Where’s Your Ship?
PO2 Brian Walsh
The first time someone asked me why I volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan I didn’t really have an answer to their question. The truth is none of us felt like we were volunteering, but more like this was our chance, our opportunity to do our part as RCN Sailors. Everyone knew the Army and Air Force were being stretched thin from Afghanistan. As Hull Technicians, you wouldn’t think there is much for us to do in a place Kandahar. Man, were we wrong!
It was January 2007 when the message came down the pipe, they’re looking for Hull Techs (HT’s) to deploy to Afghanistan to weld armour on Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC`s). A bunch of us jumped at the chance to get cleared from our Ship`s and Units to deploy. It came down to four of us getting picked to go over to be a part of a mixed group of Material Techs, Vehicle Techs and even a Stoker from the West Coast.
We didn`t really know exactly what we would be doing until we got on the ground, settled way in one of the BATs (big ass tent). Our jobs for the next 6 months would be to add 3,500 pounds of under armour to each APC Canada had in Afghanistan, LAV IIIs, Coyotes and Bison’s. Plus the installation of the Exposed Crew Protection Kits (ECPKs) on all LAV IIIs that were fabricated by our counterparts from Cape Scott, Fleet Maintenance Facility (FMF) in Halifax.
That’s what we did; we worked day and night to get the vehicles quickly up-armoured so the Soldiers on the ground could get back outside the wire feeling a little safer. It was a time in all our careers that we felt like we were doing our part, and everyone made us feel that way.
The looks on their faces would say it all, “You guys are Navy? Where’s your boat…? They would ask, jokingly, with friendly smiles on their faces.” If only we had a dollar for every time we heard that. The truth is it felt great; it felt like we were part of the team, the big picture.
After we completed all the LAV IIIs, and the rest of the APC’s in theatre we were all honoured to receive the Task Group Commanders Coin for a job well done, a job that most people thought would take us 9 months to complete, which actually took us 5 months.
But it wasn’t that moment that will stay in my heart forever. It’s the moment a good friend I grew up with rolled into the work shop with all the tires flattened from getting hit by an IED that we had installed up-armour on. He walked over to me and thanked all of us. The armour did its job, and we all felt good about doing ours that day.
The ARV “Calgary”
Cpl D.A.J O’Toole 5 CDSG Maintenance Company, MCpl W.J Anderson 5 CDSG Maintenance Company
When the Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) 3 (CFR69580) first arrived at Leopard Section in Maintenance Company of the 5 Canadian Division Support Group in Gagetown New Brunswick, our German Field Support Representative Dirk Gruber asked, what name will we give it?
We, two former B Squadron Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadian) technicians and two former 2nd line Leopard technicians who had served on this ARV 3 from Roto 5 thru Roto 9 in Afghanistan without hesitation and in one voice said, “CALGARY”. You may ask why a Maintenance Company in the Atlantic Provinces would name their ARV 3 “CALGARY”. Let’s us explain.
The Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadian), Canada’s Tank Regiment, fielded eight consecutive tank Squadrons in Afghanistan. This ARV 3 was one of two ARV 3s that served as the back bone for six of those squadrons. The ARV served as the main recovery vehicle for tanks with a heavy boom capable of lifting the heavy power pack when required.
On 24 September 2007, while attempting to repair a Leopard that had thrown track during a heavy fire fight, ARV driver Corporal Nathan Hornburg of Calgary AB was killed. The crew named this ARV 3 in his honour and the call sign “CALGARY” remained attached to this vehicle for every consecutive Roto. Cpl Hornburg was of the King’s Own Calgary Regiment and attached to C Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadian), Leopard Maintenance.
When the curious come to see it in our shop, they often comment how it is in less than stellar condition with a few bent brackets and damaged but repaired components. Each of you reading this who served on CALGARY know that each bent bracket has a story; some funny and some tragic.
In summary we quote former Branch CWO J.R.D St-Jean, “For having seen it with my own eyes and heard about it from their leaders, today’s EME soldiers have nothing to envy from any generation.” CALGARY’s history is a proud one and an inspiration to all.
Arte et Marte
Lieutenant CommanderJoel Kam, CD, MAdEd
I was assigned to the VIP escort section in ISAF HQ in Kabul in 2007. My duties included organizing, planning, and escorting VIPs to and around the Afghan theatre of operations. I was mainly involved with the visits of senior NATO commanders, but on several occasions I handled the visits of senior ministers of foreign countries. In my capacity as an escort officer I had the opportunity to visit many remote areas of Afghanistan. There are three incidences that I remember particularly well.
On one memorable occasion we visited Jalalabad in the western area for a tour of an allied forward operating base. The landscape around the base was pristine and vibrant with vegetation and farmland. In many respects it reminded me very much of the rural parts of British Columbia or Ontario on a bright crisp spring morning. The only reminder of where I was occurred when the tranquility of the day was interrupted by Sniper fire from the Guard towers towards the tree line across the valley. In a discussion with the guards later during the tour, they explained that they had neutralized insurgents maintaining watch and potentially disrupted an assault that may have been targeting the four helicopters that had transported the VIP party to the area.
On another occasion we were preparing for a road move from the airport to the Ministry of Defence followed by visit to the Presidential Palace. As part of this preparation we were reviewing the important intelligence threats. According to the current intelligence reports, we were to pay particular attention for two issues: 1) a suicide bomber with brown hair and beard, early twenties, driving a motorcycle, and 2) a suicide bomber driving a purple Toyota taxi. I remember discussing and laughing about the absurdity of this information with the vehicle drivers and security detachment as we drove along the route looking out the windows for imminent threats; in Kabul there are about a million purple taxis and people driving motorcycles, and almost every young man wears a beard!
The last memorable incident involved a visit to another forward operating base south west of Kabul. We arrived by military helicopter slightly ahead of schedule and we were waiting on the landing zone as the road convoy arrived for pickup. As we watched the vehicles approach it appeared as if they were driving through a metre of dark brown water almost like driving through flooded roads. As the vehicles came to a stop and we walked out to meet them, we discovered that this wasn’t a metre of dirty water but a metre of brown dust and dirt so fine our legs sank through it. It swirled around our bodies getting into every nook and cranny of our bodies and our equipment. I have never seen so much dust in my entire life!
OMLT – Firefight – Jan. 6, 2007
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press, embedded in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010
LAKOKHEL, Afghanistan – The long line of vehicles heading north from the area around this tiny village in Panjwaii district was a dead giveaway that something was just not right.
Two hours later a barrage of rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars rained down upon Canadian and Afghan troops here, who had been going from compound to compound looking for the Taliban. On this day they found them.
“The locals knew something was up and that the Taliban were here,” said Capt. Josh Major, of Chelmsford, Ont. “They know what is going on,” he added.
Major and other members of OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liason Team) had been on patrol with the Afghan National Army. After combing through a number of the vast mud compounds which dot this region came word that seven armed men had been spotted to the south.
As the troops moved further south, walking through the deep, dusty ditches of grape fields, the sound of a large explosion could be heard. Moments later, a plume of black smoke was on the horizon.
A series of rockets and rocket-propelled grenades whistled overhead, landing and exploding in a cloud of smoke and dust about 250 metres away. A mortar landed 50 metres away causing Canadian soldiers to duck for cover while their Afghan allies seemed undaunted by the noise and confusion. The deep, throaty rat-a-tat-tat of the machine-guns on the Afghan trucks replied after every salvo.
“No problem. It’s cool,” said one Afghan soldier flashing a grin as he walked by, a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
A helmetless Afghan commander, Lt.-Col. Shirin Shah Kowbandi was outraged at the attack, called for a rocket launcher, climbed up on the top of a wall and fired a shot in retaliation.
The attack came to a standstill once air support was called in. Once the drone of the F-16 was heard overhead, the Taliban stopped firing and headed west on foot. An air strike wasn’t possible because there were still civilians in the area. But the plane flew low through the valley, firing off some flares in a show of force.
Major said he expected something was going to happen partially because of the exodus from the region and partly because of the location of the patrol.
“You never go looking for a fight but you knew it was coming. You knew eventually if you started going south we were going to get hit by something sooner or later,” said Major.
“That’s what happened and I think it all worked out.”
Operation Baaz Tsuka was i n its third and final stage and seeking to clear out pockets of Taliban in this region. Members of the ANA grew visibly excited when told that a large mountain, a future ISAF base called Gundy Ghar, clearly visible about two kilometres to the west, was a Taliban stronghold and believed to house about 50 Taliban fighters.
The attack was thought to involve 15 to 20 Taliban fighters and it was believed that two or three were wounded or killed.
It was the first taste of battle for most of the OMLT team, members of the Royal 22e Regiment, the Vandoos based in Val Cartier, Que.
“It’s just another day at the office,” shrugged Master Cpl. Luigi Ouellet of Quebec City.
“That is the first time that they shoot at me. It was not too bad. All the drills are coming by themselves and you don’t even have to think so it was cool,” said Pte. Dominic Cimon, 21, of Montreal.
Nobody was injured and that isn’t so bad,” he said.
Nobody expected that the Taliban would simply go away, said Major, who noted the Canadians are not liked by the terrorist group.
“They don’t want us here in the area and they’re willing to do a lot to protect what they think is right, which is their own power,” he said.
But the threat on this day was past, said Major, pointing at the road. A long line of cars was headed south back into the area.
A little kindness can go a long way.LACOOKHAL, Afghanistan (CP)
Bill Graveland Canadian Press Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Sgt. Kevin Dickson of Edmonton was on foot patrol in this tiny village as members of the Afghan National Army and Quebec’s Vandoos searched for signs of the Taliban. The medic had his heart set on saying hello to two tiny Afghan girls, who were visible on the other side of the mud wall where a group of women and children, wearing brightly coloured burkas, were huddled in a circle away from the prying eyes of the soldiers.
But as with most children the lure of the unusual was too much. They peeked shyly through the hole in the mud wall.
He called out a greeting in Pashto, prompting squeals of delight and caused them to run back to their mothers. The game lasted about five minutes until finally the children came out and watched the tall medic as he stood patiently waiting, leaning against the mud wall.
“I just said ‘Salam o lakum’ which is ‘God be with you’ and ‘sing ayes’ which is ‘how are you?’ I know about seven words and it usually gets a laugh everywhere I go,” chuckled Dickson, the only Anglophone serving with the Vandoos here.
“They’re kids. It’s fun,” he added.
Life in the mud compounds is a struggle. Various livestock often live amongst the residents. In this case there were goats, chickens and even rabbits. An adjacent compound was home to a cow and according to the soldiers “a very large and very vicious dog.”
Having men come to your home carrying guns, wearing helmets and body armour on a regular basis is something most people, especially children, could do without.
“Mostly I think every day we go out is a little bit of hearts and minds-I know it sounds like a real party line,” Dickson said, rolling his eyes. “But it’s true. We’re walking around with guns, all geared up and we look like we’re ready to destroy their village but nothing could be further from the truth.”
“We’re here to fight the Taliban and part of that is smiling at them and making them glad to see us a little bit because they don’t have a clue what we’re doing here,” he said.
In a world where the Taliban rule with terror, the reassurance of a smile and kindness from strangers can go along way. It’s something Dickson does when he’s not taking care of soldiers in his company. The Afghan people are “unique” he noted and “incredibly tough.”
“They’ve survived incredible things. Even this where we’re sitting in now took them a long time to make,” he said pointing to the mud structures. “They’re admirable and I like them.”
But he is also realistic. Trust of strangers is not something that comes easily in this country, torn by war for the past 30 years. And the presence of armed men in an area where Canadian troops are still hunting for the Taliban is not a ringing endorsement.
“They know that even though we mean well, by us being here, the fight is now on their doorstep and that can’t be a good feeling for them.”
Dickson has earned the respect of his fellow soldiers who aren’t surprised he has a soft spot.
“He is one of the best medics I’ve ever seen,” said Master Cpl. Luigi Ouellet of Quebec City. “He’s a great guy.”
Troops In Combat WITH 2 IC
MCpl Jonathan McDougal, LdSH(RC), AFGHANISTAN TOUR 0107
On 13 June 2007 I was tasked to be the loader for Call Sign (CS) T19A. We left the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that day at approx. 04:00hrs to do an assault on the area of Burmogarhmarh. I was already tired and short tempered because of earlier incidents with some of the leadership within my Squadron (Sqn) and due to the fact that I had been assigned to ever operation (Op) for the past two weeks. I had also had negative encounters with my Squadron Second in Command (2 IC) (CS T19A) on more than one occasion. As we were traveling down Highway 1 the speed of the convoy wasn’t too fast, so I could have a smoke and still watch my arcs. The sun was just starting rise and on some mornings the view was beautiful.
We formed a Leaguer just outside of Burmogarhmarh and my CS was at the 12 o’clock position facing the enemy. At approximately 08:00hrs I heard shots off to my left and the infantry came under contact. The next thing I heard is a call over the radio from the Infantry Commander asking for support.
My Crew Commander (CC) assigned Badger 4, T12B and ourselves to go and
provide support for the Infantry. I was starting to get worried about what was going to happen due to the fact I was able to see many grape huts as well as a fair number of wadies (dead ground). Badger 4 had to breech a hole in a wall for all of us to get through which means there was now a choke point and there was a considerable amount of foliage to my front and my left which makes this an ideal spot to get ambushed. Once we all made it through we headed south toward the grape huts and the tree line where the attack was coming from. As we were advancing towards the threat I saw two groups of hostiles (4 persons per group) in the tree line.
I told my CC of my visual contact of the enemy and he proceeded to take a double bound to try to get the kill himself. This confused me and made me angry as it put him in the way of T12B which meant there was nobody able to provide covering fire. A few seconds later I head two whistles over my head and the explosions right behind our CS. One of the RPG Teams in the tree line fired two Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’s) at our vehicle. Both of them were high and just flew over top of our heads. Our CS fired 1 High Explosive Squash Head round into the tree line as we started to turn left and face the East.
I got instantly scared due to the fact we were now broadside to where the contact was and informed my CC of the fact. He told me to stand down and concentrate on the building to the East. At this time T12B was trying to make their way up to our position. They were still being fired at from the tree line. I looked over and saw that they were still under contact. I told my CC that we needed to support their movement and start firing rounds into the tree line to kill that contact. My CC told me we were supposed to be facing the East to provide covering fire for the infantry if they required it. I got very angry and upset that we were not helping a fellow tank while they were being shot at.
As I stood in my CS and watched my friends get shot at, we did nothing. I felt helpless
because there was nothing I could do and my concerns were falling on deaf ears. I continued to scan my arcs and noticed that there was a Section minus off to my left crouched down behind a wall. They looked exhausted and thirsty, I wanted to pass them some water but; there was no time and all the water on the vehicle is supposed to be for the crew of that vehicle.
I heard the rumble of T12B behind me so I looked over to see what was going
on. I watched T12B have difficulty getting around a grape hut and try a drive though the complicated wadie system. T12B got hung up in a wadie and he radioed my CS asking for assistance to be recovered and it was granted. While Badger 4 was clearing an area so they could recover T12B, both T12B and Badger 4 came under contact once again from the South by multiple RPG’s and small arms fire.
Once the contact resumed I identified (ID) where the enemy was and informed my CC and I was hoping that that the fact there was a TIC in progress 500 m to our right, he would wake up and provide covering fire. He replied that T12B had everything under control but I could see that T12B was on too much of an angle to use their main gun or coax, so all they had was their personal weapons. I watched with horror as my friends fired back while the Badger 4 tried to clear a lane to recover them. I have never felt so helpless and so mad knowing that something could have been done, I was screaming at my commander to do something.
Once all their ammo was expended they popped their smoke grenades so Badger 4 could hook up to extract them. I felt frantic since I had lost visual of both these CS, until the wind took most of the smoke away and I could see that Badger 4 had hooked up to T12B and was pulling them to safety. After the Op was completed my CC volunteered his CS to help with the extraction of a weapons cache and removal of the dead bodies that were found. The engineers that brought us the ammo cache warned me that a good portion of the ordinance was unstable and to be careful while handling it. I voiced my concerns to my CC and was told in return that “it has to be brought back.” As for the dead bodies we were able to fit two of them on our turrets bins. As we passed the Bison Ambulance I asked why we weren’t turning the bodies over to the medics. Once again the reply I got back was “it has to be brought back.” As we rolled through the village I felt like shit as all the villagers stared at us as we had run out of body bags so everyone could see everything. I lost a lot of trust in my leadership with regards to doing the right thing and on how competent these people are. It angers me that these people are supposed to look out for our best interest and work as a team, not go out to be glory seekers and put our lives at undo risk.
Stand For Thee!
MWO Quilty SM, CSS CSM / ETQMS, NSE Maint Coy, TF 1-07 – Afghanistan
Uniforms, parades and guns
Orders. Forms, salutes, and runs.
Endless days of preparation
As you stand ready for confrontation.
Barely a thought of consequence
Nor concern for where you’re sent.
For as a soldier, EME,
And a Royal, you have learned
To do your duty, without concern.
Whether by chance, or voice divine
Early in life, you stood in line.
A job, a career, or profession
For over 30 years, it’s been my obsession.
Prepared to give your all, and pay the ultimate price,
So that others can live without fear or strife.
Freedom for all, no matter whom –
Muslin, Christian, Jew – and Atheist too!
As I stand, again, for another Ramp Ceremony,
I wonder, how to feel, what to say, lost for words,
Another brother / sister going home in Glory.
To Rwanda, now to Afghanistan, you must go,
Far from Family and friends at home.
As we go to war and bare arms,
It is the Soldier ONLY, who has given us freedom
May God keep us safe, and bring us home unharmed.
ARTE ET MARTE, by skill and fighting
PRO PATRIA, for country.
(excerpt from the 23 Field Squadron book CLEARING THEWAY: Combat Engineers in Kandahar
by Cpl Matt Austin
The sun starts to rise in the east, casting a red hue across the horizon. Yesterday had been quite warm, with temperatures into the high forties leaving the ground still warm to the touch. Today would be no different, with promise of yet another day in the scorching heat of the desert.
Lt Robb was up long before the sun had a chance to crest the horizon. WO Rouzes, Cpl Sit, Cpl Pleasance and Cpl Loder join him in preparing their vehicle for their first patrol – a trip out to Patrol Base Wilson in the Zhari District, west of Kandahar City. Wilson or “PBW,” as it is known amongst the troops, has been under intense and effective mortar attacks recently, the latest of which occurring while 23 Field Squadron’s OC was out on a recce with Niner Tac, the command element of the Battle Group.
The convoy to Patrol Base Wilson is to depart Kandahar Airfield at 8:00 am and to arrive in Patrol Base Wilson at approximately 10:00 am. The day is destined to take a turn for the worse quite rapidly, however, as the planned convoy route leads through a volatile stretch of Highway 1 appropriately named “Ambush Alley.”
“This is gonna be a fucking hot day,” Loder says, walking beside Pleasance to the Squadron Quartermaster’s building.
“No shit,” replies Pleasance. “Is it ever cool here?”
They both keep walking past the North Dining Facility where the ’cooks’ are grilling up something that will be passed off as the morning’s breakfast.
“It’s not even seven and I’m already starting to warm up,” Pleasance comments, watching as a long line of Filipino contractors arrive at the dining facility to the groan of the Australians arriving after them. They walk past a number of odd-looking vehicles and then a few generators, finally arriving at the Squadron Quartermaster’s.
“Hey Randy,” Loder says, seeing Cpl Duggan walking to one of the two Canadian G-Wagons parked beside the building. “Going on a Timmy’s run?” Randy continues to the G-Wagon and opens the door, not stopping.
“Yeah, what do you want?” he offers.
“I’ll take a large double-double,” Loder replies, starting to fish money out of his pocket.
“Actually,” Pleasance jumps in, “make it four large double-doubles and a large black.”
The two continue around the side of the building and enter through the 1 Troop door to find the Warrant and Troop Commander sitting at the desk facing them.
“Warrant, Sir,” Pleasance says, greeting the two of them in turn, and then taking a seat. Loder does the same but remains standing.
“Hey dudes,” Lt Robb retorts, not looking up from the work on his computer.
WO Rouzes gets up from his chair beside the Lt while Lt Robb continues working.
“Morning Pleasance, Loder. We’ll be leaving in an hour for our first time out to Patrol Base Wilson.” He rests his back against the wall and continues, “What I need from you, Sapper Loder, is to get the vehicle ready to move. Make sure the turret is ready to go and go through all your checks.”
Loder nods in agreement, “Understood, Warrant.”
“Also,” the Warrant adds, “We will be getting Cpl Sugrim with us today from 31 Delta, have him help check over things in the back and double check we don’t leave without something we’ll need. After you both are done with the back, give Cpl Sit a hand if he needs it.”
“Got it, Warrant,” Loder says, “how many days of rations do we need?”
“Well.” WO Rouzes thinks, “Make sure we have ninety-six hours of rations, right? Just in case we have to supply some to the other sections.”
WO Rouzes stands up straight, signalling that work is to be done. “So you know what you have to do?”
“Yes Warrant,” Loder replies, excited that in a couple of hours he would be outside the wire.
Loder leaves while Pleasance remains sitting in the office. He has already been outside of the camp a few days ago as the OC’s driver, and even though he is a member of 31 Alpha, he will remain in camp, ready in case the OC has to move.
“So, Pleasance, are you going on a coffee run?” the Warrant asks.
“Already taken care of.” Pleasance says smiling.
“Excellent, I tried the stuff at the mess and it’s junk, you know?” he complains. “You’d think that they could at least make a decent cup of coffee here.”
“Been there, Warrant,” Pleasance agrees sitting in his chair. “Go for a smoke?”
At the vehicle lines both Sgt Grignon’s 31 Delta section and Sgt White’s 31 Echo Section are getting their LAVs ready for the move. Gunners are in the turrets, prepping for the two-hour ride and checking the radios while troops around the back of the vehicle place their kit inside and chat.
Approaching Loder, Cpl Loza says. “Hey, what’s up Loder?”
The other troops are still working behind their two vehicles which are parked beside each other, backs to the fence with the ramps down.
“Hey Loza,” Loder says, walking up to the 31 Alpha LAV driver’s hatch. “How are ya’?”
Loza is beside Loder as he opens the driver’s hatch and ducks his head in, turning on the vehicle.
“I’m doing good buddy, and you?” Loza asks.
The LAV roars to life as Loder hits the ignition. A cloud of black smoke belches from the right side exhaust grill.
“Could be better,” Loder replies, popping back out of the hatch. “But at least we’re getting out of this place today.”
Cpl Sit appears around the front of the vehicle holding a white Styrofoam coffee cup.
“Sup’ fuckers,” he says, looking at both Loza and Loder.
“Holy shit, Tommy” Loder adds. “Look who decides to show up!”
“I was here,” Tommy replies. “I was drinking my coffee over by Delta’s LAV. The coffee here tastes like shit,” he adds.
“No shit,” replies Loza, “that’s why you drink Timmy’s.”
Loder notices the ramp isn’t down and turns to Sit. “Hey Tommy,” he asks, “Can you drop the ramp?”
“Sure thing,” Sit says, climbing up the side of the LAV and reaching inside the hatch.
“Ramp clear?” he shouts out to no one in particular.
Loza takes a step back from the edge of the LAV and looks back towards the ramp and fence.
“Ramp clear, Shawn” he replies.
When the ramp locks are released there is a loud clunk followed by along hiss as the ramp lowers towards the ground. In a fluid motion, Sit backs down out of the driver‘s hatch and pulls out his pack of Marlboro Lights, opening the top and bringing a cigarette to his lips.
“Smoke?” he offers. Loza watches as Sit finishes lighting his cigarette. Taking one long drag, he looks off at ’Three Mile Mountain,’ the closest mountain to Kandahar Airfield, the “home” to well over 5,000 coalition troops who find themselves in Kandahar. In the past, those mountains were a favourite launch-spot for rockets into the camp; now it is scoured daily for insurgents by Coalition security forces.
“Well ladies, I gotta get some work done,” Loza informs them, walking off to Echo’s LAV where laughter could be heard from the back, presumably over some stupid joke at someone’s expense.
“Hey Tommy,” Loder says, “We’re leaving in a little over an hour. Warrant wants you to inspect the vehicle to make sure everything’s ready. If you need help, ask Sugrim.”
It is the duty of the driver to perform a Driver’s Inspection before the vehicle ever leaves the camp. They can be rushed: a quick inspection of the main components, checking fuel and oil. Or they can be detailed to the point where a driver could take several hours inspecting every inch of their vehicle. In this case, Sit has already inspected the vehicle several times in the last few days, and won’t need to check every inch, just the main components. Alpha, Delta and Echo sections have already prepared their LAVs, if for any reason they need to go outside of the camp or “leave the wire.” Engineering equipment is neatly packed in the benches where the troops sit, and behind them against the inside of the hull, held in place by cargo netting or string. Each soldier is instructed to pack a day-bag and sleeping kit, the only real requirements for the field. It is necessary to bring a spare set of combats and quite a few sets of t-shirts, underwear and socks… especially socks. In the hot desert, feet start sweating almost the minute you put your boots on in the morning. Airing out your socks whenever you get the chance yields an interesting fact that sweat is made up of a considerable amount of salt, rendering your now dry sock stiff enough to almost pick up flat. Not changing your socks means Athletes’ Foot for many, skin damage to others. Once continually soaked in sweat for extended periods of time, skin starts to rub off and when discovered normally results in a harsh lecture on personal hygiene. The troops packs many pairs of socks.
Laughter erupts from inside the Echo LAV where a group of engineers have started to gather. 31 Echo is notorious amongst the field squadron for securing the largest selection of men’s magazines, all strapped carefully to the roof inside the back. Sit finishes inspecting the engine and starts confirming kit in the back of the LAV, something he has done countless times in the past.
“Hey Tommy, come take a look at this buddy,” Quesnelle yells out from the back of the Delta LAV.
“Is it porn, Jeff?” Tommy yells back, “I have my own – it’s much more interesting.”
The troops gathered around the ramp of the LAV continue to smoke and joke. This is how the better part of a day can be spent: sitting around joking and reading magazines or books until tasked out by Higher.
Sit looks into the back of the 31 Alpha LAV and runs through a checklist in his head. Finally coming to an incomplete item, he turns and leaves to grab some rations to stock up when Pleasance appears with three boxes of them.
“Here’s 24 hours, Sit. If you need any more, they’re back at the Squadron Quartermaster, just ask Ted.”
WO Ted Gombert is a former airborne sapper who was one of the 72 engineers attached to the Airborne Battle Group before it was changed into the Canadian Airborne Regiment. He jumped with the Regiment up until 1995, when it was disbanded. This was Gombert’s fourth tour, having also served in Bosnia. Now he was in charge of seeing to it that the Squadron had everything it needed plus more – a go-to guy for any sapper.
“Thanks Shawn,” Sit says, taking the boxes and setting them in the LAV. Pleasance continues over to the 31 Echo LAV and Sit turns to walk over to the Squadron Quartermaster when he stops.
“Oh yeah,” he reminds himself. Turning around he yells up to Loder. “Don’t forget to do a comms check, Loder.”
“Yeah, yeah,” is the muffled reply from inside the turret followed by a thumbs up. As the gunner Loder has both radios within arms reach, and as he is qualified on the radios, there is not a better person for the job.
Excitement continues to mount amongst the troops as the time to departnears. This is their first real tasking outside of the wire, the first time they will be put in a situation where the enemy is real and within arms reach. They continue to joke at the back of 31 Echo LAV. Sgt Grignon, hailing from Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec with a passion for heavy equipment and shooting things, is the first to arrive at the vehicle lines. Sergeants usually show up last, often working in the Squadron or Troop Office preparing for a road move or tasking. His second-in-command is already at the back of the 31 Delta LAV when he arrives, delegated to oversee the preparations.
“All right, estie, get to work,” he says. “We leave in an hour and we need to go to the convoy brief at the company lines.”
Convoy briefs are required, formally or informally, before a convoy ever goes outside the wire. Drivers and crew commanders are always present to confirm the details of the route, possible threats, comms frequencies and “actions-on” when an incident occurs, amongst other important information.
Within an hour, Sit, as the 31 Alpha LAV driver, stands beside Robb and Rouzes, the 1 Troop Commander and the Warrant Officer, listening as the details of the route are listed. Sgt Grignon and Sgt White, from 31 Delta and 31 Echo respectively, are there with their drivers and crew commanders as well. For 31 Delta and 31 Echo, their drivers, crew commanders and gunners are all armoured troops from the Royal Canadian Dragoons who have been attached to 23 Field Squadron since work-up training began. The convoy brief ends and the troops walk back to their vehicles, which are parked in a long convoy line circling the compound. A radio check still has to be performed before the convoy can leave at 8:00 am and making sure each vehicle in the convoy can communicate is crucial if there is an incident of any type.
Troops are hanging around outside their vehicles while the radio check is done. The sun isn’t as hot as it would be between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, the peak of the day, but to a troop in full kit, it feels hot enough. Boychuck walks past 31 Delta’s LAV en route to his vehicle further up the convoy.
“Good luck buddy,” MCpl Oland says, looking down at Boychuck from the 31 Delta turret.
“Thanks!” Boychuck replies, smiling. Both he and Cpl Huard, another road move. The G-Wagon is a military vehicle whose civilian counterpart has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $81,000 US. While it is armoured, the troops prefer the protection offered by the LAV or the RG-31. Still, the G-Wagon has a role to play and today Boychuck will be in it.
Finally the time comes for the convoy to start rolling out. It is split into two packets, with the second packet of vehicles being led by engineer assets, notably 31 Alpha, 31 Delta, 31 Echo and the G-Wagon, which will depart a couple minutes after the first packet of vehicles. The troops grab their armour and help each other fit on their equipment. Being the first time out for most troops, they are eager and fresh, wearing nearly every piece of equipment needed in the field. Engines start up as the drivers prep to move. Within seconds there is a symphony of rumbling as troops mount up in the back of their LAVs and other vehicles and then the hisses as ramps close with the troops inside.
“Radio check, can everyone hear me?” Oland asks over the 31 Delta intercom.
“Yes Pete.” Sgt Grignon replies. “And you still sound old.”
MCpl Oland is a little older with a gray moustache to show it. He grew up on the East Coast before joining the forces and carries a distinguished Newfoundland accent around the Dragoons.
“Thanks Sgt Grignon,” Oland quips through the intercom again. “You sound twenty-one yourself.”
The first packet starts to roll forward out of the company vehicle lines and heads towards the Entry Checkpoint, kicking up a cloud of dust that can be traced across the camp. Within a couple of minutes, the second packet starts to roll off the lines and heads towards the checkpoint, chasing the cloud of dust left by the first packet. They continue out past the inner gate as a Canadian soldier on gate duty looks on and head towards the airfield gate manned by the Afghan National Army. Afghan contract workers are coming into the camp in their beat-up Toyotas and buses. They form a long line down the main road out of the camp and are being checked at the gate by the guards.
“That’s a lot of people trying to get in,” Loder notes to Lt Robb in the 31 Alpha turret.
“Yeah, looks like it,” replies Robb, watching the line of cars.
“I hate it how they all stare at you when you pass,” Loder says. The second packet continues to move through the camp, heading in the direction of the Afghan National Army gate. Once they are a few hundred meters from the Canadian-manned gate the order to stop and load weapons is given.
“Alright Dudka, drop ramp,” Sgt White orders over the intercom to the 31 Echo driver once the LAV is stopped. There is a hiss followed by a metallic groan as the pressure drops and the ramp lowers to the pavement.
The troops in the second packet load their weapons. Inside the LAV turrets, the gunners take their 25mm cannons off safe while the crew commanders load the 7.62mm co-axial C6 machine guns. Up top, out of the turret, the crew commanders move on to load their pintle-mounted C6’s while down below the troops load their 9mm pistols. The pistol is a coveted item as it is far better choice to walk around Kandahar Airfield with one than having to lug a rifle. Once complete, the troops take their positions back in their vehicles. The convoy waits until the last troop is loaded up then the ramps are raised with a groan and a slam, shaking loose the dust picked up on the ground. With a hiss, the air breaks are let off and one by one the second packet moves forward towards the Afghan National Army gate. At the front there is an old MiG fighter plane, one of the last remnants of the Afghan Air Force, mounted in an upward arch toward the sky. Air Sentry troops stare at it while driving by, curious that this seemingly medieval country could have had an Air Force at one time. Just past the MiG, the convoy makes a left turn and starts heading up Highway 4 towards Kandahar City. The first packet is visible in the distance and continues through the many Afghan National Police checkpoints along the highway. Continuing to head towards Kandahar City, the packet comes upon a mountain with the words “No Drugs” written into the side with white rocks.
“No drugs,” Oland jokes over the LAV intercom. “Alright boys, lets go home.”
The guys in the back of the 31 Delta LAV laugh as the convoy continues towards Kandahar City. Their trip has already taken around twenty minutes and there is at least an hour of travel left. Finally the first packet reaches the ‘Golden Arches,’ which describes the archway where Highway 4 and Highway 1 from Kabul merge on the eastern side of Kandahar City. It is also a dangerous, high-threat zone for suicide bombers. The radios in all the vehicles come alive. “All call-signs, coming up to the golden arches, high-threat level, out,” Announces the convoy commander.
The first packet closes up the spacing between vehicles and enters the roundabout, coming out on Highway 1 heading through Kandahar City towards Patrol Base Wilson. Inside the vehicles of the second packet, the engineers are a little excited at hearing their first threat warning. This will become their lives on the road moves, in packets and on the offensive – a drawn-out ride into a world they can not see. Some spend the time in the back reading, others staring at nothing, listening to what is happening over the radio and trying to piece together the world outside the LAV. Some are caught up in a memory of back home: lost in a looping remembrance, smiling, sometimes even laughing at a prior happy moment.
The vehicles of the second packet start to enter the roundabout and go through the Arches without a problem. The air-sentries, who are the troops standing in the two roof hatches of the main compartment in order to cover the rear of the LAV, are endlessly scanning the groups of people who have left their homes and compounds to come see the armour moving through their city. The sentries have a more dangerous job at times, being exposed to any potential suicide bomber or roadside bomb. As a trade-off, they are able to enjoy the sights and view an ancient city like Kandahar as their vehicles continue to roll forward towards their objective.
“Don’t let anyone near our LAV, Jaworski,“ Sgt White cautions over the intercom. Jaworski is the section C9 gunner, carrying the section machine gun and ammo. The C9, to the Canadian version of the American M249 SAW, is a favourite amongst troops in combat. It fires linked 5.56 mm rounds at an extremely high rate and it is for this reason that Jaworski is up in the air sentry hatch. As both packets continue to move forward, the soldiers with a vantage point are rewarded with a view of Kandahar City in its entirety. Open-air meat-markets offer large slabs of meat hanging from hooks. Bakeries, specializing in their flat naan bread are everywhere. Separated from these are mechanics, peddling their wares to the many consumers while curiously interspersed are the cell-phone dealers and providers.
Most buildings are made of cheap concrete, with the stores housed in what would appear to be long parking garages, complete with a garage door to be closed when shopping hours are finished. The many markets, some covered by corrugated tin panels of many shapes and colours, are crowded with people and this forces the LAV crews to be extra vigilant in searching for any possible aggressor. As well, some of the smells are unappealing.
“It really smells good out here,” Foulds comments facetiously through the intercom to the rest of 31 Delta. MCpl Foulds is the section’s secondin-command and prefers to be out of the air-sentry hatch. The convoy snakes through Kandahar City towards Patrol Base Wilson, slowing down occasionally as some local drivers are forced to the side of the road by the lead vehicle. Mostly, local Afghans pull over at the sight of armour approaching from the rear and those who don’t see it are given a few blasts of the horn and a frantic arm-waving to move aside by the crew commander before matters escalate.
Moving through the final neighbourhoods of Kandahar City, the buildings start to become sparse and are constructed mostly of mud. Compounds surrounding mud buildings become more frequent and to the right what looks to be a tall apartment building with the top right section blown away can be seen. Afghanistan has been through many wars in the past and this building is yet another sad reminder of the country’s dark history.
“What do you think hit that?” Corbierre questions Mills over the 31 Echo intercom.
Mills keeps staring at the relic building, a magnificent icon of destruction and past battles. “I don’t know, man,” he replies. “Maybe a big bomb?”
“Could have been artillery,” Corbierre suggests, looking back at the road.
Mills looks back down Highway 1 at the many cars that have pulled over for them. He clicks on his intercom, “Anything’s possible, man, anything.”
Vehicle after vehicle moves towards Patrol Base Wilson, passing numerous idling Toyota Corollas on the shoulder. The Toyota Corolla is by far the most popular choice of car in Afghanistan. Quesnelle is sitting in the back of 31 Echo’s LAV, nodding off to sleep as Loza, Pittman and Veinot sit listening to the occasional comment over the radio. The sound of the engine accelerating and decelerating along with its continual hum is making them feel tired and Quesnelle’s eyes close for the first time. “Convoy,” the radio springs to life. “We will be crossing the Arghandab River in a minute. Be advised, this is a high threat area, out.” No one in the Echo LAV is really concerned as the last threat warning didn’t amount to anything. The LAVs continue to roll on and Quesnelle drifts in and out of sleep.
The first packet follows the road’s curve to the right and crosses the bridge. The second packet of vehicles with the engineer assets is a short distance behind. Crossing the bridge, the left side of the road becomes solid vegetation with numerous vineyards and endless fields of marijuana, while abundant homes and compounds occupy the right.
The second packet reaches the bridge across the Arghandab and begins to cross when the radio explodes with chatter.
“Contact, contact, contact!” someone yells over the radio.
Another person comes on. “Ambush left!” they scream.
Quesnelle is now fully awake and staring at Pittman. Pittman looks at the troops, knowing that within seconds they will be in the middle of the ambush as the first packet pushes through.
“Uh-oh, Spaghetti-os,” Quesnelle utters, breaking the silence between them.
Within seconds there is gunfire and the rapid “ta-ta-ta-ta” of the Canadian C6 machine guns. A large bang is heard: Rocket Propelled Grenades being fired at the rolling convoy.
“Shit,” Veinot pronounces to no one in particular, hearing the firefight occurring outside as the LAV continues to speed forward. A loud snap is heard off the left side of the 31 Echo LAV, followed by another. Dust is falling off the roof inside the LAV with each impact, creating a haze in the back with beams of light shining in from the air-sentry hatches.
Pittman looks up at Sgt White and yells “start fucking shooting!”
Veinot and Quesnelle hear this and looking at each other start smiling.
“Yeah, start fucking shooting shit!” Quesnelle yells.
“Shoot everything,” Veinot adds, laughing. “Shoot it all, man,” Quesnelle yells up to Sgt White.
Sgt White continues to look for targets and seeing an opportunity lets off a couple rounds as the LAV rolls on.
Suddenly there is an abnormally large “boom” from the left side of the Echo LAV, sending dust shooting across the back.
Quesnelle looks at himself, and starts patting himself all over and then shrugs. Smiling, he affirms, “Still alive, bro.”
In the G-Wagon, Boychuck is honking furiously at the LAV in front of him. Rocket Propelled Grenades have flown past and the vehicles are taking shots while Huard and he are trying desperately to pull their truck up on the right of a LAV, to protect them from the ambush on their left side. Boychuck keeps honking, getting pissed off.
“These fucking guys won’t let me move to their side!” he yells at Huard, while still hitting the horn. More shots are ringing out as the ambush continues and another “boom” of a Rocket Propelled Grenade is heard.
“These guys are fucking idiots,” Huard declares in exasperation, looking at the two air-sentries at the back of the LAV they are following. Finally, an air-sentry in the LAV understands why Boychuck is trying to get his attention. Boychuck sees him reach down for his intercom button and in a few seconds the LAV rolls over to the left side of the road, allowing Boychuck to use the LAV as cover. In the Alpha LAV, Lt Robb is leading the second packet through the ambush and yells at Loder to rotate the turret left. The 25mm cannon swings quickly left and points out at the ambush side. Inside, Loder is staring at the landscape flying by as the second packet speeds through Ambush Alley.
Another “boom” rings out, followed by a “woosh,” signalling to Lt Robb and Loder that a Rocket Propelled Grenade has come close. “Tings” and “cracks” can be heard on the left side of the hull as enemy rounds impact on the LAV. Sugrim, a Reservist from 48 Field Squadron in Waterloo is riding as the left-side air sentry. He looks around, excited and somewhat scared, bracing his C9 machine gun against the open air-sentry hatch.
“Cpl Sugrim,” the Warrant confirms over the intercom, “if you see anyone out there, you fire.” Sugrim clicks on the intercom to his headset and replies, “Yes, Warrant,” and continues to scan the vegetation flying past. No sooner has he replied when an insurgent pops up from behind a rock. Seeing this, Sugrim puts him in his sights and takes the machine gun off ‘safe’. The insurgent starts to drop back behind the rock but isn’t quick enough and with a loud “braaat,” Sugrim lets loose a burst of rounds, which impact all around the man. The last thing that Sugrim observes is the man’s head dropping behind the vegetation, leaving Sugrim in a grey area, not knowing if he has hit him.
What feels like an eternity is only a matter of a couple of minutes. Exiting Ambush Alley, both packets continue down Highway 1 towards Patrol Base Wilson.
Loder returns his turret to the forward position and stares out through the day-sight. Leaning back, he looks towards Lt Robb and catches his glance. They look at each other not saying anything both thinking the same thing. They have been outside the wire for a little over an hour and people have already tried hard to kill them.