide what to do, but in that instant it seems I had an eternity.  I see the vehicle moving forwards, I watch the bullets from my C6 tear into the pavement and into the front of his car as I work the rounds up, then nothing — The driver detonates his vehicle as his final act; a bright flash punctuated with smoke grey clouds disintegrating the explosive-packed vehicle less than 25 metres away.

Slammed back in the hatch, I briefly lose consciousness from the blast. As I regain my senses, I look through the smoke at utter devastation – the driver detonated his vehicle in front of a packed tea-house.  The entire façade has been ripped away and the screams and cries from the wounded patrons are heartbreaking.  Canadian troops who were on foot have been scattered about the ground like fallen dominoes and my heart sinks.  Unbelievably, Pinsent jumps up from the ground. Even with shrapnel in his ankle, he runs over and literally yanks one of the drivers from the ground and stands him up. One by one, the Canadians stand back and dust themselves off as McAuley helps pull me out of the hatch of the Bison.  He pulls out a combat field dressing and wraps up my arm which has a chunk of the car stuck in it.  There’s more shrapnel stuck in my neck between my carotid artery and jugular vein. Even though I would later have surgery to remove the metal, I walked out from the centre of hell with relatively minor wounds.

As the Afghan Police arrive to secure the scene and attend to the wounded, we re-establish our defensive position. The fight on the other side of the hill is carrying on in earnest and casualties mount. The sound of jet engines fills the sky as a massive B-1 bomber flies over at a ridiculously low altitude. The unexpected appearance of such a huge aircraft on the battlefield takes the fight out of the enemy and the noise of the battle dies down. The Battle Group is finally able to extract from the fight. With the help of the Maintenance Recovery Wrecker, and with some ingenuity, they manage to pull the two damaged LAVs into town.  In relatively short order the LAVs are put up onto the trailer decks for movement back to base.

As I look at my arm, I know I’m not going to be able to command the vehicle on the way back as I can’t operate the machine gun with only one arm. I asked McAuley, a Reserve Infantryman from The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, to command the vehicle on the way back.  Pinsent limps towards the drivers hatch and gives me a thumbs up.  His ankle still smashed up from the explosion, the tough Newfoundlander didn’t even ask for as much as a Tylenol to make the two-hour drive back to base.

We receive orders to walk our vehicles out of town due to the threat. As I pass the explosion site and see what’s left of the vehicle and tea-house, I can’t believe I’m able to walk away.  The vehicle had been stacked with five or six 155mm artillery shells, each with a lethal killing radius of up to 300 metres; I somehow survived.  Tragically, more than twenty patrons of the tea-house were not as lucky and were killed. We mount up and as the town rolls away in the distance, I look around the back of the empty Bison. Even with two LAVs out of action, there were so many casualties; it left lots of seats in the convoy. Tragically, for those four brave Canadians who paid the ultimate sacrifice, those seats will be empty forever more.

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Op MEDUSA

Trooper Stephen Wittman

Roto 3/06

My name is Stephen Wittmann.  I am currently a MCpl but at the time of my tour roto 3/06 I was a Trooper. I am still a serving member of the CF with now just over 9 years in Reg force. I have been an Armoured soldier for the entire time I have been serving.

These are the worst events and major incidents from my 2006/2007 tour in Afghanistan My position over there was a driver. I was a no hook trooper with the Royal Canadian Dragoons based in Petawawa, I was attached to 2CER – 23 field Sqn, rotation 3/06 based in Petawawa. I was in Afghanistan from August 12th 2006 to March 25 2007. I was a LAVIII driver for E32c , our role over there would evidently play a major part in Operation Medusa.

 

These experiences that occurred in Canada’s role in Afghanistan would shape dramatically how troops on the ground would fight this insurgency for years to come with lessons learned from keeping in mind from my experiences while other preventable attacks and events would reoccur. I would end up experiencing the some of the worst combat Canadian soldiers on the ground faced during my tour and other tours for the years to come. For most of the time over there we would receive 4 showers a month. We literally got a day of downtime in KAF every 3 and a half weeks for 5 months of the tour. We received an average of 9 hot plates of food a month while the rest of the time we lived off MRE’s. And we slept in the open away from the FOB’s  protection for 4 and a half months at least living out of our LAV. With only 2 and a half weeks from being on the ground at the start of the tour we encountered the first devastating ambush and our morale became non-existent thereafter.

My emotional stability was cracking at the seams as each day went by with almost zero ability to wind down and get away from the bloody mess I was involved in for the remainder of the tour until I was back home in Canada. I felt completely beleaguered, feeling I was serving a prison sentence for something I was falsely accused of doing. There was never a feeling of worth or proudness of being in Afghanistan. My involvement there saw no change for the better all I would see is us ruining their way of life by destroying parts of their country and polluting their land. I have no closure whatsoever from sacrificing 6 months of my life that I will never get back from my experiences and the struggle I face every day from the things I’ve seen and the friends I’ve lost that somehow I have been unable to grieve for to this day. I feel I never will and still don’t know how to properly grieve for their losses.

On September 1st there was a mine strike in our leaguer which involved the vehicle behind us having 2 of its right wheels blown off. I saw the debris fly off and fly past in front of our vehicle. I thought all the guys in the vehicle behind us were dead since the explosion was so tremendous. As we drove through the rest of the minefield I thought we were going to run over a mine next.

In moments we were at the top of a battle position overlooking the objective Rugby the Pashmul area and began assaulting it with relentless bombardment with planes LAV’s and artillery fire. We kept this up until late September 2nd when we heard we would be going in and assaulting head on early against the remaining hundreds of Taliban the next morning with little preparation or planning.

At 0530 am on Sept 3rd we left Ma’sum Ghar. We would be pushed into an  assault on the white school which evidently would result in four of our guys dying. Our forces crossed the Arghandab River and we arrived at the school. We formed up in an extended line along the wall that was keeping us from moving closer to the school.  Bulldozers moved up and breached two holes in the wall that we were behind. 4 or 5 LAV’s moved through the wall, along with 2 G Wagons, rockets and machine gun fire suddenly opened up on us.

During this ambush I witnessed a rocket striking a LAV’s turret. I was right behind the infantry vehicles and saw the huge explosion. Right after the explosion, I was scared and worried for the crew inside but was relieved that the turret was still rotating. A couple minutes later, a call came over the radio that reported that a call sign has 1 dead, That was our sister call sign E32D. A rocket had hit the side of their vehicle and the splash from the explosion killed the air sentry.

Beside my vehicle I heard the explosions of rockets hitting 2 vehicles, a bulldozer and a G wagon. Moments after we began to withdraw back across the river. A count of the injured and dead came over the radio, letting it sink in. I couldn’t believe how devastating it was for all this to happen in just a few moments. Just looking out my LAV I kept watching artillery and bombs landing on the school, Taliban positions and kill zone. I’m looking over watching the reactions of people outside their vehicles, they were shocked and crying.

4 people carrying a body bag passed my vehicle, a moment later a couple of my friends were carrying a stretcher with the body of a soldier I knew. He was face down, his head was awkwardly off the side with his eyes wide open. I saw a deep gash in his left arm and I realized he was dead.  Right behind him a couple more people were carrying another body bag.  I was so confused and left there sitting in shock and disbelief. All these people were just alive a moment earlier. Immediately since seeing death for the first time and this magnitude I knew I would be forever changed as were my entire troop of engineers.

I remember when we went back to Ma’sum Ghar after the fire fight I felt completely numb, confused and in disbelief about the events that occurred. I got out of my LAV and looked around as people were hugging each other and crying. I felt lost and disconnected from what was happening. A look over at E32D , their crew was cleaning the blast blankets because they were soaked in blood. The ground was covered with flowing blood. We went over to the side of the LAV and inspected the damage from the rocket. The rocket just missed the heads of the gunner and crew commander, the 2 of them suffered minor injuries.  I didn’t get to go to the memorial because we weren’t allowed to attend. I keep replaying the scene in my head.

On Sept 4 around 0530 all of us woke up early at the midpoint of Ma’sum Ghar and got ready to assault the school again. I was standing at the back of the LAV eating a breakfast ration when all of a sudden I heard 2 large popping explosions 50 or so feet away. I turned quickly and what seemed like for a moment was actually a few seconds a couple dozen more deafening bright white bursting blasts that went 30-40 feet in the air. It is just like a firework popping in the sky with colour going in all directions. Before the last burst I felt and heard what sounded like a swarm of bees passing just centimeters from my face and body. It was all this bright hot shrapnel.

I turned and then felt a punch in my back and this searing hot pain of a piece digging in. Then i heard the burp of the  A-10’s Gatling gun as I heard it climb back into the sky. I freaked out scrambling to get my combat shirt off thinking it was white phosphorous shrapnel burning my back. I dove on the ground as a dusty cloud rolled over the position. I got up still in pain and looked around at what was going on around me. It was a mess, I could see many people, at least 20 or so, hobbling around in great pain some people lying on the ground writhing in pain, clothes shredded up. Some people not moving. While taking it all in its hard to explain the feeling but it felt like I immediately was drenched in numbness that I evidently wouldn’t be able to shake, on and off, for the next 2 years.

I ran over to my crew which had suffered only minor but very painful injuries. I looked around to survey what was being done. Medics and any able people were scrambling for stretchers and med supplies to help the injured as the desperate calls were going out to KAF for airlift support. I forgot about the pain and grabbed the large medical backpack and ran to 2 people closest to the beaten zone which was a small fire pit which had no medical supplies yet or many people tending to them. I had to jump over people injured and what I thought dying to get to them. As I was getting there I still remember looking down at their injuries thinking how painful it must feel and was just in shock as to the effects of what this weapon can do to a person. I got to the 2 soldiers and put down the pack and opened it up putting on surgical gloves and started handing out bandages and scissors to people that were hopelessly and frantically trying to save these 2 lives.

A few feet away there was a man on the ground not moving with red tubes up his nose with 3 guys doing chest compressions trying to revive him. While they were doing that I looked down and was thumbing through this other guys injuries to see what I could do to help him. His clothes were badly shredded, blood spattered all over him and I could faintly smell his flesh burning as the pieces had cauterized the injuries making it hard to really do anything but wrap them up for now. He wasn’t bleeding much but looked in immense pain slowly writhing and moaning incoherently. I was so numb and confused I grabbed a compress bandage for whatever reason and slowly lifted an arm and started wrapping it up. I looked over some more at the other guy and saw some more chest compressions and a slow and laboured breath and then no more motion from him. The 3 stood up in defeat and one began crying and picked up a rock and threw it crying out in anger and frustration how he couldn’t save him. I tied off the bandage and out of the corner of my eye I saw a ranger blanket being draped over his body.

The person in front of me was then carried off to a casualty collection point. I stood up and looked in front of me at the chaos that still unfolded. Confusion and obliviousness came over me as I looked over in a different frame of mind and saw an earphone on the ground I reached down and followed the cord to a person with the other earbud in his ear. To the right of this blanket covered person there was a mp3 player and a breakfast ration peppered with dozens of tiny holes and spattered with blood. The small garbage fire still smoldered slowly. I noticed this man had his feet showing from under the blanket. I reached over and slid the blanket down so his feet were covered but noticed his head was now in full view.  As I reached to readjust the blanket a person walked up and asked me his zap number from his dog tags. It took me a couple seconds to register what I had to do and looked at the body and got closer reached around his neck. It was a weird feeling I could feel he was still warm and how he was so motionless. I turned the tag over read the number off to him. He jotted it down and walked off.

I stared at the body for a moment then some people walked up saying they had to move him. I grabbed onto his left leg lifted then my buddy came over and told me “Steve-O go sit down I got it. I have done this before you’ve seen enough.” I walked away back to my LAV walking around the injured completely numb and sat against the vehicle watching the morning unfold as 3 choppers landed blowing large clouds of dust and rocks all over everyone. I think it was 1 Chinook and 2 Blackhawks.

Moments later, which seemed like hours, went by thinking get the fuck out of here and make this all end. They finally loaded all the choppers and they took off slowly in another deafening blasting cloud of dust. It was all silent people began burning broken stretchers, bloody boots, shredded clothing and bandages. Many of my guys were gone, injured, safe but I was still there in shock feeling out of my body barely coherent. Our engineer troop was down almost 10 people. This was decimating for our crews as we would be undermanned for the next 2 months before we received reinforcements. Of those injured from my troop they all eventually returned but the infantry had many that returned home with injuries too severe not to return for the rest of the tour. Instead of being withdrawn back to KAF our leadership left us up there for another 5 days or so until we would attack Panjwei from the north.

On September 5th the next day while during a lull in the bombardment of artillery and air assaults I was standing at the back of the LAV in the same position as the day before when I heard way out in the distance a distinct pop. A few seconds later about 8 feet away between my vehicle and the next LAV a rocked shrieked by us. I followed the sound into the rock face behind us into a deafening fiery explosion that sent rocks and shrapnel raining down on us. I yelled out take cover as we piled into the back of the LAV.

My gunner who was already in the turret began to open up with 25mm across the river at anything that looked like Taliban in hiding. My gunner came over the intercom saying he can clearly hear machinegun fire pinging off the front of our vehicle. I believed him but I remember there was too much firing and noise to hear it. A few minutes later a cease fire was called and we waited a moment before we got out, relieved,  and hoping that was all they were going to hit us with for the day. So early in the tour only 2 and a half weeks in I was beginning to be convinced I wasn’t going to make it through alive, that we were never safe and the Taliban were always watching.

September 5 – While on Ma’sum Ghar  our position was fired on by a recoiless rocket that flew by me 10 feet away missed our vehicle and impacted behind us. We were ok but we manned our gun and along with other 25mm cannons we shot across the Arghandab river at any heat sources that could be the enemy position that fired on us. We crammed in the back of the LAV for a half hour while our gunner reported we were being peppered by a machine gun pinging off our vehicle. We were scared and were worried the whole time that more rockets and anything else might injure us.

September 18 – One of our call signs was on patrol with infantry and others on route Victoria. I was a couple km away. Around 2 or 3 or so the radio was on fire with a terrible IED strike on our forces. As the details started to come through that among the dying, injured and dead was our sister call sign E32D. We were numb and tired up to that point from the heavy fighting in Panjweii.  Up from Sept 7 we were the spearhead clearing the Taliban from their positions for a few kilometers of fields and buildings witnessing the bombings and airstrikes and sporadic firefights between us and the Taliban.

When the zap numbers indicating the person injured or killed started coming over the air we were completely shocked and sick with grief as we heard four of our guys were priority 1 meaning they were dying and could be dead if they weren’t airlifted to KAF quickly enough. As the extent of our injuries came over the radio and the names were translated from our squadron roster of names and zap numbers we were all in more shock to know it was people we knew well. So now our troop was down several people and at this point only half our guys remained to do the full job. Many of our guys were still in KAF still recovering from the A-10 strike.

The next day or the day after we were sent back to KAF to reorg our troop and in that time there we would be able to see our 4 guys in the hospital. Seeing all of them and the condition they were in just broke me down even more and couldn’t stand anymore of this violence for much longer it was just about 1 month into the tour. Went to the ramp ceremony that night for the 4 killed from the same incident. With little downtime we were sent back out a few days later to Panjwaii.

Oct 3 – We have been busy providing security now while building route Summit for a couple weeks now, and it was apparent that we were angering and stirring up hate among the locals and Taliban. We have taken their land and have been bulldozing their crops and land for a large stretch of land without pushing back the Taliban further so our un-up-armoured dozers can work round the clock. With the frequency of IED’s and caches we were feeling uneasy how badly they wanted to kill us.

While providing dozer security for the whole day around 3:30 over the radio an urgent call came over that the Taliban were going to launch an attack from 3 positions along the road in 10 minutes!! My crew commander looked at his map and startlingly pointed out one of the positions was only 300 metres away from us. He ordered us to mount up and I began driving forward. Not even 25 metres and whoosh bang!…whoosh bang! 2 rockets flew over my LAV missing me and landing next to us to the west. Immediately my stomach dropped with grave fear that I was going through this again.

We drove up to the dozer with my hand on the horn to alert the dozer operator to get out and get in my vehicle (typically he didn’t have a clue what was happening over the noise of his engine) More rockets continued to land in around us and we along with American engineer Hummvee’s were spec firing into the tree line to the east from where the rockets originated from. While this was happening we were getting cries for help from the American counterparts with us and some 62 call signs up the road which were armoured recce RCD’s that they had injured and dying soldiers.

It was so unreal how we had just let them hit us with them so close giving them this time to prepare instead of putting off the construction of this damned road to secure this Panjwaii area better. A HMMV pulls in front of us and stops. Its crew is frantically trying to get us to put more cover fire down in order to get their wounded guy to safety. A scared and panicked soldier goes to the rear passenger side of the HMMV with a mate and pulls out a guy to his feet trying to support him by both his shoulders. His leg barely attached flops along behind him sickeningly as they drag him helplessly by my LAV screaming. I couldn’t hear because of the noise of the firing and the engine but could obviously see he was in excruciating pain that I couldn’t even imagine.

The door still open has a visible hole from a rocket that was a little larger than a golf ball. Not even a minute later the whole world around me shakes with what feels like many tremendous explosions. The entire vehicle shakes violently as if it might as well have been in a flimsy car. I feel my organs and my insides shake as a full breath of hot thick dusty air is forced in my lungs sucked out again, forced in and sucked back out, all within a couple seconds. I panicked, freaking out thinking I’m going to die any second now as I’m imagining a wave of fire and shrapnel is about to rip into me. Once it doesn’t happen I realize I’m ok but my head is spinning my ears are ringing even though I was hatches down with my headset on. The whole vehicle is filled with dust as is the outside completely foggy with the floating debris of dust and smoke.

What I thought was a bomb or a 107mm rocket was actually which I saw and found later was an ammunition trailer that had exploded after being struck by a RPG. This is a nearly accurate description that was in the trailer which I wrote on that day after talking with the Americans. 200lbs of C4 explosives 500 rounds of M203 grenades 1200+rounds of 7.62 bullets and an assortment of detonator cord hand grenades and 5.56 ammo. While this should have killed us with the trailer only being 30 feet or so away it low ordered meaning the explosives deflagrated in the explosion instead of high ordering, or going off in one massive explosion which is why it felt like multiple explosions in the couple of seconds that it was.

Fortunately nobody in and around our vehicle appeared to be injured in the blast. By the HMMV in front of me I see a lone American confused and dazed thinking hard what next to do. He can’t think straight in this chaos.  I see him get on the Mark 19 40mm grenade launcher and thump away in long bursts into the tree line to my right. He switches to his M249 saw and peppers the tree line again.

We are waiting for what it seems like a while to get word what to do for when to leave this kill zone and move back to Patrol Base Wilson. I can hear on the radio that We have numerous priority 1’s and 2’s from 62 call signs which are Royal Canadian Dragoons like me. I know my friends are with ‘em and don’t know yet which of ‘em are injured.

My OC which was with us left us and went by himself and some of the Americans back to PBW without giving us and instructions what to do. There’s so much gunfire I don’t even know if we are taking anymore incoming. In the turret there is panic and yelling as the turret is jammed it won’t rotate. The lack of room in the poorly designed floor means the stacked ammo has shifted and the turret is stuck on the 25mm cans of ammo. After a few tense minutes goes by  they free the turret. I forget how we got going back to PBW but we all got in a packet and slowly made our way back. When we got back we unraveled our feelings. I talked to the Americans got the info about their guy and the trailer and my crew commander gave me the news. He just laid it out who was dead. I knew both of ‘em but not so much, but was kind of relieved it wasn’t my other friends whom I knew better. However I talk to my RCD’s and they say that 2 of my friends are badly injured. One lost a leg and might lose another and the other had his arm riddled with shrapnel.

In reality my first friend still has his legs but went through 4 or 5 surgeries and can walk on his own but cannot run or be on his feet long because it gets incredibly painful still. His legs were completely mangled. One was only held by the tendons the other was shredded with shrapnel and a bullet. It it was sheer skill to put them back together and not have to amputate when 99 percent of the time the doctors normally would have. His and other vehicles 62 call signs that were attacked were in PBW. I looked them over and saw they were hit extremely hard by rockets and bullets and covered in diesel and shrapnel. I went in my friends drivers hole and saw his belongings and was struck by sadness that I would hope that he would live but knew his war here was over but I was still here. I was faced with the fact that he was going home and I was still here for another 4 months where maybe I could share the similar fate of being injured or dying over there.

October 7 – Were back in KAF for a day or so and I was on the way to the phones and internet I was walking along the road when a Dragoon pulled next to me in a gator and asked me if I knew a particular soldier. I paused knowing I did. I didn’t know yet what he was getting at. He told me he just died this morning. The RG31 he was gunning in was hit by a IED and his femoral artery was cut and he bled out in less than a minute. I only saw him last a few days before. I think I remember anyway. His ramp ceremony is Oct 8. We are leaving tonight and my OC refuses to let us stay another day here so we can go to the ramp ceremony. We weren’t able to go back to KAF to see the ramp ceremonies of two other friends  and now we won’t be able to go to this one. When another engineer died other engineers were able to go back to attend the ramp ceremony. There wasn’t any compromise or anything with the OC on giving us a break anytime throughout the tour at all.

Much like the weeks before we continued to provide security for the construction on route summit, being completely complacent and predictable in our actions without taking precautions and actions to keep the Taliban at bay. We would sit in the open for days on end like sitting ducks as prime targets. The bulldozer equipment was un-armoured and the Taliban were always only 300 metres away. It wouldn’t be long before the Taliban would form another well-coordinated and devastating attack on us.

October 14 – The Taliban were ready again. We didn’t know it until later that day until they were ready to launch their attack but they would launch a coordinated attack on 2 positions on the road covering two kilometers of the road we were guarding. In the morning there was an IED strike at strong point centre. The IED didn’t injure anybody but disabled the vehicle completely and would have to be taken back to KAF. ICOM chatter indicated the Taliban were bragging and had around 5 more IED’s placed on the road for us to hit. This raised awareness to us all but usually these reports weren’t always true and to be taken seriously. By late afternoon we were positioned in the exact same site we were earlier ambushed on OCT 3. On the radio we heard a call come in. ICOM chatter indicates Taliban will be attacking route summit positions in approximately 10 minutes!!

I perked up feeling my stomach sink and the fear setting in. I warned my fresh replacement crew commander I was driving for the week to get everyone in and ramp up explaining that this probably was no joke and was probably going to happen. We ramped up and pulled away from our position north towards PBW to our other call signs. We drove towards our bulldozer we were guarding then all of a sudden two rockets soared over our LAV missing us! I pulled up laying on the horn grabbing his attention. He bailed out of the dozer and ran and jumped in our vehicle.

We pulled up to strong point North. The radio was on fire with frantic and desperate voices crying for artillery in east as sounds of firing and explosions were heard around us. We were taking fire from around strong point North and strong point Center. At strong point North there was us and 3 other LAVs. At strong point Centre there were approximately 6 LAVs guarding 4 points of the road. We pulled up to a 5 foot wall facing east around 300 metres from a group of 4 buildings. 25 mm fire was being let loose on 2 of the buildings directly to our front and then in between firing I saw a puff of smoke at the building which was odd. I felt and heard a rocket fly by us and land behind us. A moment later another one, then another. Fortunately they missed our LAV’s. A cry for help came over as a crying person came on saying their vehicle was struck and they had 2 priority 1’s. I could hear coughing and yelling in the back ground. They were bleeding out and needed the Bison ambulance down to them now! I saw one more rocket fired towards us. For a while there was a lull in the firing and the same crew earlier came over the radio saying now that their 2 crew members were dead. A while later when the bodies were picked up I saw the Bison ambulance come out into view to my right 200 metres away and then saw a rocket hit the ground 4 metres from the front of the Bison. The shrapnel flew towards it and then immediately the front 4 tires exploded and the front of the vehicle dipped violently forward almost grinding to a halt. The Bison limped out of view. We reversed back 20 metres beside another LAV frantically firing and raking the buildings with fire.

I saw one last rocket take off missing again our firing line. An Apache flew in and began peppering the buildings with its 30mm cannon along with some artillery landing behind the buildings. Eventually the firing ceased and the fight up at strong point North was over but for hours there was sporadic fighting still at strong point Center. That night we were called down to replace for the night to pull security at strong point Center since they were down 2 vehicles. While just pulling up there was more killing to our front confirmed by a LAV crew as there were still Taliban trying to infiltrate and get close to us.

____________________________________________

03 Sep 2006 OP MEDUSA 

Sgt Jay Foulds
I’m a serving combat engineer w/ 4 Afghan tours (Roto 0, Roto 3, TF 3-06 & TF 1-10).

Sgt Foulds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03 Sep 2006 we lost a major opening battle of OP MEDUSA and more importantly…4 courageous soldiers. The next morning, while burning our garbage, our position was mistakenly attacked by a US A-10 Thunderbolt…and we lost one more.

I learned 3 things that day…1) every mass-casualty exercise I’ve ever done is a joke in comparison because inside 2 seconds there were 38 troops on the ground wounded, one medic left standing and a handful of TCCCs digging deep to save their brothers and sisters. 2) Canadians are remarkably hard to kill. Because while it was reprehensible that even one of us was killed by friendly fire…that plane is designed to kill tanks and only one of us was taken. And 3) when s**t hits the fan with the force of 120 x 30mm grenades and your life is shoved into a screaming, bleeding meat grinder…everyone (US, SOF, every chopper within 100km) will drop what they’re doing to help. When the CANSOF CO steps off a bird with an operator to give his condolences to those left standing…and to explain what your efforts means to him and his elites…you find a way to dig deep and carry on. Because you friggin have to.

E31D - TF 1-10

__________________________________________________________________________

It’s the reason they’re called “rolling thunder

MA’SUM GHAR, Afghanistan

From Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press, embedded in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010

Afghan-Cda-Tanks

The throaty roar of engines announcing the approach of the squadron of Canadian Leopard 1 tanks could be heard from kilometres away as they emerged from the mist and rain on Dec. 2, 2006 to back up ground troops in the war-torn Panjwaii district.

The 42-tonne monsters left Kandahar Airfield under the cover of darkness early in the morning in the first combat deployment of Canadian tanks since the Korean War.

Hours later they rolled down the streets of the village of Bazar-e Panjwaii in an impressive show of force on their way to the nearby forward operating base, or FOB at Ma’sum Ghar.

Residents of the small town of mud houses and blast-worn shops, hearing the rumble of the metal tracks biting into the concrete, rushed from their homes to watch the biggest display of firepower since their war with the Soviets in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It also caused excitement at the FOB. Battle weary troops, who have been fighting the Taliban on a regular basis, couldn’t contain their glee.

“Merry Christmas to the Taliban,” said one soldier.

“It’s time to open a can of whuppass,” said another.

The tank crews, members of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) armoured regiment based in Edmonton, were excited to be finally joining the fight.

“This is definitely going to send a serious message to the Taliban,” said Trooper Ian MacDougall, 30, of Burlington, Ont.

“Everybody likes the tanks. It’s the first combat deployment since Korea. It’s pretty interesting to be part of that.”

Military officials said the Leopard tanks were there to “augment” the efforts of the Battle Group in this region, surrounded by mountains, fields of opium poppies and marijuana and a former stronghold of the Taliban.

Moving the tanks through the village was no accident.

“I’m confident the sign of the tanks showing up will represent to the people around here and probably the Taliban as well the resolve of the coalition to bring security to this area,” said Maj. Trevor Cadieu of Vernon, B.C., commander of the squadron.

“Introducing the Leopard tank into this theatre will certainly beef up our firepower and protection. We’re dealing largely with an insurgent threat that chooses to fight us with small arms and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).”

“We have that ability to reach out to several kilometres with a 105-millimetre cannon,” he added.

Trooper Matt Dube, 25, of Montreal said he saw a few smiles on the faces of the residents of Bazaar-e Panjwaii and had hopes his squadron would ultimately make a difference in the region.

“It’s going to be great because we’re really going to help them solve this problem once and for all,” Dube said with a smile. “I think we will do great here and eventually peace will come back to this region.”

“We’re finally going to do our job.”

Cadieu said it had been tough sitting on the sidelines while the fighting was going on in Panjwaii.

“It’s been a long journey for this squadron and we’ve been in Afghanistan now for about a month so these soldiers are extremely motivated to join the fight with the Battle Group and to be able to contribute to any operations here,” added Cadieu.

“It is historic. The Strathcona’s have had tanks deployed to Kosovo but it is the first time tanks have been deployed in combat operations since Korea,” he said.

And while the remains of Soviet tanks still sit rusting in the village and surrounding area, these tanks are suited for the mountainous terrain said the commander.

“The terrain here isn’t bad at all for tanks. We just conducted a move over 60 or 70 kilometres. We started this move with the whole squadron, we finished the move with the whole squadron,” added Cadieu.

Dube said the Taliban wouldn’t know what hit them when they eventually went toe-to-toe with the Leopards.

“Nothing on the ground right now can compare to this. This is ten times more powerful than anything on the ground,” said Dube.

“I mean 25-millimetre guns on LAVs (light armoured vehicles) is the biggest thing we have right now. This is bigger. This is stronger.”

It cost $1 million apiece to transport 15 of the tanks, which each had a four-member crew, from their base at Wainwright, Alta., to the Kandahar base.

 

 

 

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