Life in the Sandbox (McAllister Blog Excerpts)
Supt Joe McAllister, RCMP. CivPol, 2007-2009
Well, day 5 in the sandbox. Where to start? KAF is a giant military base with dirt and dust for as far as you can see. Lots of construction as we are here for the long haul. Pretty cool, mind you, wandering around with all sorts of military vehicles and the like.
Ok, I’ll start at the beginning. For many reasons I can’t always elaborate on everything. Operational Communication security rules. If I do they ban me and I don’t want to get banned. So if I’m sometimes vague I’ll fill you in when I get back in a year. Yes I’m here for a year.
Arrived in Dubai late at night so saw little coming in. I stayed there 3 days so that was nice to break in. Went on a couple road trips into Dubai. First day was the two big malls. Interesting as I wanted to see the indoor ski hill. I still think west edmonton mall has them beat with all its attractions. Day two I went to a beach in front of one the big resorts. We have a deal to go there. Typcial swim up bar in the pool, nice sandy beach with all the trappings. The fun part is the camel walking up and down the beach looking for someone to ride him. I didn’t bring my camera that day so you’ll have to take my word.
Did the Remembrance Day ceremony on base which was very cool. 5 nations represented and very different being among military so close to the war zone.
Flew into KAF among 70 plus soldiers in the back of a Herc aircraft. Man these things are just workhorses. They crammed us and a ton of gear in. Again pretty cool surrounded by people who are going into the thick of it. I was duly impressed with our Canadian military machine.
Supt. Joe McAllister and the Deputy Commanding Officer, Major Louis Carvello, standing in front of the Blue Mosque. This Mosque holds the shroud of the Prophet and is a very holy site here in Kandahar.
Arrived KAF to be met by my contingent commander who toured me around – first to get passes, then fill in 400 forms and find my office. I’ll tell you that story later. Then of course off for the obligitory Tim Hortons coffee. Yes the boardwalk is full of life. Tim’s, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, numerous little stores. Also an outdoor hocky rink, big dirty dusty soccer field and beach volley ball courts. Pretty cool hangout and I’ve met tons of Canadians there.
First two days encompassed a conference of all the provinces in the south. We discussed where we’ve been, where we are going and how to get there. Lots of challenges and the consensus was it won’t be easy but we’ll continue to strive towards that goal. The truth is if we don’t stay here for 10 plus years we are kidding ourselves about how this will end. But great conference of 30 plus military heads and 3 cops. At the end, mind you, they all looked to us to see where we thought it should progress from fighting the counter insurgency towards civilian policing. It was fun.
I have great accommodations in the Canadian area, beside Canada house, that has a little store with some trinkets, clothes and entertainments. Three T.V.s, little movie theatre, ping pong tables etc. Directly across the street is the gym, a giant quonset hut filled with everything you want in a gym – spin classes everyday, aerobics etc. Haven’t done the run around the base yet but that will come. Three big mess halls and the food is actually quite good. They have different themes around them, European, Mediterranean and North American, so you can shop around. Certainly plenty of it.
Had a rocket attack on the base two nights ago. I heard this weird noise and thought my air conditioner was acting up then heard some doors banging and realized it was the air raid siren. None of us knew what to do so I went to the gym. They shoo’ed us out into the bunkers, big slabs of cement. We alll huddle under waiting for the all clear. Now these rockets are about as accurate as a weather man’s forcast. Terry Taliban apparently straps these things together, puts them on a timer and hopes for the best. They have hit a building before but this time landed somewhere uninhabited. Pretty interesting all in all.
Unfortunately we had 2 soldiers killed in action and three others wounded. I attended my first ramp ceremony tonight at sunset. A very sobering thought of what our guys and girls are truely up to. All so very young as well, I look around and think how sad it truely is. But they are fighting for a good cause to make this place right again after 30 years of war and conflict.
I’m off this week to our PRT camp for some orientation. I’ll be visiting some projects and police stations and seeing how it actually works. My role is Senior Civilian Police advisor to R.C. south so I had better get some quick knowledge on how things work around here. I’m the only civillian police on this base of several thousand military people. The looks I get are pretty funny and the Tim Hortons folks love me as it make it feel like home.
Supt. Joe McAllister with Afghan Minister of the Interior, Mr Atmar.
I’ll try to capture some more images later. Have to do some prep for tomorrow and another meeting with my boss at 20:30. Military think we all like to work late.
So far so good, I am looking forward to this. Very different from my other missions but I think it will be great. I’ll try to find one of those photo sites to start loading photos within the next week or two.
So its been a week already. My how time flys when you are in the desert. Second rocket attack last night, missing again thank goodness. Its completely amazing how nonchalant so many people take this. I actually heard this one come in and it landed north of the airfield.
So I’m slowly but surely figuring out the military acronyms. They have them for everything and I guess it saves space on the reports. You need a course in them, mind, as just when you think you’ve got the hang off it they hit you with LOO. Anyone want to guess.
Lines of Operation.
Anyhow. A brief note on who is over here and what we are doing and why. There are 15 RCMP over here. 4 are in Kabul working at the embassy, training and mentoring and one is with EUPOL, the European Police mission that is supposed to oversee all policing aspects. Two Superintendents, one staff and one Sgt.
Down here in the south there are 10 at the KPRT (Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team) and me here in KAF (Kandahar Airfield). The lads at the KPRT are the ones who do the training, mentoring, quick response and work closely with the ANP (Afghan National Police). They develop lesson plans based on needs, go out with the military to assist and mentor at crime scenes and teach and mentor when the opportunity arises. Much of their work is dependent on the security situation, as well there are several other government agencies here doing work that need escorts. Yes we go nowhere without our military. We have a mix of American and Canadian at the PRT and here at KAF we have every nation you can think of but mostly British, American and Canadian for our roles.
While the majority of Canada’s effort is in Kandahar I also work for RC South, (regional Command South) which encompasses the provinces (east to west) Nimroz, who has no one in there, Helmand run by the British, Kandahar, ours, Zabol run by Romanians and Oruzgan which the Dutch own. RC South Military command rotates every 9 months or so and the next rotation in Feb see’s a Canadian General take over. Each task force relates up to this command who in turn report to ISAF in Kabul.
The policing reform is run slightly differently. The USA being the largest donor has a big say in this mission. Through them is CSTC-A. (Combined security transition command-Afghanistan). The run Task Force Pheonix who then run all the training centers in all the regions. Most of the formal lesson plans for Afghan police have to be vetted through the State departments office then they can be taught. Thats the theory anyhow.
So, where are we. The past 3-4 years have been fully focused on the military with little attention paid to the police. The tragedy being the police were and still are in the front line to fight the counter insurgency. Its actually written into their mission statement. So that being said, being poorly trained, or untrained, lack of weapons, lack of support they were easy prey for TT. (Terry Taliban as they are known in these parts). Attrition through desertion and killed was staggering. Everyone realized (a tad late but better late than never-except for those killed) that things needed serious changing. The ANA (Afghan National Army) is doing quite well so now the whole focus is on the police. There is a radical plan, but a good one, to retrain the entire force. Yes I said the entire force. Which if the count is correct is 150% of the RCMP size and they want to increase to 82,000 by 2010. Tall order. Their recruiting and vetting process is slightly different district to district but its their home. While many here want to push our ideas and concepts on them the smart ones know its an Afghan solution for Afghan people that will work in the long run.
So this training process will take 7 years if all goes well, more than likely 10. That’s what we all discussed last week. So the strategies myself and others are working on is what do we do for them now. That’s the key.
In our area we have key districts you hear about on the news. Kandahar city, Panjway, Zhari, Shawali Kot, Maywand. These are key districts we are shooting for success in.
Sound daunting? It is. I think the other missions I was on were a cake walk compared to this. Climate, culture, illiteracy at 85%, abject poverty, security and mobility are all working against us. Yet I spent 3 days at the PRT with our guys and they are keen to make it work. The military is keen to make it work and everyone I’ve spoken to from various agencies are keen to make it work. So, with a positive attitude we’ll be like the little red ant who thinks he’ll move that rubber tree plant.
Well a month has flown by. My time flies by when you are in a war zone. I decided to take a short break to learn a little more about my environment, the players, the people, and the history. I think I have a fairly good perspective of what is going on on the ground and will devote a lot of this letter talking about the Afghan National Police, how they exist, train, work and live. I’m sure by the end of this you’ll be as amazed as I am that the bear dances at all.
So in the past few weeks I’ve been to Kabul, the nations capital. Kabul is a bit of a different world than the south. Big city, big traffic, people, donkeys, cars, everywhere. Yes I said donkeys. And they don’t signal turns. Not that anyone else does but come on. And there are no lines in the road, no real rules, lots of horn honking and its everyone for himself. Mind you we were always in a fully armoured vehicle so we tended to get a bit of room, but only a bit. When every cab is a potential threat you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s usually a bulletin out daily to watch out for a SVIED and happened right behind our embassy the day before our arrival. Funny enough it just becomes common place and you deal with it. The unfortunate part for us is we really only saw the city behind armoured glass and never got out to see and meet the people. Which is truely sad.
About 5-6 million people inhabit the city that was built and designed for about 2 million, on a good day. Mind you we were fortunate to stay in the lap of luxury. If you Google the Serena Kabul you’ll see what I mean. During our stay we attended several conferences and meetings all surrounding the ANP. The first was very interesting in that it was a research group called AREU. Afghan Research Evaluation Unit. They did a year long look at the police, its operations, working relationship, pay, community structures, training, corruption, gender and race issue, etc etc. Very comprehensive and the entire international community turned out for this conference. There was a panel from the MOI (ministry of interior), EUPOL and CSTC-A to answer questions and put forth their responses. The most valued statements came from three people in the crowds. At least in my opinion. One gentlemen who is the Public Information officer for the ANP spoke very passionately about the fact the International community has only recently started to pay attention to the ANP. Only the last year or so. And we (international community) need to have patience. None of what the report or anyone has suggested for reform will be done over night. In fact it won’t be done anytime soon. But give it time, let the people get used to the idea, let them look at the systems and adapt them to their tribal structures and slowly but surely we’ll see progress. The other comments came from a man who somehow snuck his way in and asked quite pointedly of the international community “when are you going to get Afghans involved in solving these problems. They are Afghan problems and require Afghan solutions”. And finally a lady who was a researcher from Afghanistan stated that the progress had been made but their Afghan research was looking at what rural Afghans wanted versus the city folk. And they are very different and have views of politics and governments that need to be understood before they shape the local police.
So, after that meeting we met with the head of Police reform for CSTC-A, heads of EUPOL and our Ambassador to gain some better understanding of where everyone was going, what their rational was, and how we fit into the picture. EUPOL is still in the development stages and is not a factor yet in this mission. CSTC-A has 2 billion dollars so they are. They build things, buy things and get things done. Their moto is to MAN, TRAIN and EQUIP. Sounds very military doesn’t it. Hmmmm. Then we came home. Now flying in the back of a Herc doing tactical flying in and out of Kabul. That was something I wish I could capture. You actually have to hang on to your seat you are coming in at such a steep angle. Then all of a sudden you level and land. Very talented pilots much to our appreciation.
So. ANP. I was able to get out and about into Zhari and Panjway, as well as a few checkpoints. If I remember I’ll attach some photos. What I learned was quite interesting. The ANP, live, eat and work at the same location 24/7. They have to ask permission to go home (albeit some just up and leave) so they are on call 24/7. They have no real vacation, no health care system, no over time, usually no electricity, gas and one uniform each. Ideally they all have bullets for their guns but that is not always the case. Sometimes they have to share mags and given that several of these checkpoints are attacked daily that’s probably not a good thing. And their pay has been sporadic, if they don’t get some taken by their chief, their winter clothes only just got delivered and this is the funny part.
I was asked by the military why the ANP don’t work at night. You’ll like this. We ordered thousands of flashlights for them but flashlights run on batteries. Batteries are used to make IEDS. So the military does not want us giving them batteries thus no flashlights. True story, I can’ t make this stuff up. It even surprises me. So when we were travelling around to the checkpoints some were wearing uniforms, some weren’t. We asked why. Well some had been wearing the same clothes for about 6 months. Not a nice thing in our climate let alone this one. So they switched to their old clothes. And I don’t really blame them. Mind you the ones we found cultivating marijuana in the check point and hanging it to dry out the back of the station, well I think that should still be offside, no matter the cultural differences. We’ve gauged that maybe 30% are currently trained in some fashion and the rest just put the uniform on to get paid and stand around a lot. There is a lot of that and I won’t make the obvious Headquarters jokes that I should. But it seems they believe in quantity not quality. Something the AREU report noted in several places. As well there is little to no leadership. They receive daily orders from the Chief in Kandahar, and if they don’t they just sit around and do nothing. Mind you we heard one report that there are only 11,000 crimes reported in all Afghanistan so why really do you need 82,000 police. Of course many crimes don’t get reported, at least not the way we know of. Plus when 85% of your police can’t read or write, well who’s going to do up a report. And the Pashtunwali laws still work very well for most rural communities and that never gets reported. The other challenge is there are still only 200 female police and they are not very prevelant other than in major centers. You certainly don’t see them walking the beat. And the culture here is just that women won’t report the crimes to men. That is one area we are working hard to fix and have a person assigned directly to address that issue. But again, its cultural and won’t happen very soon.
Now mind you they do have some success’s and not all is bad. Just yesterday a convoy was attacked by Taliban. The ANP rallied, got reinforcements and put forth a good fight. Of course having a couple F-16s come to you aid helps. The bad guys have come to know that 500lbs of hurt is coming their way if they don’t skeedaddle. So the ANP lost 5 guys, Taliban lost 10, convoy was able to move along. That’s what they face daily. Its a tough go and the south is still the wild, wild west. The north I know little about but I’m told its much safer, people travel in normal vehicles and the International police and community have much more freedom. In Kabul the police generally operate very well from what I’m told. They have about 6000 police in Kabul with everything a big city force needs. They all work 24/7 but get time off when they ask. They do investigations, mind you a tad different than we would. They have a 600 man Plainclothes team, Forensic capability and all the trappings needed. Its the outside and southern and eastern provinces that don’t have all those benefits yet. And soley because its still a counter insurgency environment.
We have weekly meetings with the General who runs the Province, as well as the head of Army, head of NDS (National Directorate of Security or afghan cia), district leaders, the Govenor and Mayor. Mind you their set up is completely different. Everyone here is appointed from Kabul. Kabul holds the stick. On everything. So sometimes you get lucky and get a great guy in the job (yes it is still male dominated here) and sometimes you don’t. Case in point. The boys went to do the payroll in Panjway last week. In order to make it work we had agreement at high levels to pay the men directly. This particular chief wanted us to pay him and he would pay the men. Now under normal circumstances in a trusting society we may actually agree to that. But we didn’t. A bit of an arguement and then the threats came out. Couldn’t believe it but there you have it.
Well we have a new chief of police out there, but we also have a new enemy. So its a never ending battle that is straight up hill and we are dragging a 500 lb sled behind us. And it seems impossible to fire anyone. They just transfer them (hmmm sounds familiar). Seriously. It takes an act of parliament to fire anyone.
The biggest complaint the mentors and trainers have is seeing these ANP smoking dope on the job, or stealing or just not showing up and nothing is done about it. So reform is drastically needed, at the top and needed fairly quick if we believe this mission has a chance. And I think it does. There are good people up there who are woking on this and it will happen.
So the gents at the PRT have been working hard and we are pushing hard to work on the areas that need work. We have two cities we are focusing out efforts on and it seems to be working well. We have military and local buy in to some of our ideas and some we don’t but that’s part of the game.
We have to realize we are not the only game in town. Corrections canada is here, CIDA is here, DFAIT and many other agencies all trying to make it work. The big word in mission is Synchronization. If I hear it when I leave here I may go postal on someone. But it is true. In the past number of years everyone has done their own thing and looks what it hasn’t accomplished. So for here, synchro works.
Life in Kaf continues to go along nicely. Its cool at night. Minus 1 or 2 tonight and we actually had a rain day last week. Kept the dust down nicely. Daytimes are still high teens and still bright and sunny. It will be a dusty sunny christmas I’m sure. Tim’s is still the focal point of any day and ball hockey is played everynight in the boardwalk.
My days are filled with learning, meetings, finding out who is in charge of what and why it is that way. And just when I find that person they are rotated out and someone new comes in. That too is a huge challenge. The constant rotation does not allow for continuity of ideas, visions and programs. It takes a solid month to figure this place out and I was lucky enough to have 3 months prep in Ottawa. Others come in blind, have 6 months to accomplish something.
But I did get a ride in a Blackhawk helicoptor to the PRT base. That was worth the price of admission. Flying over the country side and city gives you a completely new perspective on what you are up against, but also the purity of the country. From goat farms, sheep farm, mud hut and tents to the sprawling city with its newer areas and obvious older ones. To the damage done by years of fighting to kids running and waving at the helicoptor as we came in for landing. I had planned to film the trip back but ended up in the back of a LAV. Not nearly as fun. So next time I’ll get those shots.
Otherwise, all is going well. The military stats show the first month and last month are the most dangerous so I should have ten months of peace and quiet. Mind you I don’t think anyone tells terry taliban that so I’ll just continue to be careful. 5 rocket attacks, (latest was tonight) 2 mortar attacks, rpgs and machine guns. I wonder if they’ll give us Christmas off. We’ll see.
Ces sourires qui n’ont pas de prix
Cplc Gary Racette, GS 2 Div CA
Combien de fois dans notre vie avons-nous obtenu un sourire qui n’a pas de prix? Le type de sourire qui fait rêver, le type de sourire qui fait oublier comment la vie peut être compliquée, le type de sourire qui nous fait passer au travers des moments les plus difficiles. Certains diront qu’ils en ont reçu souvent, d’autres pas assez. Pour les privilégiés comme moi, le plus beau de toute mon existence m’a été offert par une jeune afghane de cinq ans dans un village près de l’aérodrome de Kandahar à l’été 2009, le type de village très pauvre, typique du pays.
Le sourire dont j’ai été témoin et qui a marqué mon existence à jamais est survenu lorsque je lui ai remis une canette de PEPSI bien froide qui sortait de la glacière de mon véhicule blindé. Privée d’électricité depuis le tout début de son existence, cette jeune enfant n’avait apparemment jamais connue le sentiment d’avoir quelque chose de froid dans les mains. Une fois que j’ai ouvert la canette et que je lui ai remis pour qu’elle puisse goûter à ce breuvage froid, son sourire s’est illuminé et a rayonné encore plus fort que ce que le soleil du mois de juillet pouvait accomplir.
Il a du même coup réchauffé mon cœur et m’a fait réaliser que pour certains individus sur cette terre, la définition du bonheur se situe à des niveaux différents. Ce type de rencontre et d’événement m’a fait réaliser la chance immense que j’ai d’être en santé, de manger à ma faim, d’habiter dans un pays sans guerre et où il fait bon vivre. À toi petite Afghane inconnue; je te dis MERCI!
Corporal Dallas White
Corporal Dallas White decided to join the Canadian Forces as an infantry soldier and entered service on March 2008. He completed his basic training at the Canadian Forces Language and Recurit School (CFLRS) at Saint–Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. He was subsequently posted to CFB Wainwright to undergo Battle School. Upon successfully completing his training he was assigned to 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (1 PPCLI ).
In late October 2009, Cpl White deployed to Afghanistan on Task Force 3-09 (TF-3 09) with “D” Company (D Coy), 10 Platoon (10 Pl) 1PPLCI. D Coy was deployed from Kandahar Airfield to the volatile Panjwai district, Khandahar province, Afghanistan.
10 Platoon was tasked to bring security and stability to an area that has traditionally been the birth place of the Taliban movement and the current insurgency.
10 Pl was given responsibility for the village of Nakhonay which supported a population of approximately 2000 people. The village of Nakhonay was very volatile with a significant Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat that in the course of TF 3-09 claimed several Canadian lives including Pte.Steven Marshall (Oct 09), Lt. Andrew Nuttal (Dec 09), Sgt. John Wayne Faught (Jan 10), Pte Tyler Todd (Apr 10), and Pte Kevin McKay (May 09), all of whom were under D Coy command.
On the evening of 13 May 2010, Cpl White’s section struck an IED resulting in the death of Pte Kevin McKay and inflicting very serious injuries to Cpl Jason Hart, and Cpl Dallas White. Dallas and Jason were airlifted to Kandahar Airfield where life and limb saving surgeries were performed. Once they were stabilized they were sent to Bagram Airforce Base, and subsequently transported to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. Cpl White sustained major injuries to his left leg including a broken femur, crushed fibula and tibia and significant muscle damage. Cpl White also had minor wounds including many lacerations to his left arm and deep burns on his right thigh. He spent 5 weeks at the University of Alberta Hospital and was released to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital for an additional 4 weeks to jumpstart his rehabilitation.
Desert Ammunition Disposal
Sgt Audrey Gravelle, Op Athena, Roto 7, TF 1-09, April 17 to October 24
My name is Sgt Audrey Gravelle and I was deployed from Valcartier, QC, on Op Athena, Roto 7, TF 1-09, from April 17 to October 24, 2009. During my tour, I had the extraordinary opportunity to experience a beautiful Afghan summer. As an Ammunition Technician (Ammo Tech), I worked outside most of the time and relished the lack of variation in the weather. The +63oC temperatures did not bother me until the early fall when the difference between day and night was in the realm of a ghastly 20oC. I would shiver and cover up as soon as nightfall approached.
In line with the idyllic weather of Afghanistan, working with ammunition overseas was very different from working with ammunition in Canada. Storage facilities on Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) were usually hastily constructed, providing each FOB with a unique set of challenges. Conventional ammunition storage methods did not apply and inventive methods had to be implemented in order to keep the FOB and its inhabitants safe. Normal supply procedures were basically inapplicable as any new ammunition had to be transported over Improvised Explosive Device infested roads or airlifted and packaged in such a way that they could be dropped safely if required. Deteriorated ammunition, which had to be disposed of, presented a particular difficulty as traditional disposal ranges were non-existent.
I was the first Ammo Tech to arrive at Patrol Base Sperwan Ghar (PBSG) since the previous rotation. The amount of deteriorated munitions that had accumulated was quite impressive. It also presented a hazard for the camp. I set out early one August morning with the Combat Engineers stationed in PBSG to seek a proper disposal area. We settled on a deserted spot a few kilometres away where it seemed like we were equally far from the patrol base as from the beautiful red desert. I had never set up a demolitions range wearing my full fighting order and under guarded protection, so my adrenaline was running quite high. Before initiating the explosive chain, which would destroy the deteriorated ammunition, I retreated to the safety of an Armoured Heavy Support Vehicle System truck while the Engineers obtained shelter in their Light Armoured Vehicles. When the charges detonated, I enjoyed the most beautiful and powerful explosions I have ever witnessed in my career. The only let-down was brought about by the sheer protectiveness of the vehicle, where I was located, as it muffled the sounds of detonation to mere “poofs”.
Overall, my tour to Afghanistan showed me how resourceful I could be when typical work tools and methods are not available. Even though we were in a war-torn country and were always in danger (cue the rocket-propelled grenade impact at PBSG one quiet Wednesday evening, and all the rocket attacks I experienced in Kandahar Airfield), I used all my ingenuity to make the camps where I was stationed as safe as possible. The arsenal held and controlled by Ammo Techs on the FOBs and patrol bases are intended for the enemy, not for endangering friendly troops. I like to think that’s how I did my part in the Afghanistan War effort.
Bullets Above – Airborne Battle Damage
By Captain Greg Juurlink, Op Athena Roto 8 CHF(A) Griffon Pilot. (October 2009 – August 2010)
Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan [CHF(A)] was established at Kandahar Airfield on 6 December 2008, and reached full operational capability in May 2009. The force, equipped with eight CH146B Griffons and six CH147D Chinooks, was activated to provide Canada and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with enhanced aviation support in southern Afghanistan. A typical Griffon Weapons Team (GWT) was made up of two Griffons modified for operations in Afghanistan and equipped with a combination of M-134 (7.62 mm) mini-guns or GAU-21s (.50 Cal) and an advanced MX-15 optical sensor. GWT’s were employed in reconnaissance, utility transport, and Chinook escort.
The Griffon fleet also flew Close Combat Attack (CCA) missions providing overwatch and fire support for Canadian and Coalition Force troops on the ground. The Chinooks, acquired from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, were equipped with M-134 mini-guns and M-240 machine guns and were employed in the transport of troops, equipment and supplies as well as air mobile ground assaults. Before standing down in August 2011, the CHF(A) fleet moved 91,608 passengers and 7,111,504 pounds of cargo while logging 23,428 combat hours. CHF(A) was made up primarily of 1 Wing members from 400, 403, 408, 427, 430, & 438 squadrons, and was complimented with personal from all wings and numerous army units from across Canada. Throughout its period of operations, CHF(A) established an enviable record of flexibility and reliability in the full rage of combat aviation
After arriving in Afghanistan in October 2009, I began work as a CH146B Griffon line pilot in 3 Section, made up of 2 GWTs. An ex- Infantry platoon commander from St. Andrews (Antigonish), Nova Scotia, I occupied the First Officer position in the lead aircraft. Our section commander Captain Ron Krueger, affectionately known as “Uncle Ron” from Edmonton Alberta, was a seasoned pilot and a veteran of Haiti, Bosnia and a ground tour of Afghanistan in 2007. He had all the answers, was easy to work with and to follow into combat. Our crew also included Cpl Alex Cloutier from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. An ex-armoured soldier with a previous deployment to Bosnia, Alex turned aircraft mechanic and eventually applied for and became a Flight Engineer (FE) on the Griffon. FE’s are the aircraft systems experts who ensure the helo is good to fly, and can fix it if and when required. They also doubled as door gunners once airborne. Finally, Cpl Luke Carlson from Emo, Ontario, rounded out our crew. A member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), he was our left side door gunner and our expert on the aircraft weapons systems.
Our #2 aircraft was commanded by Ottawa native Captain Dwayne D’Entremont, an Ex Navigator turned pilot. From West Vancouver, his First Officer was Captain Christian Hiestand, a Search and Rescue pilot posted to 417 sqn in Cold Lake; MCpl Vic Kassay from Sayward (Kelsey Bay), BC, an ex army soldier was the FE and right side door gunner; and, PPCLI Sgt Chris Whalen from St. Johns, NL was the left side Door Gunner. 3S4L!
Our Roto was mostly crewed by Edmonton based 408 Squadron but was complimented by numerous augmentees; myself and seasoned instructor pilot Captain Andrew “Smitty” Smith from 403 Sqn in Gagetown, NB. Andrew was my mentor, but also someone I joked around with. On Halloween I shaved my beard off, cut my hair short and took a razor to the very top of my head for that extra bald look, so that I could look just like him. I then snuck into his bunk at night and borrowed his velcro name tag. I put his nametag on my flight suit and presto, I was Smitty for Halloween. These lighthearted moments helped distract us from the war during our downtime.
Just shy of a 10-month deployment, I ended up with 103 missions and almost 600 hours flying. You could only get 1 mission per day and it had to be for a combat mission rather than maintenance test flying. We had a number of missions including moving troops around the battlefield supporting special operations forces, and protecting the Chinooks. We were also called upon to support TICs (Troops In Contact) by performing Close Combat Attack (CCA) to end firefights quickly and decisively. We patrolled roads by day and night to find Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or Taliban fighters setting them up, eliminating the Taliban when required. We also did utility transport, which involved moving a couple soldiers or snipers at a time to strategic locations. What made my job enjoyable was the variety of missions we were called upon to perform.
The mission I’m about to talk about is one I’m sure I’ll never forget. This was the only mission we were unable to complete.
The date was November 24th, 2009. I was gearing up for my 9th combat mission. We arrived at work early that day for planning. The weather was rainy which kept me up at night because I was sleeping in a tent. Our mission was to go to the Dutch FOB of Tarin Kowt to pick up some passengers, then to Nili (Day Kundi), and on to FOB Anaconda to move passengers and cargo. Our role as a GWT was to escort and protect the Chinook. Our route was through a mountain pass which was not ideal as our altitude was limited by low cloud cover. This prevented us from flying high enough to be out of range from small arms fire. In Afghanistan we were unable to fly in cloud due to the lack of instruments which allow us to do so as they were removed to reduce weight. Most of the mountains were too high even if we had the equipment.
It was our standard 3 section crewing for that mission, led by our Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO), another experienced aviator. His crew included Captain Jonathan Sarawanski, Door Gunner Pte Edward Cressal, and Flight Engineers Cpl Jeff Hodder and Cpl Miguel Lourenco. As we prepared to launch, our biggest concern was the weather. Rain, reduced visibilities, blowing dust and thunderstorms were forecast. A Satellite (SAT) phone call was made to Nili to confirm the conditions. They were reported as acceptable therefore the decision was made to launch after our intelligence brief given in order to assess,where the biggest threats were located. The plan was to proceed to Tarin Kowt and reassess. If at any time the weather looked marginal, it was agreed we would turn around and return to base (RTB). Our call sign that day was Shakedown 25 (SD 25) and our number 2 was Shakedown 26 (SD 26). After we started we flew to the FARP or Forward Arming and Refueling Point, to top up our fuel. We then learned that the Chinook, call sign Blowtorch 60 (BT 60) was unable to fly the mission due to a mechanical problem. We returned to the ramp and shutdown while BT 60 changed helicopters. During this delay another weather check was conducted and FOB Nili was dropped off the mission due to deteriorating conditions.
The decision was made to carry out the rest of the mission and the formation departed low level, east of Kandahar city. We test fired our guns and then transitioned above the range of small arms. Once at altitude, Ron started coordinating airspace while other crews did their assigned tasks including navigation and coordinating with our headquarters (HQ).
I was flying at the 7 o’clock position of the Chinook, SD 26 was on the right. I usually fly further to the left of the Chinook but as we were flying up a valley I thought the further away from the mountain on our left, the better. I was looking at the overcast cloud layer which seemed to be higher. The mountain peak on our left was covered in cloud. The view was beautiful as most views of Afghanistan from the air often were. It was at this time I noticed our Radar Altimeter, which tells us our height above ground, was alive meaning we were in the range of small arms. I then commenced a climb. The Chinook also started climbing as we both realized the valley we were flying up was steadily getting higher and closer to the height we were flying. Classic rising terrain.
Seconds after starting that climb, I heard a very loud bang followed by white smoke in the cockpit coupled with numerous electrical failures. This was my first airborne emergency in the Griffon. Electrical fire was my first thought. At the same time our #2 Generator fell off line causing us to lose our secure comms and the ability to talk to each other due to an enormous amount of static coming through our headsets. As I was acknowledging the helo being on fire and executing the emergency procedure for it, I heard Alex call “BREAK RIGHT, BREAK RIGHT!!” Just then, Luke saw numerous rounds pass about 5-6 feet in front of him on the left just prior to the break. The bullets left contrails behind them due to the moisture in the air and changes in air pressure caused by the passing bullet.
I then began to turn and started heading down to the low level environment to evade the threat. I was flying evasive maneuvers and looking for a place we could safely land and egress a burning helicopter. As I’m turning I felt Ron on the controls. Normally, to transfer controls the Pilot Monitoring (PM) would say “I have control” to which The Pilot Flying (PF) would relinquish control and say “you have control.” This is hard to do and confirm when you can’t talk or hear each other. When this is the case it’s done by the PM grabbing and wiggling the controls. When I broke right and started heading for the ground I felt Ron on the controls which to me, a new FO, meant he wanted to fly. I then let go of the controls and put my head down in to see our Computer Display Unit (CDU) and started working the radios to clear the static. That’s when I noticed Ron with his head down working the radios as well. Luckily, I was flying with a level of automation engaged so the helicopter was doing exactly what I left it doing when I let go of the controls. After a few seconds with no one flying the helicopter I picked up my head and continued flying. Ron sorted the radios and got a Mayday call out to the formation as I did a systems check to see what our problems were.
Luke and Alex were very busy looking for the enemy position or point of origin where the rounds came from in order to return fire and eliminate the threat. There was still a Chinook and another Griffon who were targets themselves and possibly unaware of the immediate threat so we still had to do our job and protect them. No one at war likes getting shot at. It’s worse and frustrating when you can’t shoot back, especially when you’re armed with M-134 mini guns capable of firing 50 bullets per second and have a few thousand rounds on board. We never did find the enemy or fire a round that day.
After a systems check, I noticed the smoke had stopped and the smell of burning wires was ever-present. Still not sure where the smoke was from, I was sure we were no longer on fire. I figured it out later that we were never on fire at all. I was once told that every time we would send a helicopter back to Canada for a full inspection on a maintenance rotation (we had 12 Griffons allocated for Afghanistan, 8 on the line and 4 being rotated for full inspections back in Canada), it would come back 300 pounds lighter from removing the dust that would accumulate in them. Anyone who’s been to Afghanistan knows the dust I’m talking about, that fine, white, flour like dust which interestingly enough, looks just like electrical fire smoke when stirred up by a bullet entering an air data computer in a Griffon helicopter.
At this time, Ron had fixed the radios and was communicating with our formation. The Chinook went high level to avoid the threat while our section team mates SD 26 got on our 6 O’Clock to protect our decent and egress. Before we arrived at the spot I chose to land we decided as a crew to carry on low level to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) 19 km away hoping the helicopter would make it. Our other option was to land, which would most likely lead to the loss of the aircraft or even worse, to a fire fight on the ground with the Taliban. That’s nothing a 4 man helicopter crew ever wants to do. The Taliban always seemed to appear out of thin air, even in the middle of the desert sometimes.
The main concern now, was if we had taken rounds in the tail rotor.
If it had, the rotor could come off anytime. The Griffon was designed for delivering oil workers to off shore oil platforms, not combat. If the tail had come off it’s unlikely I’d be writing this today. We lost a Griffon in July of 2002 in Labrador due to a loss of its tail rotor. 2 Pilots were killed and this was definitely on my mind. The aircraft felt fine, so we pressed on. This was the worst part of the whole event. Everything else happened so quickly there was no time to think about it, only react. Now that we were low level away from the threat we had time to think about all the problems we might have like tail rotor, hydraulics, fuel, and so on. We considered pretty much any problem we could have. To make it worse, we could only do a limited Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) while airborne, so we were unsure the extent of the problems. After about 10 minutes we arrived at the FOB. I’ve never been so happy to see one in my life.
After shut down SD26 and BT60 landed to assist us. We did a battle damage inspection and found damage to a main rotor blade where a bullet had passed through it and a bullet into the air data computer, inches from my left leg. We then stripped our guns and equipment off the helo and loaded it on the Chinook. As the crew did this I went to the Operations centre of the FOB and talked to the Officer In Charge (OIC). I told him we had a helicopter full of bullets on his HLS. He then asked me if we wanted “a download” which means to take all the ammo off the helicopter. This procedure is common for attack helicopters. I then had to explain to him they were “bad guy bullets” and the helicopter had to be left there until a team of maintainers could come out to fix it.
We then got on the Chinook for the long ride home. It felt like a ride of shame as we left our helicopter (CH146458) in the FOB and had to rely on our Chinook brothers to take us home. Since we began Helicopter Ops in Afghanistan we always had friendly banter between Chinook and Griffon crews on which job was better and more important. The Chinook role was more important in the end. They moved so many troops and supplies and could be escorted by other Attack helicopters. The problem was that there simply weren’t enough attack helicopters in theatre. Enter the Griffon. With that said I would rather fly the Griffon there any day. It’s better to be a shooter than a target in my mind. At the end of the day we’re all one team, but we did take a bit of a ribbing that day. I did get my first ride on a Chinook, one of the most prolific combat helicopters ever built. Our Chinooks ended up moving over 91,000 troops and 7 million pounds of cargo in it’s 3 year deployment. In fact, no other country’s stats even came close to what Canada was moving. I spent numerous days flying over 8 hours. My max was a 10.2 hour mission in which the Chinook we were escorting flew a 10.7. We had 0.5 less because we had to shut down in Helmand province for fuel while the Chinook took their fuel while running. To put it in perspective, I fly about 2.5 hours a day in Canada. We got a letter from an Army commander thanking us for our support as his whole deployment from start to finish was moved to and from the FOB’s they operated from by helicopter. We were proud of this accomplishment as 80% of casualties were from IEDs. Moving by helicopter was much safer than moving by road.
The Chinook is built for battle. In fact, the very Chinook we flew home on and were escorting that day also took a round in an empty fuel tank. The crew heard a thud but thought an ammo can fell over. The bullet entered the fuel tank and ignited the fumes causing an explosion that buckled the airframe causing major damage. The machine is so tough the crew couldn’t even tell until they shut down back at Kandahar Air Field. The Chinook required major repairs and was out of the fight for weeks.
As for the Griffon we were flying, we sent a crew to FOB Frontenac, north of Kandahar, to patch it up to get it back to KAF. They did a full inspection that showed 50 wires were damaged and 30 were cut clean off. They replaced a blade and had to jerry-rig some wires to “hot wire” the number 2 engine starter to fly it home. It took a week to get it home. It then took another 6 weeks to re-wire the whole helo to get it back in the fight. CH146458 is currently flying at my home unit 403 Squadron in Gagetown, NB where I teach new pilots how to fly the same machine I fought with in Afghanistan. It’s a nice full circle.
An intelligence update after our mission showed that 2 Chinooks were shot down in the same location in 2007. 2 weeks after our mission, a Dutch Cougar helicopter received extensive damage in the same location and did pretty much what we did recovering in FOB Frontenac. The damage was so excessive a MI-26 had to sling the helicopter back to KAF. Their Hydraulics failed in a 4-foot hover.
The FE on the Chinook had a helmet camera on the tail of the Chinook when we got shot. It’s amazing the amount of bullets fired at the Chinook and us that day from and enemy machine gun. You can hear each one in the video. We were very lucky we only took a few rounds and got away. Throughout the tour I saw many videos in which you could hear bullets flying by. It’s hard to say how often we got shot at. Between videos and ground force reports it seemed pretty regularly. Luckily, I never got hit again.
The men and women of CHF(A) were top notch and I wouldn’t want to go to war with anyone else except possibly the men and women who were on the ground. We all have countless stories of seeing our ground forces take it to the enemy fighting through great adversity. As combat aviators it was our job to be there for them. I have many stories in which we reacted to the enemy engaging friendly forces. Each time we were able to intervene and provide fire support from above to end fire fights. All too often we were called to provide assistance to ground forces after IED attacks and had to bear witness to the destruction the Taliban were capable of. Our mission was very intense, seeing 21 of our fellow soldiers fall in combat. It was tough to deal with and underlined the importance of minimizing the threat to our troops by moving them by air. Occasionally, we also got to patrol the roads at night looking for IED’s or Taliban placing them helping ensure the roads were safe in the morning by either advising ground troops of the IED location or by eliminating the threat ourselves. I doubt I will ever do anything nearly as rewarding again in my life.
Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) – the Correctional Component of the Canadian Afghan Mission
A Submission from CSC Staff of the Correctional Component 2nd Rotation (2008-2009) compiled by Randie Scott , Deputy Director Corrections, (2008-2009)
Following Canada taking command of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT) in 2005, a ‘Whole-of-Government (WoG)’ approach was developed that would see the Canadian Forces as well as civilian agencies and departments work shoulder-to-shoulder to implement military, reconstruction and humanitarian efforts. This WoG collaboration and inter-agency teamwork included the CF, Foreign Affairs & International Trade (DFAIT), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canadian Civilian Police (CIVPOL) and the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
CSC began by conducting a series of technical assessments by CSC personnel. It was determined that the focus of CSC was to be on the main areas of activity: advice on security & infrastructure improvements; acquisition of the necessary institutional and correctional equipment; the (Executive and Correctional Officer) training of all levels of prison staff; and, on-site operational monitoring with continuing advice. Overlaying all was a need to teach, train and mentor regarding human rights with a prevailing theme of working towards improvement of prison conditions and practices in accordance with the ‘UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners’. Ultimately, certified Afghan trainers were identified and trained to support the goal of self-sustainability and autonomy.
Some 23 CSC staff voluntarily served in Afghanistan during the period of September 2002 to December 2011. While 8 of the staff primarily worked out of Kabul dealing with the Canadian Embassy, the U.N and various Afghan governmental departments and officials, 15 were assigned to the KPRT at Camp Nathan Smith (CNS) where the ‘Corrections Component’ complimented the Reconstruction Team’s efforts.
While the CSC Component members worked with several Afghan government agencies, it was the multi-year engagement at the Kandahar Provincial Prison known as Sarpoza that became the primary focus. Kandahar’s Sarpoza Prison is the largest Prison outside of Kabul and housed almost a thousand inmates including male prisoners, detainees, women (many accompanied by children) and even under-age boys (aged 12-18). Working as a CSC team of as many as four staff at one time, there were positions that included 1 Director, Corrections Component; 1 Deputy Director and 2 Trainer/Mentors.
The CSC Component lived and worked out of Camp Nathan Smith where all correctional staff were embedded with the Canadian Forces who provided for the basic necessities of security, accommodation, food, working areas, operating supplies, contract services coordination, electronic connectivity and all transportation needs ‘outside the wire’.
It was the CF who provided necessary transportation and kept CSC staff safe when on Patrol. Like DFAIT and CIDA workers too, CSC staff were unarmed and reliant upon Force Protection and/or 9er TAC for all secure and fortified movement. A Close Protection Detail was always provided for every working objective ‘outside-the-wire’. The CSC Component was actively involved in the detailed planning of each Patrol tasking whether for CSC-specific activities or multiple tasking involving CF, CIVPOL, DFAIT or CIDA. Through collaborative efforts, participation in the planning of, preparation for and execution of KPRT tasks, the Team was able to maximize flexibility, cohesion and effective use of time and resources.
Through use of skilled Afghan Interpreters, Cultural Advisors and Project Officers- CSC staff were able to interact effectively with our Afghan interlocutors in the Ministry of Justice, Central Prison Directorate, National Security Directorate, other Ministries and NGOs. The KPRT pool of Afghan staff, living on-base, proved essential for both planned and spontaneous interactions during meetings at CNS and Patrols too.
The second CSC staff rotation (2008) included Paula Milino as Director Corrections Component, Randie Scott as Deputy Director and Rob Cater & Kevin Cluett as Trainer-Mentors. Within the first months of the rotation there were significant improvements in the infrastructure of Sarpoza Prison able to be realized following the excellent assessment and planning work done by previous CSC staff during the first rotation (2007). With funding from the Global Peace & Security Fund (GPSF), dozens of high-visibility infrastructure projects were commenced including septic storage tanks, sanitation facilities, additional perimeter towers and refurbishing of cells, buildings and offices throughout the prison. New areas were created inside the prison including a carpentry shop, visiting areas, a security communications and armoury building and an expansion of the medical facilities.
The ability to move so many complex projects was due in no small part to the incredible work of the CF Special Engineering Team (SET). CSC staff worked with their Afghan counterparts in developing of plans to meet Afghan needs and provided the necessary correctional expertise to SET. SET worked tirelessly to draw up the many plans for physical improvements. SET managed the projects on-site and worked closely with CSC staff to ensure that prison-specific needs were being met. CSC and SET worked collaboratively and quite seamlessly both in the prison and at CNS. The SET combat engineers were always pulling double-duty with the Correctional Component- they would be active soldiers during convoy or dismounted patrols and, while at the prison, they were project managers and construction coordinators. Additionally, SET contributed to CSC being able to develop the professional relationships with Afghan officials which was essential in meeting our mandate. The expertise of the SET Engineers proved absolutely invaluable to the achievement of correctional objectives over the years.
By June of 2008 many improvements were underway that dramatically improved the working and living conditions for all. The Executive and Correctional Officer training was progressing. The Deputy Director and Trainer-Mentors pressed the Training Plans forward.
The fateful date of June 13, 2008 would burn into the minds and hearts of the KPRT Correctional Component for a long time to come. Paula Milino was back in Canada on a short R&R visit while Kevin Cluett was in Kabul attending an important certification training session. Both Paula and Kevin would soon regret even having left CNS and each wishing they were back on the ground helping with the pivotal event that was about to occur. Rob Cater and Randie Scott were back at the KPRT after a long working day when at approximately 2130 local time a massive explosion was heard and the resulting shockwave travelled outward from Sarpoza Prison several kilometers away. It was soon learned that a huge Vehicle-Born Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) had detonated at the prison’s main entry gate followed by an incursion of well-equipped insurgents who were armed with automatic weapons and RPGs as they flooded into the jail.
Within a half hour Rob Cater joined with CIVPOL members as the CNS Quick Response Force (QRF) raced to Sarpoza. Randie Scott remained at the CNS Tactical Operations Centre (TOC) to review the prison’s blueprints, monitor real-time crisis reporting and provide logistical support as the crisis unfolded.
The scene at Sarpoza was of absolute destruction as the front of the prison was completely destroyed. The massive steel vehicle gates were blown dozens of meters away while a 20 meter section of the perimeter wall had been vaporized leaving a 5-m diameter crater. On arrival at the prison, the QRF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) secured the prison. Over 900 prisoners had escaped and with 7 Correctional Officers being killed in the initial explosion and ensuing firefight before being overwhelmed leaving many Correctional Officers injured-in-action. Once the prison had been completely searched, the remaining prisoners were held in the jail’s courtyard. Over the next many hours control of the prison was left in the hands of the ANSF. Rob Cater arrived back at the KPRT at 0530 the following day but there was little time to sleep.
A few hours later CSC staff was back at Sarpoza with a heavy compliment of CF and CIVPOL personnel. Urgent repair assessments were conducted on the prison’s internal areas by SET and CSC. CSC and CF Engineers conducted a battle assessment that determined how to protect the prison from any future attacks. Consultations were held with the Afghan Minister of Justice, the Head of the Central Prison Directorate, the Governor of Kandahar Province and the Mayor of Kandahar City. It was evident that emergency repairs and revised plans for additional infrastructure improvements were needed. Through the efforts of the KPRT, The Representative of Canada in Kandahar (RoCK) was able to work through DFAIT and networks in Ottawa to secure additional funding through the GPSF. The guarantee of necessary funding was attained in only two days through the ‘Whole of Government’ framework.
This enabled the KPRT to effectively redesign the prison and address for very real external threats while at the same time to get Sarpoza up and running, stronger and more secure than it was before. Large concrete structures known as ‘Jersey’ and ‘Texas’ Barriers were installed in front of the prison and a chicane entranceway established to slow vehicle movement and prevent any vehicle from ramming the gate. Hesco bastions which are large cages of heavy rock were arrayed adjacent to the perimeter walls to provide an additional layer of protection. Many local businesses and residences immediately adjacent to the prisons outer walls were relocated to establish a generous stand-off area that new, elevated well-staffed Perimeter Towers could effectively monitor and, if needed, respond to with force.
CSC and SET were constantly on-site at Sarpoza developing a wide variety of short-term and longer-term plans in cooperation with the Afghan authorities, Other Government Departments (OGDs) and the international community as well. The Canadian team of CSC and SET were officially commended by the Afghan Minister of Justice and the Central Prison Directorate for efforts in working at Sarpoza Prison. It was clear that the attack and its aftermath presented as a galvanizing event between CSC and the Afghan Prison staff at every level. In the months following the attack, very significant infrastructure improvements were undertaken while the volume and intensity of training for both Executives and Correctional Officers dramatically increased. The level of professionalism of the Sarpoza staff became very evident as the Kandahar Provincial Prison was said by the Central Prison Directorate to be exemplary and operating at a standard to which all Afghan prisons should aspire.
The third rotation of CSC Component staff in 2009 continued to make advances in continuation of previous plans. While training continued, CSC staff adopted more of a mentoring role while Afghan prison staff had become certified trainers and conducted further training themselves thus building a sustainable training capacity.
The fourth rotation of CSC staff focussed on the self-sustainability of Sarposa Prison’s operations, administration, security, and training. One of the hallmark accomplishments of the rotation was the establishment of a full-function healthcare clinic staffed with medical professionals.
A second large-scale insurgent attack on Sarpoza Prison occurred on March 13, 2010. An SVBIED at the front gate was detonated by a suicide bomber. A well-coordinated RPG attack ensued. This was all part of an orchestrated effort that included several other explosions throughout Kandahar including one at the Afghan National Police (ANP) Headquarters. The insurgent’s strategy was to divert the focus of coalition and ANSF resources from the main effort which was the freeing of insurgent prisoners from Sarpoza. The main gate was destroyed but the vehicle could not travel into the prison due to the infrastructure improvements made during the second rotation of CSC staff. Significant damage occurred in many areas with virtually every window in the prison broken. The then Director of the Corrections Component Terry Hackett, along with the interpreter and the CF Close Protection Detail, was in the Warden’s Office at the time of the attack and its door was destroyed. Only minor injuries were sustained.
After the SVBIED exploded the inmates in the National Security Prison Wing tried to breach the cell block. Sarpoza Correctional Officers immediately took effective action and prevented any escapes. CF, Sarpoza personnel and the ANP responded and insurgents retreated from the scene.
This incident was in stark contrast to the attack in June 2008 and due to the infrastructure changes, physical reinforcements and professional correctional officer training. No staff was killed in the 2010 attack and only minor injuries were incurred. However, during the explosion some 30 local area citizens were killed in the blast with shrapnel being found up to one kilometer away. The following day, eight suicide vests and another RPG were found abandoned across the road from Sarpoza Prison. The incident could have been much, much worse if not for the excellent response to the attack and the continued infrastructure/security improvements made after the insurgent attack in June 2008.
Major Brent Crawford, Trauma Team Leader, Officer Commanding the Canadian Element, Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit
Wednesday, 30 Dec 2009 was reported in the media as the worst single day for Canadian deaths in Afghanistan in the last two and a half years preceding. Four Canadian soldiers and a Canadian journalist were killed when an IED blast hit their patrol convoy in Dand near Kandahar city. It was a particularity deadly day for ISAF with a total of twelve dead and, as many times that number are injured for each death, a particularly memorable day for the Canadian doctors and nurses working in the Role 3 Hospital.
As Major Brent Crawford, I was a Trauma Team Leader and the Officer Commanding the Canadian element of the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit. With the trauma bay response completed, the trauma teams dispersed to leave the four other injured CF members and one Canadian civilian official in the capable hands of the surgeons and intensive care doctors and nurses, whose work was far from over.
However one of those Canadian injured was doing poorly. After blood transfusions of more than four times their initial blood volume and life saving surgery they continued to deteriorate in the intensive care unit due to uncontrollable bleeding.
The leaders from trauma, surgery, and intensive care came together in a desperate discussion resulting in the decision to activate the Canadian walking blood bank, the “Hail Mary pass” of trauma care. Medical science has not completely figured out why transfusing whole warm blood immediately from a donor to patient can coagulate bleeding refractory to all other interventions. Maybe this because the blood is warm, or still contains unknown elements that become removed or degraded during the traditional purification process or transport of individual blood units. It was a procedure perfected during the Korean war, lost to civilian medicine practice since the 1950’s, and hadn’t been used by the Canadian Forces from then until the Afghanistan conflict.
Our team had spent a disproportionate amount of the predeployment period preparing for this rare contingency and, although I wasn’t completely aware of why at the time, I insisted that we transfuse only Canadian blood into this Canadian member. I was overwhelmed with the rapid response of volunteer donors from the various units comprising the National Support Element, the Canadian Health Services unit, and ISAF providing laboratory services from the US Army. Even Canadian Task Force Commander and Task Force Surgeon, Cdr Robert Briggs, arrived not for a briefing but to offer what help they could by thanking the donors and serving them hot fluids and food. The patient’s situation stabilized over the next several hours after the fresh warm whole blood transfusions to the level that they were later able to be safely evacuated out of the country for more definitive surgeries.
I have never been so proud to be a Canadian as that night. From the donors to Canadian Blood services at home, to the National Support Element, to the Canadian Health Services unit, to the doctors and nurses in the Role 3, and the personal contributions of the Task Force Commander and Task Force Surgeon, we came together to fight for one single anonymous Canadian life in desperate need. For me this event symbolized the Canadian contingent in Afghanistan. This was a group of innovators and improvisers who displayed selfless devotion to completing the mission … and those who would never give up on a fellow Canadian in need.
Sailors Hard Aground In Afghanistan
PO2 John Caldwell
Someone asked me “what I am most proud of as a sailor”. Well there are plenty of things which pop in my head as we are a proud bunch. Admittedly, I had to scratch it a bit, to clearly articulate my thoughts. I am a Hull Tech on the east coast based in Halifax. We are often very busy dealing with the daily deluge of the ordinary, such as system repairs and maintenance on board Canadian vessels.
In 2007, I was a “Killick” which is a leading seaman or corporal to the non-navy types. At this time I served on board HMCS Preserver and I had just completed the Navy’s boarding party course. This consisted of some skill at arms and un-armed combat training as well as some less glamorous components such as searching containers, repelling, and a detailed look at ships’ structures. Near the end of the course, I became aware that a message had been circulated stating that the Army was looking for volunteers to participate in the mission on the ground in Afghanistan. The prerequisites were a high level security clearance and to be boarding party qualified. I volunteered immediately for the mission.
My motivation was quite simple. I knew people who had served in Afghanistan and felt a clear conviction to participate as a Canadian and as a sailor. I was glad to go particularly since I had served with 3 PPCLI for years prior to an occupational transfer to the Navy. Consequently, I knew the first five lads who were killed at the Tarnak Farm incident in April 2002. I had served with Marc Leger, Richard Green, and Nathan Smith. I was a very good friend of Ainsworth Dyer; we had fought the fires in Lillooet, B.C. in 1998. We used to take great pleasure competing, as paratroopers do, in the 1CMBG Mountain Man competitions each year. Ains was a great guy. He wanted to be a policeman when he got out. In common with all the rest of the lads, he had a clear commitment to the mission over there in Afghanistan, and a firm belief in trying to do something to improve life for the ordinary people of that country.
I had heard that most of these taskings included Navy personnel assigned to Army units to fill specialized roles that the Army had either had trouble filling or had limited expertise in. There was also a clear indication that many of my old friends from my Army days had rotated through a number of tours. I wanted to contribute in any way that would help, so volunteering was a no brainer. I wasn’t the only sailor to think this way, as apparently at least a hundred or so answered the call, and at least a dozen of these were east coast Hull Techs, which is something I am particularly proud of. With the decision made, Brad Ryan, a stoker from the Tanker (HMCS Preserver), and I got our papers in order, informed our significant other, and departed from all that was friendly and familiar. We had a couple of similarly motivated Navy weapons techs from the west coast in our detachment that ended up in the desert with us.
We were part of a camp security detail and the majority of our work was routine and mundane. Our tour of duty was long and hard and sometimes dangerous, but we all made it home. Some soldiers and sailors were not that lucky. On reflection, I have realized that the CAF is a very small organization made up of a proud and motivated bunch of Canadians– regardless of any uniform or element affiliation.
A Sailor in the Sandbox
PO2 Bradley S. Froggatt CD, Tactical CIMIC Operator, TF 1-09, Roto 7, May – November 2009
A Naval Reservist / Naval Communicator in Afghanistan may seem unlikely, but there were many of us who stepped “outside the box” and into “the sandbox”. As a Civil Military Cooperation Operator with the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT), we were trained to move about within and among the local population, meeting one-on-one with Afghan civilians, Officials, Police and Military.
Training for deployment with the Royal 22nd Regiment in Valcartier, Quebec prepared us for what we might encounter in our jobs, but nothing can adequately prepare you for entering another world, a world I described at the time as like ”The Flintstones – but with cell phones”.
Our job was to engage with local Afghans, initiate and support reconstruction projects, contract with local businesses and companies, and assist rebuilding a country that has seen more than its share of war, destruction, and instability. Years after the Taliban were forced into the hills; Kandahar was still essentially a city running on simply the need to run. Electricity was spotty at best, commerce and education was basic, the rule of law was questionable, and you were never sure who the “good guys” were versus the “bad guys”.
Patrolling, whether by day or night, had its challenges. During the day you were always on your guard while you met with people to try to gain their trust, and if lucky help them in some way. At night you expected the unexpected. Kandahar streets are a maze of mud buildings and compound walls where you quickly realize that you don’t know the streets as the locals do, and in that you are at a distinct disadvantage.
There were good days when you thought you were making progress and helped to rebuild a school or aid local government with a needed project, only to have those same places attacked with explosives – destroying any gains you had made.
A routine daytime patrol in a serene area outside of the city would be punctuated by the need to respond to an IED strike where an allied convoy had become a pile of twisted vehicles and mangled bodies next to a crater in the road. A quiet nighttime patrol would be punctuated by tracer fire hitting the ground in front of you. You would complete a day of trying to build cooperation and trust – hoping you were aiding the right people and trusting that what you were doing was for the better of the Afghans; only to have to follow it with yet another ramp ceremony for more Canadian soldiers that had been killed that day.
It was frustrating but not all bleak. Geographically, Kandahar is a beautiful country. I met Afghans that I would call friends; those who only wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families. In fact, many of the Afghans I worked with did find a better life. Sadly, it was not in Afghanistan, but another country.
Lieutenant Pierre-Vincent Daigle
Task Force-3-09, Construction Management Organization
07 November 2009-Kandahar,Afghanistan Since the road improvement project in the village of Deh-e Bagh, a young Afghan boy stricken with Polio has greater mobility allowing him access to the road to greet Lieutenant Pierre-Vincent Daigle.
Lieutenant Pierre-Vincent Daigle from the Construction Management Organization walks through the village of Deh-e Bagh to ensure quality control of a road improvement project.
Lieutenant Pierre-Vincent Daigle from the Construction Management Organization discusses the progress of various reconstruction projects taking place within Deh-e Bagh with the local Afghan Project Managers.
CivPol Rotation 2009/10
Sgt. Damien Coakeley (ret’d) of the Ottawa Police Service.
As I was approaching the pinnacle of my thirty year career, I had always wanted to go on an international mission. In late 2008 postings came out for both Bosnia and Afghanistan. I believed that I possessed the skill set and experience for Bosnia, but applied for Afghanistan as well, just in case. I never heard a word about Bosnia, but in early 2009 came word that I had been selected to go to Afghanistan.
I had been a street cop for most of my career, so I firmly believe that, despite having no previous military experience, I possessed the requisite amount of common sense for any operational gig, the details of which I could easily ramp up to. In addition, I had significant experience in training and mentoring, which were the basic mandates of a CivPol member.
In late June 2009 my contingent of twenty-two active and recently retired police officers from across Canada, arrived in KAF. In policing, your senses are assaulted in any number of ways, however the assault on the olfactory nerves upon encountering the poo-pond was something that all of us were shocked by! We were soon dispatched to CNS, where our initial assignments were given. Most of us were assigned to FOB Walton, an American FOB that was being used as a training centre for the ANP and the “Basic Eight” program for recruits. We replaced a group of Canadian MPs who had been previously assigned to this task, but were happy to pass it off to civilian police officers with our levels of expertise and experience.
Upon graduating the group of ANP cadets, we returned to CNS for our next assignments. We were spread across greater Kandahar City for mentoring positions with active ANP stations. However I was assigned to develop the initial “Officer’s Course” for commissioned ANP members. Despite several hiccups with respect to course content and timing of the course (Ramadan), it was successfully completed. However, we had been sent senior NCOs whom, we were assured, would receive their commissions upon successful course completion. We were also assured that these officers would be deployed within Kandahar City, but later found out that most were sent to Spin Boldak! Such are the trials and tribulations of Afghanistan!
Now being the odd member out, not assigned to a specific police mentoring team, I was sent back to KAF to work with an American MP platoon (Black Sheep, U.S. Army 293rd MPs) who, despite being posted to KAF were responsible for three police sub-stations completely on the other side of Kandahar City! Not relishing reliving the experiences of the poo pond, to my horror, I met my new team in their lovely new hard buildings…not 200 metres from it! I got used to it and I survived it! We went on frequent trips to the three police sub stations, mentoring the assigned officers therein and engaging in both mounted and unmounted patrols. Seeing and experiencing life in the heart of Kandahar City is something I will not soon forget. One of the funniest things that happened involved a couple of kids riding by on a bicycle, while we were unmounted. They rode by, with one on the handlebars and the other pedaling furiously, both of them smiling and waving at us and not paying attention to where they were going. They drove directly into the open sewer at the intersection we were at, both going tip over tea kettle! No matter…it did not bother them, as they got up, dusted themselves off and still laughing and smiling rode away. Just another day in Kandahar!
My next and final assignment was as the initial CivPol liaison officer to the J5 at TFK. While a staff position, this gave me another insight completely to the way in which things operated in theatre. Not always smoothly mind you, but it was an interesting position, from which I learned plenty. Also, one day, while getting lunch and looking for a place to sit at a D-FAC, I was greeted by a pleasant female voice inviting me to sit at her table. She had seen the Canadian flag on my uniform and being Canadian herself, extended the invitation. We introduced ourselves and advised what our roles were. Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang advised me that she had been in theatre for only thirty minutes, having just got off the Herc that brought her from Mirage. Her escort was still with her, as she was waiting on her accreditation to move freely about KAF. We hit it off instantly!
Over the next several days I ran into Michelle many times, and we shot the breeze easily. On one of those occasions, as Christmas approached, she told me that she wanted to take my picture as a “greetings from Afghanistan” to Canadians. I told her that I was one of the lucky ones, as I had leave to be able to go home for Christmas. She said that didn’t matter, because she specifically wanted a Canadian police officer for the post. So at the top of the stairs to the TFK HQ, my picture was taken, and the requisite cheesy comment about greetings from the Sandbox were offered. I gave her a big hug, and we agreed to get together again after my return from leave.
While at home, celebrating Christmas and the New Year, I cannot begin to tell you how devastated I was to hear of Michelle’s being KIA along with four other heroic soldiers. I also worked with Bushra Saeed, who was severely injured in the same attack. At the same time, at home, the Ottawa Police Service lost their first member since 1983 to a line of duty death. Cst. Ireneus (Eric) Czapnick was stabbed to death by a deranged person outside the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital. Needless to say, that rates as my worst holiday season ever. In Toronto at the time of their repatriation, I was on the Highway of Heros as the hearses carrying Michelle and the other soldiers were brought home to their final rest. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of all of them, including Cst. Czapnick, whose funeral I attended the day before returning to theatre.
My time in Afghanistan, like that of most who have served there, is bittersweet. An amazing experience that I will never forget and, from the safety of my home, believe that I loved every second. However, I am one of the lucky ones that can say that I am home and I am safe.
WO Ed Storey, CD
I had been in the Class B Reserve job of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command Headquarters (CEFCOM HQ) War Diarist for less than a year when the opportunity arose to travel to Kandahar Airfield (KAF) on a 12-day Staff Inspection Visit (SAV) in July 2009. This was quite fortunate as I had just retired from a 26-year career with Mapping and Charting Establishment in Ottawa in October 2008 to work at CEFCOM; and although I had managed to deploy several times during the 1990s, mostly to The Former Yugoslavia, I had not had the chance to go to Afghanistan. The SAV was to look into how the paper and electronic documents were being maintained and what work would be required to catalogue the material once the mission was over and battle group had returned to Canada.
Following a long flight that took the three-person SAV from Ottawa through Frankfurt to Dubai, we arrived late on the night of 08 July and, following the usual in-routine and briefings, settled into the transient accommodations in Camp Mirage (CM). The next day we were to draw weapons, helmets and body armour and book ourselves onto the flight into Kandahar. It was during this administrative phase of the trip that I started to explore the various CM buildings and memorial to the fallen.
I had followed quite closely the newspaper and television reports of the work and fighting in Afghanistan as well as the all too regular repatriation ceremonies for the fallen. What had not occurred to me was just how much inspirational support from Canada the troops had been receiving and how personal the loss was to those serving in theatre. Not only were the walls of the dining facility and the games room adorned with photographs, artwork, quilts, flags and messages from home, but there was also a very nice memorial to the fallen in the middle of the camp. The dark polished granite, three-piece memorial, with the names cast on bronze plaques, was situated on a small grassed area. Mounted on the memorial was a bas-relieve plaque by Silvia Pecota and a flag pole with a Canadian flag was in place just behind the structure. Visitors to the memorial were encouraged and for many who moved through CM, this was a chance to pay their respects to the fallen.
KAF was much the same, although in this case the memorial to the fallen was very large and based on white granite with separate etched stone plaques to the fallen.
Situated in the centre was the original stone memorial from Kabul with another Silvia Pecota bas-relief. This memorial dominated the south-west side of the Headquarters building and had been the backdrop for several of the televised announcements for Canadian casualties. As well, every Canadian common area and work place was suitably decorated with material sent from Canada. All of this outpouring of public support was new to me as I had never experienced anything like it during my tours in The Former Yugoslavia. We always got the much welcomed cards and letters from the public, but it was the mementos, the class photographs, hand-made quilts, huge signed posters with hundreds of names and artwork from pre-school children which was unheard of.
I then started to wonder what was going to happen to all of this material. I imagined that a few of the choice pieces would find their way back to Canada and would eventually end up in a museum or perhaps someone’s basement which was fine, although I felt pretty sure that most of it would probably be discarded. As well, what was the plan for the two memorials?
While on the SAV, I had casually asked some of the senior staff what the plan was for the memorials once the mission in Afghanistan was over and to my surprise everyone had a different answer. Naturally the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa as well as the various bases such as Edmonton, Petawawa and Valcartier were the most common answers and it was clear to me that if there was a memorial repatriation plan in place, it was not well understood.
Once I was back at CEFCOM HQ in Ottawa, I asked the staff if there was a repatriation plan for the memorials and I quickly found out that CEFCOM HQ was relying on the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH) for advice on this matter. Besides the two memorials there also needed to be a way in which some of the various mementos could be brought home and saved, either by being returned to the original donor or publicly displayed in a local museum or Legion. The public support for the Canadian military was at its greatest since the Second World War and now was the time to save some of this material for future generations of Canadians to enjoy and appreciate.
To make this happen I solicited and received the support of two remarkable ladies who worked at CEFCOM HQ. Both understood why this material should be saved and both quickly offered their support behind the project. The first was Irene Lythal who was in charge of visits and protocol. Irene, by the nature of her job knew all of the senior Officers on a first name basis and could be counted on to explain to them the importance of the project. Anne McMahon was the CEFCOM Directives for International Operations (CDIO) editor and was the best at finding all of the various rules and regulations concerning artifact and memento repatriation that resided on line; she was also an exceptionally good wordsmith and came up with a name for the project, Operation KEEPSAKE.
It as now late September 2009, we had a name for the potential repatriation process now all we needed was official support. Irene met with Lieutenant-General Lessard Commander CEFCOM while I met with Command Chief Warrant Officer Hamalainen to explain and sell the Op KEEPSAKE idea. Both gentlemen saw the merit to the plan and supported the proposal so all that was required was to do the necessary staff work. With Irene and I writing and Anne editing the necessary briefing notes and proposals, Op KEEPSAKE was approved by CEFCOM in early 2010 and in late June Irene and I were scheduled to travel to CM and KAF for two weeks. Operation KEEPSAKE was a go.
Navy EOD expert recalls astonishing incident “We just want to help.”
By Darlene Blakeley Maple Leaf 2009
Credit: DND CPO2 Charlie Savard holds a certificate of appreciation given to him for service with ISAF’s Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Team in Regional Command South, Afghanistan.
“We just want to help.” These words, from Navy clearance diver Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Charlie Savard, neatly sum up the attitude of many sailors deployed to the dusty plains and mountains of Afghanistan. A long way from their normal sea-based environment, they nonetheless work alongside members of the Army and Air Force to ensure that Canada’s objectives are being met in that war torn country.
And, like their counterparts, they have stories to tell.
CPO2 Savard, an explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) expert from Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific), recently returned from over seven months in Afghanistan. Although originally sent over with 1 Combat Engineer Regiment from Edmonton, he was immediately seconded to ISAF’s Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Team in Regional Command South. As a highly skilled post-blast investigator, he then joined the Counter Explosives Exploitation Cell where he worked in a Kandahar lab dealing with blast evidence following incidents.
The talents of CPO2 Savard, a 24-year veteran with the Navy, were in high demand and he worked alongside other experts in the EOD field from countries such as Australia, Britain and the US in both Kandahar and Helmand Province. “Most of the guys had at least 17 or 18 years experience and we meshed together nicely,” he says.
Mid-way through his tour, CPO2 Savard was tasked to go with an American EOD team to a forward-operating base in Helmand Province. While there, they were asked to accompany a convoy to a smaller base nearby that had been under siege for 30 days and had run out of rations. During the pre-operation briefing, they were told that IEDs were common along the only route they could follow to get to the base.
“This looks like a bad B movie,” quipped one of CPO2 Savard’s colleagues. “We’re being forced down a channel into a certain area.”
His words turned out to be prophetic. The convoy successfully reached the base with much-needed rations and supplies, but the return journey proved to be the stuff of stories told to grandchildren in later years.
“We received word just before we left the base that insurgents were mad because they had missed the convoy going in,” says CPO2 Savard. Although they were well-prepared, it was still startling when the convoy came under attack.
CPO2 Savard was riding in a light armoured vehicle with a driver, an EOD colleague and two young British soldiers. The soldiers, acting as sentries, were standing up in the hatch of the vehicle when the detonations started going off.
“One of the soldiers started to return fire and I was burned by the brass casings falling in my lap as I sat in the back seat,” says CPO2 Savard. All of a sudden something skinned the shoulder of the first soldier, bounced off the helmet of the second solider and landed in the road beside them where it exploded. Eye witnesses later told them it was a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), capable of travelling up to 294 metres per second.
Credit: DND The helmet of a British solider struck by an RPG during a recent mission in Afghanistan is displayed.
After quickly performing first aid on the soldier with the shoulder wound, checked the helmet of the other solider and found an oval mark and crack where the RPG had hit. In typical battlefield humour, the main concern arose when the soldier with the wound realized that as the RPG skinned his shoulder, it effectively removed a tattoo for which he had recently paid 75 pounds.
“Except for the tattoo,” laughed CPO2 Savard, “we walked out of there lucky.”
Now back in Canada, CPO2 Savard tells the story to shed light on the work of Navy clearance divers in Afghanistan. “We are highly trained to do this kind of work – we can do any type of land or sea ordnance disposal all over the world.”
To Whom This May Concern,
Steve – Royal Canadian Regiment, 2009 Police OMLT
“We started out on our patrol south of our small camp with 7 Canadians and 12 Afghan police. For this patrol we traveled further south with only just our small group than ever before. It was just an odd day all around as nothing seemed to work out that day even our best Afghans had left for the day leaving us with the worst of our Afghans we were sent to mentor. A middle aged man across the wadi from us was waving us away but we pressed on without giving it much thought. The Afghan man grabbed his two children, jumped on his motorcycle and drove off. We still moved forward but when we had finished our southern sweep we were to follow a road north with walls on both sides meaning no escape. We still do not know why but I believe it was God that made us go outside of our patrol route to search a building which had more then 25 Taliban fighters waiting for us to travel north on the road, giving them the perfect kill zone to open up on all us. We instead walked right into them.
When the first rounds started flying we all ran for cover but our Warrant Officer, my friend and I were stuck, separated south of the building we intended to search, but our team was on the north of the building. As I lay on the ground behind a 2 foot mud wall that was being torn away by rounds I could hear over the radio the MCpl yelling “man down! man down!” I remember at this time thinking of home and how cold it must be as it was January.
I came back to reality when the rounds hitting the top of the wall threw broken pieces of dried mud into my backpack knocking me on my side.
Once our northern team had returned fire, the fire on us backed off enough that we could also return fire. My friend and I saw a fighter 25 meters to our east behind a building wall but he would take cover from our rounds so we threw grenades in his direction. He did not come out after that. We threw purple smoke and and moved west to get cover from the building we intended to search. Our Warrant Officer called in CF18s to give a show of force fly-by as they were too close to call in ordinance.
I climbed to the roof and, seeing a observer in a tree 250 meters south, fired 2 bursts into him from my C9. We were then able to join our group as the fire fight had slowed down to a few random rounds back and forth. We then called in 155s as we moved away quickly north.
Our injured fighter was an Afghan who was shot in his right elbow and his right side. The round had passed into his spine paralyzing him. We made the fast 1 kilometre peel back to our camp where we had a Blackhawk meet us to MEDIVAC him.
If we had not decided to search the souther building before traveling north on the road I am confident I would not be here to tell this story which I thank God every day.
Major Ray Wiss, M.D., August 4, 2009 (Excerpted from “A Line in the Sand”)
Before my going-away party last night, I was hanging around with a group of soldiers as they planned a foot patrol for the next day. A large group was involved, and a fair bit of territory would be covered. For half the time, the patrol would be split in two. There was only one medic, Junior Capelli Horth, on the team. The risk of having a group of soldiers without a medic was obvious to everybody. One of them said, “Hey, Doc, ‘Bed’ Bedard, the PA, is back. He can cover the UMS now. You’re ex-infantry. Why don’t you come along with us?”
He had half-meant it as a joke, but in the silence that followed I could tell that everyone was thinking about the obvious advantages to the patrol of his suggestion. The kinship I felt with these men right at that moment would be impossible for someone who has not been in the combat arms to appreciate. One other factor influenced me right then, one the other men were not aware of. The PA I was replacing at my next FOB was not going on leave immediately. Instead, he was going to be posted to KAF for two weeks. If anything were to happen to me on this patrol, the army would have two weeks to get my replacement in position.
I said I would come.
In less than twelve hours, I would be going on a Taliban hunt. My wife had predicted I would do this: go on a combat patrol. I had agreed that, under the right conditions, I would. Now it was going to happen. I went to bed around midnight. “Bed” had reclaimed the lower bunk, and I had slept above him the previous night. That was when I discovered that my good friend snores like a sawmill. Even my top-of-the line earplugs were no match for the thunder that blasted forth from his nasal passages. If I was to have any chance to have some shut-eye I needed to move to a different building. So I went to an overflow tent we have installed for Priority Charlie casualties.
I lay down, but I did not sleep. My mind kept playing over all the various ways my act of soldierly solidarity could go disastrously wrong, and how I would respond to each scenario.
1. Very seriously wounded: paralysis or multiple amputations. The worst. I will have failed in my promise to Claude and Michelle, not only to take care of them forever but also to return in one piece. My life will be transformed. Activity and productivity will be replaced, at least for an extended period, by pain and the frustration of rehab. I will certainly become depressed. How bad will it get? Will I get over it?
2. Seriously wounded: single amputation or disfigurement. Very bad. Depending on the location and severity of the wound, how will I get myself back into emergency medicine? What will I still be able to do with my wife and daughter? What will I no longer be able to do? How will people see me?
3 . Wounded: hurt in a way that can be fixed but ends my tour. Bad. The pain will be nothing compared with the guilt I will feel at being unable to complete my mission. I will have let the health services team down.
4. Dead. Emotionally, easier to contemplate than option 1. Better to be killed outright than to be mangled beyond recognition. Intellectually, I know that is not true. Most severely wounded soldiers are grateful to be alive, no matter how much they feared mutilation and disfigurement before.
All that kept me tossing and turning until I gave up around 0330. I got out of bed, ate some cereal and spent a minute in the incredibly bright light of the full moon, collecting my thoughts and focusing on the task at hand. I then got my gear on: helmet, ballistic glasses, frag vest, tac vest, pack with medical gear and eight litres of water, pistol, rifle, full load of ammunition. And I headed out, much earlier than I needed to. I recognized my behaviour from wars gone by: when something bad is coming your way, the worst part is the waiting. Starting, even starting early, gets the process going and reduces the anxiety you feel.
The patrol was assembling on the other side of the FOB. This turned out to be a good thing. After the first few hundred metres, I stopped and readjusted my gear. This was the first time I had worn all my “kit” over anything more than a short distance, and a few things were not as comfortable as they could be. The last thing I wanted for the next several hours was to be distracted by something chafing my skin. When I arrived at the patrol marshalling area, the other soldiers were pulling themselves together. They had done this a hundred times or more on this tour. Their unhurried, economical movements and their calm, precise interactions with each other made it look like this was just another day at the office. Which, for them, it was. I doubt that any of them had had trouble sleeping.
At 0500 the patrol commander called us together and reviewed the plan for the patrol. Then we sat down and waited. This was to be a joint operation with the ANP. This would give the patrol more guns as we went into a dangerous area. We would also have “Afghan eyes,” eyes that are more attuned to things that are out of place. But the police, far less reliable than the ANA, were late. At 0600, the police still had not shown up. The sun was cresting the mountains behind Bazaar-e-Panjwayi. Not only were we late getting started, we would now be exposed to the sun from the start. The patrol commander was faced with an awkward choice: go forward with an undermanned patrol or waste a day. I was hoping he would pick the latter, but there was never much doubt he would go forward with the mission.
A few minutes after 0600, we moved out. I took my place in front of the rear guards, telling myself I was in the safest location. That was pure rationalization: every soldier who goes out on patrol is exposed to the same extreme risks. The point man approached the FOB’s perimeter wall . . . and all the lessons I had learned at the Combat Training Centre so long ago came flooding back.
Just before you get to the wall of the FOB, take the magazine off your rifle. The first bullet is on the right. Put the magazine back on the rifle, rack the action. Take the magazine off. The first bullet is now on the left. No misfeed, you are sure there is a bullet in the breach. Weapon on “safe.” Put the magazine back on the rifle. Give the magazine a firm slap, then shake it to make sure it is securely seated. Index finger on the trigger guard. Thumb on the safety. Flick it to “fire,” flick it back to “safe.” Repeat.
Step outside the FOB wall. Walk slowly and deliberately. Watch your “arc,” the part of the 360-degree circle that is your responsibility. Glance ahead, glance back, glance to the side. Check your spacing, not too close to any other soldier. Do not give the enemy a tempting target. Watch your arc. Scan slowly right to left, then look quickly back to the right. Repeat. We are used to reading left to right. If you scan left to right, you can fall into a repetitive rut and become less attentive. Scanning right to left is unnatural. The slight irritation this causes keeps you alert. Scan right to left. Repeat. Watch your arc.
The patrol stops. Move off the road. Look carefully at the ground to see if it has been recently disturbed. Disturbed earth means someone may have been digging there. Digging . . . and leaving something behind. Don’t think about what IEDS do to exposed legs. Find cover. Mud walls are good; they are like concrete and will stop most rifle bullets and rocket fragments. Check behind the wall—don’t ignore the obvious. Just because it is suicidal to launch an ambush from there doesn’t mean the Talis won’t try it.
Focus on the area right in front of you, where the threat would be greatest: the Talis have started putting directional IEDs in the trees. Look for wires. Then focus on the middle distance. Directional IEDs have to be detonated by someone watching the patrol. Where would the trigger-man be? Then check the far distance. Repeat the process: up close, middle distance, far distance. What could you have missed? What you don’t see can kill you. Watch your arc.
The patrol is moving again. Check behind you. Make sure the rear guards, who had been facing backwards, know that we are moving out. We don’t want to bunch up, but we can’t be too spread out either. We have to be able to return concentrated gunfire if we are attacked. Start walking. Check your interval. Watch your arc. Possible threat. Someone watching us from a tree line. Rifle up. Look through the scope, check it out. It is a “fighting-age male.” No obvious weapons. Just watching us. Centre the crosshairs on his chest. About three hundred metres. If I need to, I am sure I can make the shot. We have to keep moving. Note the man’s position. Where will he go if he wants to engage us? Where could he be hiding weapons? Stand up. Start walking. Watch your arc. Someone coming down the road, from behind us, on a motorcycle. The patrol stops. Same routine as before, only now you also pay attention to the rear guards. They wave the motorcyclist over to the side of the road, indicating that he should disembark and distance himself from his vehicle. One soldier searches him, then moves over to search the motorcycle. The other rear guard covers him. The search uncovers nothing. The man gets waved through. Watch your arc. Watch the motorcyclist as he passes by you. Stand up. Keep walking. Watch your arc.
After twenty minutes this routine became natural. I would not say I was any less frightened, but I was much less tense. We continued down Route Hyena. In my more relaxed state, I was able to better appreciate the non-military aspects of what I was seeing. Three things stand out in my memory. First, we were overtaken by a family of Afghans. They were going at a brisk pace, far faster than we were. After being searched by the rear guards, the family was waved through the patrol. They were led by a man with a child on his back. He was followed by two women, each clad in full burka. The women would be his two wives. The woman closer to him would most likely be the younger second wife. This man probably agreed more with the Taliban than with me.
While the man led his family right by me as if I were not there, the other Afghans who crossed our patrol made eye contact with me. I would address them with the traditional Muslim greeting “Salaam aleikum” (“Peace be unto you”). They would smile and reply “Aleikum salaam” (“And peace be unto you as well”). A few of them went further and demonstrated body language that indicated pleasure at our presence. And one group of young men went much, much further than that—into territory that may well mark them for Taliban reprisals. There were three of them in a small truck loaded with grapes, the driver and the passenger in front and a third man in the back holding on to the produce. They were farmers headed for market. When I greeted them, the one in the back called out to the driver. The truck stopped and the man hopped out . . . and came towards me with a large bunch of grapes. I looked over at the member of the patrol closest to me. I must have had quite a shocked look because he quickly said, “It’s not a problem, Doc. They’re delicious. I’ve had them lots of times.” The man then said something in Pashto I did not understand, but he smiled even more broadly when I shook his hand and said, “Dera manena” (“Thank you very much”). Then he jumped back into his truck and drove off. I was only too happy to indulge in the grapes as I watched him leave. As advertised, they were delicious.
We stopped for a bit, while the patrol commander spoke to a local elder. The perimeter seemed clear and the patrol relaxed a little. I noticed we had attracted some pediatric attention. The only thing I had to give them was my grapes. They seemed pleased with that, but mostly they seemed intensely curious about the strangers in their midst. As I always do in these situations, I focused on the little girl. Her name sounded like “Maria,” and she is seven years old. It is sad to think how different her life will be from Michelle’s. It is even sadder to think of what her life will be like if we do not defeat the Taliban.
We ended up spending nearly a half hour in this position, providing security for the spontaneous mini-shura the patrol commander was holding. It was harder to stand still with all that gear on than it had been to walk. I was sorry to leave the children, but I was physically relieved to get going again. The patrol then got down to the business of the mission. There were a number of family compounds we wanted to check out. We always wait for an invitation before entering. This was somewhat illusory, the politeness of those who know they cannot be refused. Nonetheless, it did give the Afghans their dignity. The most important element here is respecting the Afghans’ zan (women). Under no circumstances must the search party see the women of the family. Each entry into a compound is therefore preceded by an elaborate request to please ask the zan to remove themselves to the women’s quarters. It is frustrating to think of what might be going on behind the compound walls while we wait outside. Anyone with something to hide has ample time to conceal potentially incriminating evidence. We could avoid this by crashing into every compound unannounced, but this would only guarantee that we would get some of the weapons and lose all of the people. This is a war of ideas. We have to act each time as if the Afghan we are dealing with is a potential ally, to be treated with respect, not a potential enemy, to be treated like a criminal. This holds true even if we are very suspicious that the individual’s allegiances lie with our enemies.
This attitude on the part of Canadians goes a long way with most of the rural folk here in the Panjwayi. At every compound we visited on this patrol, we were greeted warmly and invited in quickly. At every one . . . except the last one we called on. The reception here was the polar opposite. The owner of the compound was totally unco-operative, not even attempting to answer our questions. For whatever reason, he did not like us. After multiple requests to be invited into the compound were ignored, we proceeded with the search, something the Afghan security forces and their Coalition partners are legally entitled to do without a warrant. We did not find any weapons or other “smoking gun,” but we did notice a number of radios that had been taken apart. The wiring and receivers could be used for remote-controlled triggering mechanisms. We also found a large number of the plastic jugs that the IED makers stuff with homemade explosive. This guy was obviously “wrong,” but there was nothing definitive that proved he was aiding the Taliban. So we documented what we found and moved on. This compound will be watched more closely from now on. Eventually, the owner will slip up. They always do. The only questions are whether he will be killed or captured and whether he will take any of us down with him. Statistically speaking, the odds are against him.