Weapons Ingenuity and Creativity
In February 2008, I was deployed to Kandahar Airfield (KAF), Afghanistan as the Ancillary Platoon Warrant Officer for the Task Force 1-08 National Support Element Maintenance Company. During my handover, I was warned of a recurring problem with the Small Calibre Adapter (SCA) on the RG31 Remote Weapon System (RWS). The SCA is used to mount the C6 Medium Machine Gun in place of a .50 calibre Heavy Machine Gun. There were several incidents when the C6 retaining pin vibrated loose while the vehicle was in motion, allowing the C6 to slide forward in the mount. The forward movement pushes the trigger against the firing solenoid linkage, discharging the weapon.
My predecessor, WO Sonny Sergerie, had instituted a modification to address the problem: white reference lines were engraved on the SCA and the head of the retaining pin so that they were aligned when the pin was locked. The modification provided gunners with a visual cue allowing them to easily assess the state of the retaining pin. Shortly after the handover, I began to hear that RWS gunners were not satisfied with the modification. They were convinced that a problem existed with the SCA, resulting in a loss of faith in the safety of the RWS. Many gunners even refused to ready their C6 when they went outside the wire.
To correctly mount the C6 in the SCA, the retaining pin is pushed through the mount and the rear mounting holes in the C6 receiver. The pin is locked into place by a set screw that travels in a channel engraved in the pin. The pin is pushed through the SCA and C6 and then forced against a spring and turned 45 degrees. Once it is released, the pin moves back and is captured in a secondary part of the channel, locking it into place. A build-up of dirt was a concern, especially in the secondary portion of the mechanism that provides the locking; however, the mounts were well maintained and no evidence of this problem was found. The only other conclusion was that the spring at the head of the pin was not strong enough to retain the pin when it was locked. The problem was addressed to the RG31 project team in Ottawa, but they were not convinced that a problem existed with the equipment; the staff felt that the operators must be at fault instead.
During a patrol to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Frontenac, I noticed an unlocked retaining pin. I inspected it and found it to be serviceable, and the gunner stated he had locked the pin correctly when we left KAF. Unfortunately, the SCAs were not inspected prior to leaving KAF and the gunner’s word held little weight. The incident would do nothing to change the project team’s mind. A short time later, MCpl Kevin Kurschenska deployed on a four-day patrol in an RG31 to conduct inspections and repairs at remote outposts. He discussed the problem with the gunner and watched him conduct his drills. At every opportunity, the gunner would open the hatch to verify the lines on the pin and mount were still aligned. At one point the gunner found the pin had vibrated loose and immediately informed Kevin.
The evidence gathered by Kevin finally convinced the project team and our chain of command that there was an issue with the SCA. Without it, the problem would have continued, placing RG31 crews and others in their vicinity at unnecessary risk. Kevin was awarded the CANOSCOM Commander’s Commendation for his diligence and initiative.
Soon after the patrol, MCpl Kurschenska, Cpl Darryl Phillips, Cpl Al Small and Cpl Greg Wiens solved the problem by drilling a transverse hole through the end of the retaining pin (the end that sticks through the mount when it is installed) and placed a C6 Armoured Recovery Vehicle gas regulator clip through the hole. This prevented the retaining pin from moving. The clip was secured to the side of the mount using a cable (intended for the ongoing 25 mm bridge plate modification) screwed to the side of the SCA. The team adapted a bench-mounted RWS, installed the modified SCA, and confirmed their modification with a live fire trial at the KAF range. Upon successful completion of the test, Sgt Dan Ferland and Cpl Phillips wrote modification instructions. The modification was simple, used existing parts and took 30 minutes to install. All of the SCAs in theatre, including spares, were modified within a week, quickly restoring operator confidence in the equipment. The ingenuity, creativity and the speed of implementation, from concept to fielding, demonstrates the truly impressive abilities of our technicians and the Corps.
Counter-insurgency with HMCS Protecteur
OS HMCS Protecteur Jamie Vandelft
I flew to Greece as an Ordinary Seaman to meet up with Protecteur in May 2008, and deployed with the ship until the completion of its tour in support of the Afghanistan mission. I was very anxious to join the ship, and to get involved – to support the mission in Afghanistan by doing refuelings and counter-insurgency on the seas.
Our main priority for counter-insurgency was to cut off the supply of drugs and guns leaving/coming into the country. Although our ship was a supply ship, we were still very capable of hunting down vessels with our boarding team. In between patrols and boardings, we would often leave the area of operations to fuel other ships: German, Turkish, Pakistani, Americans, French etc. Over-all a very good first experience with the RCN.
We had just left the area of operations, and started to head home. We stopped at the city of Chennai, India. The near-by town was affected by the tsunami that occurred earlier that year, so our ship thought it would be a great oppourtunity to help with the construction of their school! This was such an awesome experience – to be able to help others that do not have the luxury of heavy equipment, and just sheer man-power. Although we had to dig the foundation with make-shift shovels, more akin to a back-hoe…many hands make light work. The Indian people were extremely friendly and accommodating. The kids were delightful! One thing that stands out for me was when I gave the kids ice to “play” and it was evident after just a minute that the kids had never felt ice before. They were so amazed by how it melted in their hand! It’s little things like this that made this occasion very memorable and meaningful.
A Naval Officers Story
Raymond S. Trotter, Lieutenant, Royal Canadian Navy
As a newly promoted Naval Lieutenant, I was shocked and in grief to learn of Captain Matthew Dawe’s death in the line of duty while serving in Afghanistan. I was a friend and classmate of Matt during our years at the Royal Military College (RMC). One of the bonuses of being an RMC graduate was that I not only had a wide range of friends in the Naval environment, but among the ranks of the Army and Air Force as well. I had a good deal of friends serving, training to serve or just finished serving in Afghanistan.
Matt’s death had sparked something in me, which made me feel that I had to do my part too. Sure, it was mainly the Army’s fight but I was confident there was something I could do to help so that an Army Captain didn’t have to return for a third, fourth or fifth tour. I submitted a request through my Chain of Command in HMCS VANCOUVER to fill any position I could. In short order, I had received a tasking and was off to the orderly room to book plane tickets, then home to tell my girlfriend (now wife and mother of my two young boys) that I was shipping out. She was less than happy but understood why I was volunteering.
I arrived in Petawawa, ON on the 7th of January 2008. I spent the next 8 months learning the ropes as the Adjutant of the All Source Intelligence Centre (ASIC). The learning curve was steep, but not insurmountable. Due to the gap between Navy and Army lingo, I was essentially learning to speak a new language. The quarters were tight and the harsh Petawawa winter was vastly different from that of Victoria, BC. Luckily, I was able to rely upon those friendships I had formed at RMC and was able to escape from barracks on occasion to visit their homes for a pint and whatever NHL game was playing that night. After much training and unit movements to Texas, Wainwright and Kingston in preparation for deployment; we left for theatre to relieve the current in theatre ASIC. I landed at Kandahar Air Field (KAF) on the 11th of September 2008; an ominous date considering why we were there in the first place. I was tired and needed a shower. Our first stop was temp accommodations. Over the next three days, I learned the ropes of the in theatre Adjutant, which was vastly different from the pre-deployment responsibilities.
The eight months of pre-deployment training away from my home and girlfriend, followed by the eight months of deployment was more mentally challenging than physical. My role was not outside the wire, rather to ensure that those who were in harm’s way had the necessary tools to successfully do what they needed to do and get back safe. KAF life wasn’t always a walk in the proverbial park. Rocket attacks were frequent, with one missing a buddy and I overhead by mere meters. I would never try to liken my experience there to that of an infantry soldier went on operations and cleared areas by force; but my experiences took a mental toll. Again, it was not insurmountable.
Coming back to the Navy posed a great deal of challenges. Soldiers coming back to Petawawa had their colleagues and peers who went through the same experience to rely upon. Coming back to Victoria, we were few and far between. Over the years, my relationship with those from theatre have waned and I have had to re-learn Jack-speak but I will never allow myself to diminish my experience because my position kept me inside the wire. I wanted to do my part and I am satisfied with how it all turned out.
Mon séjour à Sperwan Ghar
CPO1 Mario Richard
Je me suis rendu en octobre 2007 en plein bastion taliban, dans l’une des régions les plus volatile de la province de Kandahar. Une chose qui frappe immédiatement en arrivant par hélicoptère sur cette base opérationnelle avancée, c’est l’odeur de marijuana des champs environnant le camps. située dans la dangereuse région de Panjwahi, au sud-ouest de la ville de Kandahar, la base de patrouille de Sperwan Ghar est en territoire taliban et a connu plusieurs combats avec les forces de la coalition depuis plus d’un an.
À Sperwan Ghar, en plus des fantassins qui effectuent des patrouilles dans la région, il y a l’artillerie qui poivre quotidiennement les insurgés à plusieurs kilomètres. Quand on regarde du plus haut point d’observation du camps, qui offre une vue impressionnante sur la région, on voit des hameaux de maison de terre, des murs qui serpentent les champs de raisin et de marijuana. ce sont là des cachettes idéales pour les talibans. ils profitent de ces endroits pour lancer des attaques sur le camps et les routes de la régions. les insurgés se dissimulent très bien parmi la population de la région. ils profitent de leurs influences pour intimider la population local.
une fois durant notre souper, on a eu droit à des tirs d’une arme venu d’un champ près de notre camp, ce genre d’intimidation est monnaie courante. depuis la fin de Ramadan, il y a quelques semaines, c’est la fin des récoltes et tous les Afghans y travaillent avant que le temps froid arrive.
Occasionnellement des troupes canadiennes assistent à des shouras. La shoura est une sorte de conseil municipal. réunissant ensemble des hommes des villages de la région, ces assemblé sont le temps pour les forces de la coalition de prendre contact avec les chefs tribaux et les sages des villages et d’offrir de l’aide s’il y a besoin. les femmes restent à l’écart, principalement dans l’enceinte de leurs demeures. notre personnel médical féminin canadienne du camps leur rend visite durant des shouras et elles échangent quelques mots. on leur amènent des produits d’hygiène et des jouets pour les enfants.
J’aimerais souligner les réalisations durables accomplie pas les militaires canadien dans le sud de l’Afghanistan. Plusieurs projets ont été réalisés durant notre mission. avec l’effort de tous et à différents niveau (militaires, diplomates ou chefs de village), le sud de l’Afghanistan profitera des aménagement réalisés parfois grâce à de simples solutions.la construction s’effectuer avec les travailleurs locaux et des matériaux provenant des environs. Trois types de programmes ont vu le jour depuis l’arrivée des forces internationales, soit au niveau de développement, de la sécurité et de la gouvernance.
L’un des projets important fut la construction d’une chaussée dans la région de L’Arghandab qui a permis une meilleur circulation sur une route normalement inondé par les rivières environnantes. Ce projet avait une importance particulière car il était l’un des seuls produits tangibles de l’effort de reconstruction de la Forces opérationnelle internationale (FOI) en Afghanistan, dans le district de Zhary-Panjwaji. Plus près de mon domaine, les membres du programmes d’Action médicales civile ont effectué de nombreuses visites en région rurale afin de venir en aide à cette population dans le besoin.
Sgt Doug Dutchession, Feb 14-Sept 2 2008
My name is Sgt Doug Dutchession and I am a military driver, or MSE-Op and my story is pretty plain, but worthy of telling! I was in Afghanistan from Feb 14-Sept 2 2008.
“In the Spring of 2007 I was posted to CFB Borden and my Wife and I were raising our son, who was only 2 and a half at the time. One day at work my boss called me in his office and said `you`re qualified Bison` (armoured vehicle). I said yes…he said well we put your name in for Afghanistan! I was a bit floored. But at the time, I wanted the tour and the experience. It turns out the army was very short on support trades to go overseas. So Borden sent roughly 35 Logisticians and mechanics..we were all Voluntold. That meant we left Borden and flew to Edmonton for training.
When were we returning to Borden to see our families was never told to us. Not to me anyway. In Edmonton we did a few exercises, and some training, but for the most part we sat around and did very little. So there I was, thousands of Km away from my family, in a barrack block room with 3 other guys, and doing nothing at the unit I was augmenting. Some of the training was useful, but most of the time we just sat around and did nothing! I was furious that I was separated from my family for no apparent reason. I have a house in Ontario, a Wife and kid, and I`m living in a tiny room, and stuck with no vehicle to do anything. Meanwhile those that lived in Edmonton got to go home at the end of the day, and had the weekend off.
Thankfully we were able to fly home a couple of times, but after coming back, our claims took forever to get done up. The OR was swamped!
We did do a few exercises like I said, and I was only a Cpl at the time, so I trained as a Cpl. So I drove convoys etc.
The day before Christmas leave, all of the augmentees still had no word on when we would be able to fly home. That was the most stressful time for me. I felt no one cared about me and my situation. Finally on that Friday we were able to book our flights. My Wife was a wreck, because I had no idea when I was going to becoming home! It was such a stress on her too.
Deploying in February 2008 on TF 1-08 I had already spent about 7 months away from my family. so needless to say my enthusiasm was already gone. In Afghanistan I was sent to Spin Boldac which was alright. We had it fairly good there!
Eventually I went back to KAF, and started driving convoys out to all the FOBs. We were very busy, and the days were long. After driving, dismounting and doing searches, we arrived at the FOB and then had to really get to work. Unloading sea containers, loading containers, transferring water, chaining down the loads in the hot sun. While we did this, the force protection would generally find some shade, and nap…..then, we had to drive back to KAF.
One of the section commanders had to go home because of a medical condition, so it was decided to promote me( I was due anyway) and take his section over. Remember when I did the training in Edmonton, I did it as a Cpl! I had to take a leap and try my best hoping the entire time I was doing a good enough job.
My favourite memory as a convoy commander was when there was a civilian truck blocking the road. The area had seen mortar strikes recently, and I was aware that there could be an ambush. The trouble was we had a tractor trailer with a bulldozer on it with the blade sticking out on each side about a foot. With this truck blocking the road, and chicanes just beyond it I decided to tell the driver of the tractor to hug the road on the right and cut it hard to the left when he got to the first barrier. We made it, and I like to think we didn`t get ambushed as a result.
When we were in Cyprus, 3 Patricias were killed in Afghanistan. Most of our kit was left in Cyprus so the bodies could be put in. We landed in Trenton(originally it was supposed to be Winnipeg) and de-planed. During the ramp ceremony we were watching the families, and a little boy was clutching a white teddy bear. The Defence Minister and the Governor General went through our ranks and shook our hands after the ceremony. There I was standing at attention when the GG Michelle Jean stopped to talk to me. She asked where I was from…then I started to tear up She put her hand on my shoulder and asked if I had a family. `Go home to them` she said. I did my best not to burst into tears. She said ` I know I know`. I`ll never forget that little boy holding his teddy bear.
Once home I developed depression, and jumped at the tiniest of sounds. Eventually I was diagnosed with PTSD. I kept asking the Dr `why!? I was never involved in anything that was super traumatic!`. He reminded me that the constant stress of being overseas, being away from home, and the threat of IEDs every time we went out of the wire were factors. I was, and still am embarrassed by having PTSD. Why me?
I can tell you to this day I feel like the world around me is going to explode. Everything around me might blow up my mind thinks…That sucks.
My experience there though did teach me how little respect the support trades get. I was interviewed by Matthew Fisher, and told him that we are like Cinderella…We do all the chores and hard work but don`t get any credit. The battle group gets the photographers and the videographers. Not us. How many videos are there of the Transport drivers loading a last minute much needed mine plow at 2130. Or being spooled up in the middle of the night to drive to PBSG because their fuel bladder was leaking? I respect the front line units very much. They bore the brunt of the war. But how much mention was there of the action behind them? Any talk of the mechanics, or truckers? I don`t think there was enough…but that`s my opinion!!”
Skids to Firewood
MS Ron Coit, Kandahar 2007-08
I was in Kandahar province at a FOB (UN NAMED ) from November 2007 to May 2008. In between patrols and ducking a few rockets and bullets we had to also pull security on the gates. It was a pretty quiet duty and it let you see just how good we have it in Canada.
Just as the really chilly weather was coming on we were told absolutely no metal was allowed out of camp. In the evenings we would have a fire in the fire pit and relax after a long day. We would burn skids from the supplies delivered to the FOB and there were lots piled up around the POL point.
I was on duty one morning when one of our local guards came up to me and said there was a problem. Now please understand I do not speak Pashtun and 99 percent of the locals did not speak English. So I went with him to the search area. One of the workers in the camp had been taking skids home to heat his house. He would cut them up and use them to heat his house. He would pile 20 or so, on his truck, strap them down and drive home. He would also sell some wood to his neighbors for extra cash to buy food. With the new rules of no metal allowed out of our FOB we could not allow him to leave with the skids.
I have never seen a man so distraught over something that to us is a minor issue. Since no one could really understand what he was saying we sent for our interpreter. When he arrived the old man spoke for a couple of minutes and you could see the anxiety in his eyes. Our interpreter told us that he needed the wood to heat his home and care for his family. He was crying because he had sold most of his wood to pay for food and with the cold weather coming he would freeze in the winter.
At this point we were burning 6-8 skids a night in the fire pit. So I went to find the camp Sergeant Major. He was a pretty gruff old guy but his heart was in the right place. So I asked him what we could do for the guy. He said if we cut up the skids and made sure no metal was in them the old guy could have them. I went back to the gate to talk to the old man. I told him no wood today but tomorrow at lunch he was to come to the POL point and we would cut up as many skids as we could and he would be allowed to take them home. The old man broke down crying and was very grateful.
So the next day at lunch I grabbed a couple of guys and we cut up a great pile of skids for the old guy. He was so happy he was crying.
The next day was my day off but at 0600 I was summoned to the gate and the old guy was waiting. He gave me a small cloth bag and in it was a small doll and a bag of traditional sweets. The interpreter said this was a gift from him for helping him. I thanked him and took the bag back to my rack. I later spoke with the interpreter and he said the doll was probably from his daughter. It was probably her only doll.
My niece has that doll now. But I will never forget how something as simple as firewood could mean so much to a family.
Christmas in Kandahar: We’ll make the best of it
Captain Christine Salt, Wednesday, December 24, 2008 9:00:00 EST AM
Christmas Day will be a little different for me this year. I won’t be celebrating at home with my family. There won’t be snow on the ground.
Although I’ll likely get a Christmas turkey dinner, it will be nothing like Mom’s, with the homemade perogies we spent all day making in the fall, helped along with a few bottles of wine. No opening of presents Christmas Day, with an anxious niece grabbing all the big ones in the hope that they are for her. In fact, it’s even been rumoured that Santa will be late.
All this aside, I am still anxiously awaiting that magical day and carrying on as many traditions from home as I can. My bed space is decorated with cards and an Advent calendar. My presents, sent with love by my family, have been safely locked away by a tent-mate until the morning of the 25th. Christmas lights, trees and garland can be seen everywhere. Cards addressed to “Any Canadian Soldier” are arriving by the hundreds. I’m even planning on going to midnight mass.
I may not be with my family this year, but I am lucky enough to be spending Christmas with many friends who are in the same boat. I plan to wake up early to see what was packed into my stocking and to open my gifts.
My tent-mates probably won’t be too impressed, but I’m sure offerings of whatever food I’ve been sent and a couple of coffees from Tim Hortons will calm them. I’ve warned my family that they can expect a very late-night or early-morning phone call so I can thank them all, and then another one on Boxing Day to hear what they got. Thankfully, Santa did come a little early to give us some extra minutes of free phone time. I am doing what I can to make this a good holiday.
I will be lonely here, and I suspect many others will be too. Christmas is not the same when you’re away from home. I’m 33 and this is the first time I will not be with my parents at this wonderful time of the year.
This holiday season, take a moment to really enjoy the time spent with family and friends. Take some time, also, to remember those of us who, for whatever reason, can’t make it home. But don’t feel sorry for us. We’ll find our own way to make it a very special holiday season.
By the way, the weather report for Christmas Day here forecasts that the temperature will be a chilly 19 degrees Celsius.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
Afghanistan Front Line Policing
Marcia Coelho, Corporal, Canadian Military Police, December 2008
P-OMLT members live side by side with Afghan Police in small Police Detachments throughout Zharey District. This is the “front line” of the conflict in Afghanistan as these Canadian Police Mentors share the shame austere conditions as their Afghan Police counterparts, as well as the same risks. Interspersed with regular classes on numerous police topics such as searching persons, vehicles and compounds, Afghan Law and Community Policing, are regular foot patrols in the surrounding areas. This is as close as it gets to what the average Canadian would understand to be police “walking the beat”. Patrols make an effort to encourage Afghan Police to speak with the local population and engage local village elders and leadership to address issues important to the local population, from ongoing criminal activity in the area to reconstruction projects.
Compared to Police Patrols in Canada, P-OMLT patrols in Afghanistan are much more robust in order to be prepared for and able to deal effectively with any eventuality. While the intent of the joint patrols with both Canadian Mentors and Afghan Police is to show a police presence and not to look for a fight, P-OMLT mentors are well-trained and well equipped to finish one if necessary. As police patrols become increasingly more frequent as Afghan Police become better equipped and trained, P-OMLT and their Afghan colleagues are having an increasing effect on stabilizing the areas surrounding Police Detachments in Zharey District. This increasing confidence of the local community in the legitimate Afghan Government by encouraging locals to come to Police Detachments to report crimes, complaints, as well as ongoing insurgent activity, has been a catalyst for both Afghan National Army and ISAF operations to disrupt Taliban operations in the District.
Cultural differences between Canadian/Western and Afghan;
There are many obstacles Canadian mentors have faced. Canadian mentors and Afghan police possess different cultural norms and concepts regarding many things such as religion, ethics and time management. These differences must be understood and accommodated. The Afghan police are a gracious and receptive group who seem to hold a great deal of respect for Canadians. However, Afghan society is an honour based society and the slightest transgression can easily damage established relationships. In order to avoid this, it is important that Canadian mentors are capable of avoiding the potential pitfalls of frustration, indifference and prejudice. Canadians receive a great deal of training which includes Afghan culture in order to perform their tasks with sensitivity and professionalism.
It took time and effort to establish trust and come to agree on training, duties and mission priorities. Mentoring the Afghan Police has been a rewarding experience. On patrols and during other operations, we see the Afghan police respond to the training by incorporating the lessons and tactics that they have learned from their mentors. Afghan police are like Canadians when it comes to development. They respond to good examples, strong leadership, rewards, trust and respect. When Afghan members perform well, others will strive to emulate those examples in order to gain recognition from their mentors.
Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT)
Maj. Slade G.J. Lerch, Apr 2008, Task Force 1-08 OMLT Feb-Sep 2008.
In 2008 I deployed to Afghanistan with the Task Force 1-08 Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT). The OMTL’s role was to partner with the Afghan National Army (ANA); advise on training and deploy with them on operations. In the field OMLTs rode in mine resistant RG-31s (RG) with four to six men, along with our Afghan counterparts. On 15 April my team went on a patrol in support of another team (71D) and their partnered ANA Company, stationed in Ma’ Sum Ghar (MSG), in Panjwayi. It was policy to deploy with at least two coalition vehicles. If one vehicle suffered a catastrophic hit, the second vehicle would have the communication systems available to coordinate support. On that day our mission was to generate insurgent interest and activities in the Taliban-friendly town of Nakonay. This would allow us to gauge the enemy’s response to coalition movement in the area.
To accomplish this, 71D led us to a field within about 1200 meters of the Nakonay where we feinted a vehicle break-down. The driver of the lead vehicle got out, and lifted the hood and began to mimic repairs. The remainder of us dismounted and established a cordon around our convoy of two RG-31s and 3 ANA Ford Rangers. We stayed in location for about an hour before we began our return trip. My vehicle was last in the order of march and within a few 100 meters, around the village of Alkowzi, 71D’s RG hit an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). As the last vehicle in the order-of-march, I called in an ‘IED Contact Report’ but amended it to a ‘Contact Report’ after I saw ANA fire on a grape hut. Observing fire from the grape hut, I issued a fire control order to the gunner and ordered my RG to move forward to support the fight.
My second-in-command (2IC), WO Paul Holwell and MCpl Woods immediately dismounted and fired on the enemy. I could see at least three separate insurgent muzzle blasts from in and near the grape hut. Expecting the lead team was dead, I gave directions to the driver and gunner to support our ground movement and relay Situation Reports (Sit Reps) from me to our Headquarters (HQ). I dismounted and moved forward to the destroyed RG. When I got to 71D’s vehicle, the team 2IC, WO Chuck Cote was out and fixing a damaged C6 in an effort to provide suppressing fire. He told me the team leader was still in the vehicle and ‘pretty fucked up.’ I told him I was taking over as ground force commander and relayed the same message over my radio. I decided it would be best to manoeuvre on the enemy as soon as possible with the forces we could muster. From the lay of the ground a left flanking was the best option. I relayed a Sit Rep to my RG, and issued orders to those around me. WO Cote acknowledged and continued to control the Fire Base, while I and a few other Canadians began to muster ANA to participate in the assault.
I identified a small shack between us and the objective as the Attack Position. From there we would make our final bound to the enemy position. Around that time, the 71D team leader came out of the damaged RG looking disoriented and dazed. I told him I had taken over and that I needed him in my RG to relay Sit Reps to higher. He agreed and moved to my vehicle, where he remained, relaying my Sit Reps and other reports for the remainder of the event.
When we had enough men assembled I led the assault group (3 Canadians and about 4 ANA and an unarmed interpreter) over a wall to the Attack Position. WO Holwell threw a smoke grenade and we took the final bound to the objective. Once there I tossed in two grenades and we assaulted into the grape hut. Unfortunately, the insurgents had fled and the hut was empty, but the fire on our convoy had ceased. As we were clearing the objective, a casualty was reported in the Fire Base. We completed our search and returned to the road. Still in some disarray we worked to establish ‘all-round-defence’ and with help from WO Holwell and WO Cote the ANA complied. Concurrently WO Cote collated a 9 Line casevac request, and relayed it through the RG to our Headquarters.
Once the casualty was evacuated, we remained in location, until the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) arrived. When they arrived, I met the commander, Major Adams (T29) and gave him a Sit Rep and his force took over the local defence. The QRF was well equipped and our damaged RG was soon loaded onto a coalition truck and we returned to MSG without incident.
Excerpt from “FOB Doc”
Major Ray Wiss, M.D., January 19th, 2008 – The FOB Connection
Two days ago, on January 17th, we received four more casualties from yet another IED strike against one of our vehicles that had been performing mine-detection duties. Fortunately they were all minor contusions and abrasions.
We discharged two of them after an assessment and a few x-rays. The other two, including the one I was responsible for, were admitted overnight for pain management. They were both feeling much better yesterday morning and were discharged. The plan was to have them spend a week in KAF eating ibuprofen and doing physiotherapy, after which they would return to their units.
This evening, I was called back to the hospital. The patient I had admitted had returned and been re-admitted last night. He was in rough shape emotionally. He had had a number of nightmares and had been unable to sleep since his discharge. As he was being interviewed, he complained of a number of bizarre symptoms such as total body itching and he had a fainting spell. It was obvious that he was suffering from what we call CSR, a combat stress reaction.
We have a psychiatrist here as well as a couple of mental health nurses so you might be wondering why I was called. The reason will probably stay with me as the single proudest moment of my entire deployment. The patient had specifically requested to talk to me, stating: “Captain Wiss knows me. He was on the FOB with us. He knows what it’s like out there.”
More than any medals or accolades, those words from a front-line trooper will be the most significant reward I will receive for my service here.
I immediately went to his bedside and we sat and talked for the better part of an hour. It was only when I saw him again that I remembered he had come to FOB Leopard towards the end of my time there and that I had photographed him and his vehicle. This is a classic example of how doctors sometimes “disconnect” from the patient to focus on their job.
I did all of the usual things you do in encounters of this kind, but there was one thing I said that seemed to help more than anything else. I told him that he had, in all likelihood, saved the life of several of his comrades. I joked that setting off the mine with the vehicle was perhaps not the best way to do his job, but in the final analysis he had accomplished his mission. I asked him whether anybody else had pointed that out to him. No one had, so I re-emphasized it. By exposing himself more than anyone else, he had protected his buddies. I am not sure I would have thought of that had I not served on the FOB.
As much as we all want to come back alive from this war, the feeling of brotherhood we have with each other in the field makes us care more about our buddies than about ourselves. It took several minutes for what I had said to sink in. Ever so slowly, I watched as his fear turned to pride.
Postscript, January 20th. The patient was doing much better the following morning. All of his bizarre body sensations had resolved and he had not had any further nightmares. He was given his discharge from the hospital and will be returning to his unit after a few more days of rest.