That raven-haired angel
MS D Woodrow Clearance Diver. Counter IED Team 3, KAF Oct 2009-Apr 2010
I opened my eyes. It was dim in the ISO container that would serve as my sleeping quarters for the next 7 months. I sat up on the edge of my rack and collected my thoughts.
It was my first morning in Masum Ghar. We had rolled in late last night, after a few days of getting our shit sorted out in KAF, and now this was home. It had been dark when we arrived and we were welcomed by a rocket attack almost immediately. A Chinese 107mm shot into the FOB from somewhere out on the barren hillside. It had torn through several layers of tenting and punched right through a refrigerator belonging to an Australian dog-handler. He was pissed that it had ruptured his last can of Fosters. I imagined he would have been more pissed if it had actually detonated.
I had to deal with this because that’s my job here. I’m a navy diver and, as incongruous as it sounds to be a navy diver in the desert, I was here as an EOD operator. For the next 7 months my life would be bombs. Bombs and dust.
I got up and pushed open the outside door to have a look around. Nothing looked the same as it had last night in the darkness. I had been given the quick tour then but it looked like I would need it again, so I decided to give it to myself. I headed down the hill towards what appeared to be the center of activity in the FOB.
I noticed people coming out of an enclosed area. Most seemed to be carrying assorted items and it occurred to me this must be what we call “stores” in the navy. I think the army called it a CQ, or QC. …or something like that. Didn’t matter what they called it, my team needed a few things and this seemed like the place to get them. I went inside.
Now I realize that by this point I hadn’t seen my wife in a week or two, and I know that sometimes that affects a guy’s perception regarding another woman’s appearance. That clearly wasn’t a factor here. At all. The soldier that walked out from behind the storage rows to greet me was jaw-dropping. She would have been jaw-dropping anywhere in the world, at any time, under any circumstances.
Jet black hair, olive skin, crystal blue eyes…the kind with the dark rings around the iris that make it a physical effort to tear your gaze away. She had one of those rare physiques that made even military combat dress look good. Believe me…that is rare. Her smile was as blinding as the noon Afghan sun.
She mentioned her name. I don’t recall it and wouldn’t tell you if I did. It doesn’t matter.
You need to know something here: I’m married. Happily married. I love my wife and she’s beautiful too…but that’s not what this is all about.
Let me tell you what this is all about:
Almost every day my team would roll out of the FOB to deal with a bomb that had been found by patrolling soldiers. Sometimes, tragically, the bomb was found by a soldier stepping on the wrong spot, and we had to deal with the aftermath of that too. You do this often enough, for long enough, and you find yourself desperately searching for something to distract your mind. Maybe a memory of something normal….something immediate. You focus on a thought of something that assures you that, while this is your world for the next 7 months, it’s not your real world.
That raven-haired angel in “stores” was that thought. She embodied normalcy. She represented everything that was wonderful in the life that I had temporarily left behind. To return to the FOB at the end of every day and catch a glimpse of her working in her space was the reassurance I needed that there is kindness and beauty out there, and that I would have it again when this was over.
When my tour finally ended I meant to say something to her, to thank her for her inspiration, but the circumstances didn’t allow it. I’m not sure what I would have said anyway. My work was done and I was going home. As my angelic inspiration, her work was done too. I suppose it was strangely perfect that she was now just…..gone.
Reflections of a KIFC Production Officer
Lieutenant-Commander Corey Steiro, Kandahar Intelligence Fusion Center, November 2009 – April 2010
From mid-November to the end of April, I was the Production Officer at the Kandahar Intelligence Fusion Centre (KIFC). KIFC’s role is to provide fused intelligence through the J2 to the Command Team at the Regional Command (South) (RC(S)) To do this, and what makes KIFC unique to RC(S) is its ability to synthesize intelligence up to and including TS SA. KIFC is something of an enigma when it comes to Command Relationships in RC(S). In its simplest terms KIFC is TACON to the J2 and great efforts have been made that all production is viewed as KIFC/J2 and not one or the other. The difference is in the level of available intelligence within KIFC and the manning agreement which limits analysts to being from one of the Four Eyes Nation plus the Netherlands through an information sharing agreement. So while RC(S) may be a NATO entity due to the composition of troop contributing nations KIFC/J2 continues to make every effort to work at the Rel ISAF level. As the Production Officer I was responsible for 26 analysts of different ranks and various skill levels from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as the Netherlands.
I think everyone would agree that RC(S) is a dynamic environment. To explain what intelligence meant during my deployment is challenging due to the confluence of several independent factors in a relatively short period of time. First Command had just shifted from the Dutch to the Brits which had a radical impact on both the Battle-Rhythm as well as the expectations of the intelligence directorate. This was true of all directorates within the HQ, but was especially true for intelligence as we had by far the most information available through the plethora of various systems that resided with the KIFC. Secondly, and no less important, the US refocused on Afghanistan bringing a continuous influx of new US Troops. This impacted everything from logistics to redistribution of Task Force Battle-Spaces and included the incorporation of new sensors and capabilities into existing ones. Over-arching the US troop influx was General MacCrystal’s COIN theory which was being implemented in earnest. Op MOSHTARAK was undoubtedly the most visible evidence of the implementation of MacCrystal’s Theory during my time at KAF. However, HAMKIRI, was also taking shape and promises to be as influential. Just to add a little bit more complexity to the mix, MGen Flynn’s “Fixing Intelligence” was also released during my rotation and also had an undeniable impact.
It was not that the importance of intelligence was questioned during my deployment for there was an insatiable appetite. However, what was considered intelligence – especially in support of counter-insurgency warfare – expanded exponentially throughout the tour. In order to support the SHAPE-CLEAR-HOLD-BUILD phases of MacCrystal’s COIN theory as implemented by UK MGen Nick Carter, there was a requirement to have a more sophisticated knowledge of the battle-space. Therefore the traditional “red” focus expanded to include white and green as well. Undoubtedly there were still insurgents, which necessitated a kinetic response, however other factors grew to be equally if not more important. Knowing who should be targeted – both kinetically and non-kinetically, as well as what the potential 2nd and 3rd order effects required identifying what factors were important and how they combined to affect the battle-space. There were tribal issues, powerbroker dynamics, issues with infrastructure and the distribution of resources, religious issues, GIRoA Issues, ANSF Issues, to name just a few, and of course Pashtunwali, that all played some part in what we know as Afghanistan. Of course the intelligence requirements shifted somewhat dependent upon which phase of the operation we were in.
Because of what became to be understood as intelligence, as well as who was responsible to provide specific types of information, was constantly evolving, new constructs were developed to harness the copious amounts of information that existed in theater. So in the midst of providing intelligence support to the various decision makers and operational planners, intelligence organizations themselves were and are continuing to evolve in order to adapt to increasing requirements. To say that this was a dynamic environment would be a colossal understatement, and to be effective and indeed influential, one had to suspend personal beliefs and determine where and how to make the most of this opportunity. It was necessary to understand everyone’s role and responsibilities and make sure that everyone contributed. This was not the place for dead-weight, and those that did not or would not contribute were very quickly marginalized. Unfortunately for those that proved competent, they quickly became the work-horses and shouldered more than their share of the intelligence burden. As a result most in the J2/KIFC world felt like they were merely surviving.
Having said all that it was an extreme pleasure and honour to have served with intelligence professionals from the troop-contributing nations, both military and civilian, in a time where change was not only constant and rapid, but was expected and became just a part of the daily routine. As a Naval intelligence Officer it was a privilege to have been able to contribute at such an interesting time in both the Canadian Military as well as Afghanistan’s history. This experience will no doubt have an enduring impact on both my career and life in general.
Sailors Letter to the Vinyl Café
Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Cavel Shebib, CIMIC Operator, CIMIC Two Platoon 2 I/C, KPRT TFA 1-10, Sperwan, Afghanistan
25 June 2010
Your Remembrance Day show two years ago, which was rebroadcast last year, was exceptional. I have listened to it quite often over the past two years and it has affected me deeply. My wife and I made a trip to Vimy Ridge this past summer on our long overdue honeymoon trip, we have been married 15 years, partly due to that show. It was my third time there over my 19 year career in the CF. Each time I have been there, I am awed by the quiet splendor of the monument. It is truly breath taking. You cannot help but feel immensely proud to be Canadian when you are there, looking at the somber figures around the monument, contemplating on what the young men who gave their lives there accomplished. To run out of the cover of the trenches, into the smoke, the hail of bullets, the total unknown. Your friends falling next to you, and your not being able to stop to help them. I can now understand though, in a small sense what that felt like.
I now know the sounds of war. I have experienced the rattle of machine gun fire, and yes even the “sour gun metal taste of fear”. Although the sound of “wizbangs” didn’t fly over my head, the sound of AK 47’s firing at me, IED’s detonating, and RPG’s exploding, instilled the same sense of fear in me as the weapons of WWI and WWII did to those soldiers of both sides back then. To feel the pressure wave of a nearby explosion washing over you, knowing that there is nothing you can do to control it, instills a sense of fear that I can not accurately explain. That initial flash of panic, the question, “Is this it” flashing through your mind. Thoughts of wife and children. The relief a few seconds later after you take stock and find that you are alright. The calls from your friends asking if everyone is OK. The thankful calls of all OK in return, but sometimes not.
I have been trained to be a CIMIC (Civilian/Military Cooperation) operator with the KPRT (Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team). My job involves going out on patrols to villages, meeting with elders, and finding ways that we can help them help themselves. Help themselves in building infrastructure, schools, wells, and a better future for their children. 99% of the people I have met and spoken with here are appreciative of what Canada and ISAF are doing. They want the help, but are fearful of the Taliban. I have heard several times that because someone will most likely report to the Taliban that they were speaking with me that the TB will show up at their homes and threaten them. The Taliban’s main weapon is fear. But the Taliban themselves are fearful, fearful of what we are showing the people of Afghanistan. Showing them that they should look to their government for support, and not support the Taliban. To help them reflect light in those dark places where the Taliban and others who would hold them back hide and take shelter. If we can get enough of these “mirrors”, it is my hope that there will be no more dark places. Only places for children to play, sing, dance, go to school and be children. To let the people of Afghanistan know that even though the world did let them down previously through their history, Canada and the world has been trying to help now, and is willing to sacrifice her own to do it.
I often think about that sacrifice. Not just about the sacrifice in young lives cut all too short, but the sacrifice of the families of those who serve. The sacrifice my wife is making, going without a husband for so long. The sacrifice my children are making, going without their dad for so long. With the exception of a few weeks here and there that I can be home on leave, I am away nearly 14 months with the pre-deployment training and the actual deployment. 14 months without the feeling of small arms around my neck, a peck on the cheek, an “I love you daddy” whispered into my ear at bed time. Before I left for training, I tried to explain to my kids about big picture stuff, about things that are bigger and more important then us as a family. That sometimes the right thing to do is difficult beyond imagining. But for a 10 year old boy and an 8 year old girl, the only reality to them is that their dad is leaving for a long time and that with his leaving, there is a chance that he may not come back.
I would not be so bold as to compare my sacrifice to those soldiers of Vimy, Korea, the North Atlantic, the skies over England and other places where Canadian military members have served and died. But my families sacrifice is the same as the families of those soldiers, sailors, and airmen who voluntarily left home to serve and to risk their lives for the greater good. I do worry about not coming home. Not just my fear of being hurt or killed. I fear for my family and what they will have to endure if such a thing happens. I have awakened at night with the images of my nightmares so vivid and fresh in my mind that I initially have the urge to call my wife and tell her that it is a mistake, that I am alive and OK.
I apologize for rambling somewhat Stuart. I am not even sure what the intent of my writing to you might be. I guess I am wondering if possible, if you do another show with a Remembrance Day theme, or even if you spend a few minutes sometime though the year speaking on our Canadian Forces, could you ask your listeners to think and pray for our families, our children, our moms and dads.
Could you ask them to think of their sacrifice too. I know that Canada’s role in Afghanistan is an issue which easily generates debate. I don’t wish your show to be political. Regardless of Canadians feelings about our involvement, we have Canadians there. They will be there over another holiday season, over more birthdays, anniversaries, midget hockey games and school plays. Their trying to do the right thing, trying to do the best they can, trying to do their jobs far away from home and those who love them. If you could do that. If you could have your listeners think and pray for our families, I would really appreciate it. My family and I love your show, we listen to it often on Sunday afternoons and my wife and I were fortunate enough to even see you once, the last time you were in Halifax. Thanks for your time.
Padre Jean-François Noël, Chaplain / Aumônier, Captain / Capitaine, 4th Air Defence Regiment/Le 4e Régiment d’artillerie antiaérienne
Lors des funérailles du Cplc Michaud en juillet 2010 (2R22R) à Edmunston (NB), je me souviens d’avoir rencontré l’aumônier retraité, le Padre Wallen Bossé. Il m’avait dit les larmes à l’œil, que le plus beau de notre ministère c’était quand nous étions en mission avec nos troupes. Quelques mois plus tard, je quittais moi-même pour l’Afghanistan avec en tête le visage de ce Padré et ces paroles.
J’ai servi les troupes de l’ESN Roto 10 en Afghanistan. Tant de souvenirs, mais je me souviens entre autre de cette première patrouille à pieds que j’ai fais avec les gars du Groupement Tactique (GT) dans la maison de peloton située à Pul. Quelques jours avant mon arrivée, un engin explosif avait explosé sur la route Chimo. C’était le premier incident majeur à survenir pour les gars de la nouvelle rotation.
Heureusement, personne n’est mort et miraculeusement, le cplc qui était le plus proche de la décharge explosive a survécu puisqu’il s’est penché pour ajuster les courroies de son sac à dos au même moment où l’engin explosait. Il y a de ces moments où la vie ne tient qu’à un fil…! Il y a une expression qui dit que nous avons deux vies sur cette terre. Notre deuxième vie commence le jour où l’on réalise que nous en avons juste une. Pour ce membre, ce fut probablement le premier jour de sa deuxième vie.
À mon arrivée sur la maison de peloton, le Lt qui était également un ami, m’a dit qu’il planifiait faire une patrouille à pieds dans le village. L’incident avait créée un inconfort puisque les gars réalisaient qu’ils étaient vulnérables sur la route et pas invincibles. Il m’invite donc….je ne dis pas oui ni non. En fait, je ne dis rien et je me dis qu’il va peut-être m’oublier. Mais non, quelques minutes avant de partir : « prêt Padré? » Je n’ai donc pas le choix! Je mets mon équipement, je n’ai pas d’armes, je prends mon chapelet dans ma poche et je marche avec les gars. C’est un des plus beaux sentiments….je leur faisais entièrement confiance. Je me sentais si vulnérable sur cette route…je marchais dans les pas du Sergent en avant de moi. J’avais peur certes, mais j’étais confiant avec les gars avec qui j’étais. Ils ont fait leur devoir de fantassin avec une attitude et avec une détermination qui m’ont marquées pour la vie. Au retour, je partage le souper et je joue même aux cartes avec quelques gars. La marche nous a unit….
Quelques mois plus tard, lorsque nous apprenons le décès tragique du cpl Yannick Scherrer (1R22R), je me rappelle ces moments passés à la maison de peloton de Pul. Je revois son visage et le bref échange que nous avons eu. Le jour même de son décès, des membres de son peloton son à KAF. Ils reviennent de leur HLTA et ils viennent juste d’apprendre la triste nouvelle. On demande à ce que je vienne les rencontrer et je dis oui sans aucune hésitation! Je quitte avec le Padre Paco Simancas. Nous allons acheter une caisse de bière non-alcoolisée et nous allons rejoindre les gars de la section. Nous sommes en cercle et on parle….On commence par une prière, puis les gars commencent à parler de Yannick, raconte des histoires et des anecdotes…On rit…Il y a des larmes, il y a des accolades, il y a de la fraternité et de la compassion au cœur de la mort d’un de nos frères d’armes. Ce soir-là, même une alerte à la roquette ne réussira pas à perturber notre rencontre.
Oui, comme aumônier militaire, je suis un témoin privilégié de la grande force de l’être humain mais aussi de sa fragilité. Je dédie cette histoire à tous ces hommes et ces femmes qui ont servi en Afghanistan, à ceux qui sont morts, à ceux qui ont survécu, à tous ceux qui savent maintenant que notre deuxième vie commence le jour où on réalise que nous en avons juste une…! Je me souviens!
Clearance Divers in Afghanistan
Lieutenant Commander Roland Leyte, Clearance Diver
PO2 Criag Blake
Lieutenant Commander Roland Leyte, Clearance Diver
PO2 Criag Blake (Clearance Diver) deployed to Kandahar in April 2010 as a EOD/IED technician. He was KIA on 3 may 2010, after being in theatre for two weeks. He was the sole RCN sailor lost to the GWOT in Afghanistan and the only Clearance Diver killed in a Theatre of War in the 60 year history of Clearance Diving in the RCN.
PO Blake had been dealing with an IED when he held up what we initially thought was a peace sign but as it turns out it was the number two. He had just finished rendering safe his second IED in theatre. He and his troop then headed back to their vehicles when some Afghan children appeared over top of a mud wall asking for some water. Craig and his team stopped and they passed their plastic water bottles to the children. They were all bunched up and started to walk to their vehicles again when a radio controlled IED was detonated at Craig’s feet. He died very soon after that and his troop was badly injured in the explosion, just 5 minutes after rendering safe his second IED.
His service of remembrance was held at CFB Shearwater, Nova Scotia on Friday, May 14, 2010
Reall Bennett, Surveillance Operator – Dog Handler, January 2010 to April 2010
Touchdown KAF via Dubai Germany it all became surreal
KAF Task Force 3/09 time to relax, briefings upon more briefings and then off to the FOB. Occupation , to serve the American Army and support the Afghan Police. Our mission to provide surveillance using American Army , Air Force capabilities as well as Private Contracting. We would watch over troops and equipment 24/7, but most importantly the invasion or contact of opposing forces.
Our greatest trial and tribulations always go unnoticed, in times of what we take and cannot have but to hold that is true.
Seeing and speaking with the troops first hand patrol after patrol, was a mix of excitement and loyalty always thinking of home. We were in locations that often at times we could see the aftermath of battle. Especially the vehicles that were hit by the notorious IED. Vehicles damaged outside by explosions. Also the realization of those troops being pinned inside, with full magazines laying aimlessly. Shattered windows with rear doors blown off the hinges.
To show weakness in the face of the enemy, is to show the strength in my soul, for they do not know of its nature to reveal the power I control.
Finally changing locations I determined the fight was at hand. With the area very quiet you could see the changes the troops were making. It was a rewarding feeling that men and women I served with were going home safe. Old friends new stories a lot of anxiety was lifted and soldiers never forgotten . For they are the real heroes.
It is the way of life character and never ending drive to do what is expected of you as a soldier no matter what the adversity.
And to always remember there is never enough said , never enough done for the men and women of the war, through which freedom reigns.
Civpol Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team
Cst Annie Lacroix, SPVM Montreal Police- Civpol Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, Camp Nathan Smith
November 2009 to August 2010
The following are excerpts from my diary during my mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan from November 2009 to August 2010. I was stationed at Camp Nathan Smith with my contingent. I was there as a civilian police officer under the International Police Operation Branch (RCMP). I was assigned to the ANP Policewomen department at Kandahar police Headquarter(Gender Issue) and also to mentor, train and facilitate Afghan National Police male and female members in classrooms as well as on patrol.
My first glimpse of Afghanistan
Today was the first time I left the confines of Camp Nathan Smith since I arrived two weeks ago. I was part of a motorcade off to visit Afghan police headquarters in Kandahar, dressed in full gear… half military, half police. Protection was a must.
As we drove away from the base, I got my first glimpse of Afghanistan. Upon entering the city, I was surprised to see streets bustling with people and vehicles – downtown was a busy place! We arrived at a guard house where officers from the Afghan National Police (ANP) greeted and motioned us through. At police headquarters, my colleagues and I, accompanied by our interpreter, exited our vehicle and made our way to the Forensic Identification Division. The men there had warm handshakes and smiles for us… myself included! Surprised and pleased, I returned the greeting and stumbled through a few words of Pachto, which based on their reaction was not half-bad.
They served us tea as we talked about different issues and the next forensic identification course to be given at the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team’s training centre. I suggested a female police officer take the course, explaining it would be helpful in acquire evidence from women subjects, out of respect for their culture and religion.
The division commander agreed. We then had to confirm with the captain in charge of the female officer contingent, who said he had the perfect candidate (Update on January 8: The female officer actually started and completed the forensic identification course, even though she had some challenges attending the course because she was a woman.)
Unfortunately, I was unable to meet any female police officers that day. They were off in order to prepare for the Eid al-Adha religious holiday. I asked the investigations commander a few questions about when they would be back. He, in turn, asked when we would be returning. It is impossible to say, because we ourselves find out only at the last minute, for security reasons.
A few hours later, we made our way back to Camp Nathan Smith. The streets were just as jam-packed as when we’d first arrived – street peddlers, market stalls, children playing with whatever they found in the street… Another world, another time. It was a great morning.
For the women of Afghanistan who dream of a better life – December 2009
I’m off again today to police headquarters in Kandahar. This time, I’m hoping to meet the female police officers here in Afghanistan. These brave women, undaunted by the plight of their homeland, women who dare to veer off the beaten path and claim their rightful place in society. Women who continue to garner praise in the media. I dreamt about meeting them long before I ever set foot in Afghanistan. I’ve prepared for this long-awaited meeting, because our visits are sometimes short and I have to share the same interpreter with several colleagues. I have with me a binder where I’ve written down the many questions I want to ask them regarding their equipment, their training, the nature of their work, etc. But I want to save some time at the end to listen to their stories, because I’ve no doubt they have plenty to say.
I remove some of my gear after our convoy parks within the confines of police headquarters. The soldiers offer me close protection, which I accept because I’m told you can trust no one here. I go with my gut. Insurgents and the Taliban are an ever-present threat, even within the police department.
Accompanied by our interpreter and a soldier, we head to the office at the end of a dark hallway – in Kandahar, electricity is a luxury available only three hours a day. I knock and wait to be invited in, but one of the officers motions me in. Inside are long couches lined up against the walls, the faded paint making the room look all but abandoned. A coffee table, a desk at the far end of the room and a coat rack that seems to collapse under the weight of a ton of blue material complete the decor. The windows have been painted over, with only a few slivers of light making their way into the room. I am surprised to see a few women wearing flowered dresses, veils over their head. They look as surprised as me.
We greet each other.
– Salamaleycum! Tsenga ye?
– Za cha yem. Tsatenga ye?
– Ze me noum Cst. Annie deh. Za yem polés.
As I stumble through what little I know of the local language, they smile. Is it my poor pronunciation or my diligent effort? I’ll never know… all that matters is that I’ve broken the ice. I then let the interpreter take over because this is a very difficult language. That’s how I made contact with these female officers and the meeting began.
A female police officer in Kandahar starts the day off by taking care of her 14 children and husband. Then she has to wait for a member of her family or an Afghani police escort to pick her up and accompany her to work. She has to wear a burqa because her culture and religion require she keep herself covered. Female police officers are in constant danger, as are their families, because of their chosen profession. Family members are sometimes kidnapped as a sign of disapproval and intimidation.
Female officers have almost no training and no equipment, because they are not a priority. Their duties are limited to taking reports and searching females and buildings. During these searches, they are sometimes left alone with several suspects. On occasion, they have to defend themselves, sometimes with no weapon. They work seven days a week, and are sometimes required to take part in special nighttime operations. During these operations, in which they search buildings, members of the Afghan National Police (ANP), males and females alike, regularly face Taliban fighters, insurgents or angry citizens who resort to bombings or kamikaze missions.
At the end of their shift, these women go home, again with an escort for protection. Just over a year ago, one of these women paid the ultimate price. Malalaï Kakar, a captain in the police department, was killed outside her home by the Taliban. She held a key position at police headquarters in Kandahar: she was in charge of investigations into crimes against female ANP officers. So it’s no surprise that these women have low expectations. The harder they strive to make a name for themselves within the organization, the bigger the target on their backs. Yet they continue to hope for a better life. And back at home, family life picks up where it left off that morning, another busy shift to be completed before nightfall.
I left the meeting feeling honoured and proud, but sad too. Honoured because I, Annie, had had the privilege of talking to these brave, determined and tireless trailblazers. Proud to be a woman, because I see in them an almost superhuman power, a drive to change things and push boundaries in the face of adversity. They represent so well all women around the world. And sad because they have chosen a difficult path, on a daily basis they face challenges and limitations we cannot even imagine, and they may never reap the benefits of their labours…
Sometimes when I realize the magnitude of the obstacles and barriers I face in attempting to better their lot, I am utterly discouraged. That’s when I remember my meeting with those women, the reason I’m here, what I’ve dreamt about for so long…
And that’s why we can never give up, like these women.
My memorable meeting with Agha Jan Kakar
March 8 was International Women’s Day. This day has great meaning in Afghanistan — it’s a time to stop and think about the place of women in this country. What I wanted was to sit down and talk with my female Afghan counterparts at the headquarters building. The last time I visited, insurgents had set off a car bomb the day before, shattering all of the building’s windows.
Every time I visit, I realize just how tough things are for both my sisters and brothers in arms. They are forever starting over from square one. Everyone has to fight for survival and stability. I am in awe at just how much the Afghans are able to accomplish with so few resources, in almost impossible conditions. After every blow, they get up, dust themselves off and get back to work. We could learn so much from them.
They may not have the same knowledge, the same education or organization, the stable environment we too often take for granted in Canada, but there is so much more they could teach us: the sense of family, staying strong in the face of adversity, finding new ways to adapt, their incomparable will to live and the natural friendship between men, sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand.
All you have to do is drive down any street to see the strong sense of family. Everywhere you look there are cemeteries where members of the same family rest in peace — rock piles topped with sticks adorned with multicolored flags. You can see compounds and their endless walls surrounding houses in which grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, children and grandchildren live together.
The tenacity of the Afghan people is evident after every bombing. They roll up their sleeves, recover the bodies of their colleague, friend, offspring, brother, sister, husband or wife, and get right back to work. This will to live and ability to adapt keep them going, because life goes on. Perhaps the constant threat of death gives them stronger survival instincts. It may seem harsh, but here, it’s an everyday reality.
And male friendships. It is common here, perfectly natural, to see a man holding the hand of a male friend or colleague. Even after months in the field, some of my fellow CIVPOLs still don’t understand it. But others take part in the practice out of respect for the Afghan culture, even if it makes them a bit uncomfortable. In Afghanistan, it’s how men show respect for each other.
On International Women’s Day, I was at police headquarters in Kandahar. I waited patiently for an interpreter so I could talk to the female police officers. By sheer coincidence, three Afghan interpreters from our camp were passing through and offered me their services for nothing in return. Which brings to mind another point: their generosity, yet another one of their great qualities. The day before, they’d had me for tea. Over here, making contacts is important, it’s how you secure favors, and it can sometimes save your life…
It was a memorable day.
In the policewomen’s office, I met Agha Jan Kakar. We talked about the life and trailblazing career of his sister, Malalai Kakar. The most high-profile female police officer in Afghanistan and now a legend in her homeland, Malalai paved the way for women in law enforcement in Afghanistan, dying at the hands of the Taliban. Malalai’s brother tells me how proud he is of her, and how much he admires his sister. It is men like him who, with their attitude, can rebuild a country. I will remember that day forever.
And the chaos persists. Insurgents continue to make their presence known in Kandahar. Damage throughout the city is evident. Soon we will be called out more often, and exposed to greater risks. I urge my fellow CIVPOL officers who patrol the area and work out of police stations in Kandahar to help Afghan police officers through mentorship and training: Peter Christie, Craig Dickie, Chris Short, John Gilmor, Bill Vollmar, David McIntire, Amir Butt, Andre Wyatt and Michel Boisvert. These are the kind of men who can make a difference, help rebuild a nation. They deserve our utmost respect, our admiration and so much more than a service medal.
My mission in Afghanistan: an experience like no other – May 2010
I hurry down the dark hallways of the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) in Kabul to the Office of Gender, Human and Child Rights. I am accompanied by fellow Canadians Cst. Marie-Josée Fournier and Cpl. Karen Holowaychuk as well as Jane Bakken, a Norwegian police officer.
We enter the office of General Shafiqa Quraishi of the Afghan National Police (ANP), who received a Woman of Courage Award from Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton in early 2010.
What an honour to meet this truly inspirational woman who has achieved so much in such a harsh environment. As I walk into her office, I find myself in the presence of a disarmingly simple and cheerful woman. After introductions and the usual pleasantries, we discuss the state of female police officers in Kandahar, where I am based, and the possibility of organizing a session of the Security Self-Awareness Course for them.
Participation in the female-only course, originally developed by Norwegian police, is intended to provide female ANP with more power and autonomy. It also gives them the right to carry their weapons at all times. The course had never been offered in Kandahar due to security concerns, and Canada is the only NATO member to send civilian police officers to train and mentor officers there. General Quraishi listens with interest and offers her assistance in getting things up and running.
Back in Kandahar, my list of duties now includes preparing the Security Self-Awareness Course and making arrangements to use the new female officer training centre. For her part, Cst. Fournier provides much-needed support, securing equipment and ensuring liaison with the MoI.
It’s at least 50°C today. I’ve been at the Kandahar airport for an hour and a half already, waiting for two female Afghan instructors from Kabul and the Norwegian officer who is accompanying them. Their plane finally lands. It’s really happening! Against all odds, we will be making history in Kandahar.
Two days later, I am waiting at the main gate of my home base for the candidates. It’s 9:15 a.m. and there’s no one in sight. Through my interpreter, I contact the female ANP officer in charge of the division, who tells me there will be only three or four candidates as she is not authorized to release more than that. I am momentarily deflated, but contact Marie-Josée to put pressure on the powers that be in Kabul. An hour and a half later, eight police officers and four guards from the prison in Kandahar arrive. One more obstacle cleared! The women are happy to be there, generous with thank-yous and hugs.
Over the next 12 days, the instructors teach these women about the Police Act, use of force, first aid, the police baton, pepper spray, 9 mm pistol, etc. We simulate armed suspect/victim scenarios to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test and they perform marvelously.
On Day 13 they receive with great pride their diplomas/equipment in the presence of Afghan officials as well as American and Canadian civilian and military representatives. It is one of the most moving ceremonies I experienced while in Afghanistan. It was important for me that the day be their moment of glory. These women stood their ground against those in this part of the country who refuse to see women as equals. It is a testament to their courage, persistence and determination.
I’m back home now. My mission ended in August. I have so many wonderful memories of the time I spent with female police officers in Kandahar. They were an inspiration to me, giving me strength when I was weak and courage when I was down. Today I found out that one of my Afghan officers has died – one with whom I’d spent my last moments in Kandahar. I am devastated. I’ve lost my sister in arms.
A tiny woman who was afraid of nothing, who worked at four or five different places to support her family. When I think about these women and the hand they’ve been dealt in life, I wish I could have done more for them. During the course, they would arrive exhausted after a long night at work or at home. Some were so sick they could barely stand up, others had just been released from the hospital, reporting faithfully for duty.
Nothing was ever easy throughout this process. I cursed, I got discouraged, so often nothing going the way it should, but I have no regrets. At times, I had to choose my battles, and I think I chose wisely. I will miss Afghanistan, or rather the female Afghan police officers who came to mean so much to me.
WO Ed Storey, CD, Camp Mirage – Mission Close-Out Team
In September 2010 the media was reporting that talks were being held between the Canadian Government and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) concerning the fate of the Canadian Camp Mirage (CM) staging base. This administrative and logistics desert airfield had been in use by the Canadian military since 2002 and it was now becoming clear that the UAE may ask Canada to vacate the camp.
It was an average Thursday morning at Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEFCOM) Headquarters in Ottawa when I turned on my computer to read the latest batch of e-mails. One of the messages, which had been sent out late the day before, was from the Canadian Joint Operational Support Group (CJOSG) in CFB Kingston instructing me to report to CFB Trenton the next morning (15 October) at 0400 in order to fly out to CM as part of the Mission Close-Out Team (MCT). My task was to be the Op KEEPSAKE representative, basically to collective mementos for repatriation back to Canada.
After a quick call to my wife to let her know of the news, I started the Departure Assistance Group (DAG) process in order to confirm that all of my personal administration was up-to-date. This task took most of the day and to top things off I also had to secure a ride to Trenton and to get my Class B reserve contract changed over to a Class C contract.
Lucky all of my administration was up-top-date and I still had my desert clothing from a previous trip to Kandahar in the summer. WO Pascoe, another Class B annuitant and a colleague from work volunteered to drive me to Trenton so after packing my kit, saying bye to the family and grabbing a few hours of sleep he arrived at my Barrhaven home at midnight to start the trip.
The late night/early morning drive to Trenton was uneventful and even with a stop in Napanee for eggs and toast we still made it to the airport with lots of time to spare. WO Pascoe helped me unload my kit and then he headed back to Ottawa which left me to sit in the Trenton Air Movements Unit (AMU) departure lounge with all of my baggage. The time passed relatively quickly, especially as more people arrived for the flight and soon the AMU was alive with activity. I met up with the other person from Ottawa, LCol St. Onge who I had tried to contact to arrange a ride but had been out of his office doing his admin, and we talked about each other’s respective jobs. His job would be to oversee the disposal of any surplus equipment from CM to our coalition partners.
You know you have been in the military a long time when you run into people who your recognize, well I met up with Sgt Leese who was a loadmaster on CC177 Globemasters and who I had flown out of Kandahar with some 18 months ago. He was taking the flight to Germany so that he could attend a RCAF historical event in Belgium.
The flight to CM was going to be on a CC150 Polaris Airbus via a short, over-night stop-over in Germany to change crews. Thankfully the aircraft was not full which left room for many of the passengers to stretch out and sleep during the seven-hour flight to Germany. The stop-over was interesting as it was at the old Canadian airport in Baden-Soellingen. Once home to 1 Canadian Air Group and part of 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, it had been a thriving NATO military base during the Cold War era from 1970 until both it and Lahr, Canada’s other German base were closed in 1994. Baden was now a smaller municipal airport with a modern terminal but there was still lots of evidence of its glory days with the Canadian city themed street names such as Quebec and Halifax Avenues. Many of the old distinctive green painted buildings and hardened aircraft hangers were still present. Younger members of the Canadian military in the group did not know about the history of the base were surprised to see ‘Canadian style barracks’ and a curling club.
It took two hotels to accommodate everyone from the flight, and after the usual customs clearances and waiting for transport we checked into our respective rooms for a few hours of sleep. It had been a long first day and with the flight and jet-lag taking its toll, catching five hours sleep in the hotel was easy, getting up for the early morning flight to Dubai was not.
The flight to Dubai was another seven hours in the air and we arrived at CM around 1600 in the afternoon. It was considerably warmer in CM in October then it had been in Germany and when the passenger doors opened we were instantly hit with the heat and humidity.
After handling all of the administration of clearing into the base, the collecting of baggage and the assigning of rooms, one of my two roommates was LCol St. Onge, so you could tell that the rooms had been assigned alphabetically. Those of us who were part of the MCT headquarters met in the early evening in order to familiarize ourselves with the other team members including LCol Sauve our CO and to map out how the base would be closed out. The timeline was extremely tight and it was already 16 October, we only had until 1 November to close down the base and ship all of the materiel either back to Canada or forward to Kandahar before it was to be handed back to U.A.E. officials on 7 November.
My job was to first collect up all of the mementos and artifacts on the camp. I had been to CM some two months earlier in July with my Op KEEPSAKE partner Mrs. Irene Lythall to catalogue all of the material, so I had a pretty good idea what items I was going to collect. At the meeting I learned that my other task was to oversee the dismantling, packaging and shipment of the CM memorial cairn back to Canada.
The CM memorial cairn to the fallen took up a footprint of approximately 8x10m and consisted of three parts. There was a central pyramid-style structure with two separate exterior walls angled outward. These three items are all constructed of black polished stone and sit on a white polished stone base with inlaid spotlights. The site was surrounded by grass and a paving stone walkway. The names, one for each fallen Canadian, were commemorated by cast bronze plaques and these were mounted on the centerpiece and two exterior walls. On the left hand wall, facing the front is a cast bronze bas-relief entitled ‘The Fallen’ which was donated by Kingston, Ontario artist Silvia Pecotia.
Collecting the artifacts and mementos was relatively simple and involved going systematically from building to building in the camp and collecting up all of the items. The MCT Signals detachment graciously loaned me three personnel with tools and we began the task by removing all of the mementos in the kitchen. This served two purposes, it meant that we started the process by tackling the job in the busiest and one of the tallest structures on base and secondly, when completed, quickly brought home to everyone on the camp that we were indeed closing down.
As each piece was collected, it was individually wrapped and then packaged for the trip back to Canada. I had been allotted a sea container just for the mementos and artifacts and although many of the items were small, several, mostly signs and plaques were quite large and over the course of two weeks it was easy to fill the container. Working outside in the sun, heat and humidity wrapping up framed prints and goodwill banners from Canadians was not quite as exciting as it sounds, but the work party never complained and eagerly tackled each task with enthusiasm knowing that they were preserving history.
As with any move, once you get started and word gets out that you are responsible to collect, package and ship what for most people had been everyday office decorations; so it did not take long for more items to be delivered to the assembly point. Many individuals were relieved that there was a plan in place to help preserve this material and came forward with items that had not been catalogued during the initial July visit.
Each building and office was checked for mementos and when everything was wrapped and packed the total was over 300 items.
While the collection of the mementos was starting to finish up, the next task was the dismantling and packing of the memorial cairn. For this job I worked closely with the Theatre Support Element (TSE) Chief Warrant Officer Lefebvre and the MCT Engineer Officer, Lt Michaud. CWO Lefebvre was very supportive of the Op KEEPSAKE collection plan and keen to provide any assistance he could to facilitate the mementos collection. He was also very cognizant of the importance of the memorial and he wanted to make sure that the cairn and the human loss that it represented was fully respected during the dismantling process. Lt Michaud had provided engineering assessments which had estimated that the dismantling process would take week so I had to make sure that the memorial was completely packed and ready to go well in advance of the CM close-out which was planned for early November.
Before any work would be done on the memorial, a final service was held in which all of the base personnel and MCT attended. A service was conducted by the CM Chaplain Lt(N) Tully and at the end the Canada flag which flew over the memorial cairn was lowered, folded and along with 10 poppies was placed into a special box. This signified that the cairn was moving from CM to its new location which everyone hoped would eventually be at CFB Trenton. Once this short but emotional service was over, everyone was given a chance for one last visit to the memorial cairn. Many left poppies on the memorial and following the service I collected them all up so that they could be used on the cairn once it was back in Canada. CWO Lefebvre also gave me the box with the flag and I was to secure it and bring it back to Ottawa so that when the time came it could be flown over the memorial cairn at its new home.
Local contractors had been hired to dismantle the memorial. Very carefully over the course of three days the polished stone veneer was separated from the central cast concrete core. There was no room for error and as each piece was removed, it was taken aside and laid out for packaging. The only real challenge was determining how the bas-relief was connected to the concrete and even though the cairn had been constructed in 2005, none of the plans could be located; so it was a case of trial and error to eventually successfully detach this crucial piece. Once all of the pieces had been removed, they were then very carefully transported by forklift to the other side of the camp to the cargo movements building so that they could be securely packed into custom manufactured wooden shipping crates. The base carpenter oversaw the work of constructing the crates which was done by another locally employed laborer who had carpentry experience. CWO Lefevbre had directed me that every evening during the dismantling process, as a sign of respect for fallen and the site, the work site would be covered.
With the stone veneer removed, all that was left was to demolish the concrete cores and to bring the site back down to grade. This took about five days and during the dismantling process the electrical pot lights from the memorial were saved as were examples of the polished stone which was used for the memorials floor. If required, the pot lights could be reused and the stonework would serve as samples when reconstructing the memorial back in Canada.
The crated memorial cairn, plus all of the packaged mementos were carefully stacked into the sea container. Once all of the documentation was completed, the sea container was added into the line for shipment to Canada.
In a little over two weeks, all of the mementos and the memorial had been successfully collected up and prepared for shipment. This was a feat that I was proud of and one that could not have been completed without the assistance of many people from both the MCT and the CM TSE staff.
The Camp Mirage Closure Ceremony was held on 3 November and it was at that time that the Canadian flag was lowered one last time and handed over to Major-General Parent, Deputy Commander, CEFCOM.
During the three weeks the MCT had packed and shipped over 60 sea containers and over two dozen airfield vehicles. CampMirage had been cleaned up and prepared for handover back to the U.A.E. on 7 November. All that was left now was to prepare for the return trip home and I was on the first flight which left on 5 November.
The return trip once again brought us through Baden-Soellingen and after a night in a hotel and with a mandatory two beer limit for everyone; the flight to Trenton the next day was uneventful.
I have had a number of interesting tasks in the military, but none was as rewarding as to have been part of the Camp Mirage Mission Close-out Team. Being responsible for the dismantling and shipment of the CM memorial cairn was a very gratifying. The Camp Mirage memorial cairn was eventually rededicated in the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton on 6 July, 2011. The flag that flew that once flew over the cairn in Camp Mirage is also now displayed with it in the museum.
Fathers Day 2010 Afghanisan
Cpl K.F. Dunphy
Currently serving with 4 Engineer Support Regiment based in Gagetown NewBrunswick.
Although there are many stories that can be told from my seven and a half month tour, there is a particular one that sticks with me, and I’m sure with my comrades, that were also present that day. The day was Fathers’ Day 2010. For most Canadians this is a day about family through blood line, but for me and the 17 others that were present on this day, it was about a different kind of family.
After a year and a half of preparation training for deployment, better known as “work up” in May 2010, twenty-four soldiers including myself left Fredericton Airport on route to Kandahar. We were part of a fairly new capability in Afghanistan called EROC (Expedient Route Opening Capability). Our mission inAfghanistanwas to prove routes free of mines and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) to allow coalition forces to travel the many routes in a safe manner. We were led by a great Sergeant and accompanied by many great soldiers as we were ready to take on whatAfghanistanhad in store for us.
A couple of weeks prior to Fathers’ Day 2010, my friend and brother in arms heard the good news from home that he was going to be a father upon his return home to Canada in December 2010. Spending everyday with him and twenty-two other individuals for the previous two years, it was great news for all of us to see him so overcome with joy. It was almost impossible for us see what was to come.
Orders came down through the chain of command and we were to prove a route that we had just previously hit an IED two days before. The constant feeling of being on edge was dramatically increased throughout the troop this morning, knowing that not only we could get hit again but it could be much worse. That’s when Murphy’s Law kicked in.
After dropping some troops off in the near-by FOB (Forward Operating Base) we continued our mission further on down to a more unknown area to us. In approximately the same spot we hit an IED two days before; we hit another one with our lead vehicle. The driver, a very motivated soldier, was a bit rattled but able to carry on. We set out our cordon and began to wait for the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) accompanied by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). In the mid summer heat in a desert, a six hour wait for some help while you’re scanning your arcs for potential enemy is not the ideal way to spend your day.
During these 6 hours we managed to find another IED. The corporal who just got the good news that he was to be a father had found his first IED. This is very exciting because it was what our job was. He then walked back to tell the sergeant he had found another IED. On his way back to grab a location from where he was last, our good friend stepped on what was another IED. This was the third one within a 25 meter diameter. Luckily he had two other very capable soldiers near by to provide him with medical attention long enough for the helicopter to land and take him to Kandahar Airfield to seek some immediate help with some great doctors we had. It is very unsettling to see someone you had spent everyday with in the last 2 years getting on a helicopter missing his leg, not knowing how he is going to be but having the utmost faith in the medical staff our military is provided with.
The day was still not over for there was still an IED that was not dealt with and obviously we were still in a high threat area. The QRF showed up and we began to move our vehicles around so EOD could perform their job on the IED. Murphy’s Law kicked in again.
While moving the vehicles we hit what was the fourth IED in the same area but luckily no one else was hurt. Water began to run low amongst the troops not expecting the heat wave and so many hours out in the sun. After our 16 hour day of what seemed like the closest to hell any of us had been we finally got back to the nearest FOB to stock back up on water and food before we could lay our heads down beneath the stars for a couple hours of sleep. Not knowing the status of our friend, I have never seen a group of people from all over the country come together to provide comfort and effort to not only make sure no one else was injured but to cheer them up over the events that happened that day.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later we found out that our comrade was alive and as well as he could be. He was sent toGermany where his family was sent to meet him to help provide care. This was a Fathers’ Day that no one should have to experience let alone a first time father to be. The soldier who lost his leg, after some time and countless hours of extreme therapy, is living a normal life and is very happy with his baby boy.
Proud Mother of Cameron and Colin Davidson
Have You Ever Cried Upside Down?
My son, Colin, was serving Canada on his tour in Afghanistan in 2010. It was the deadliest time in the Afghanistan war for our Canadian Soldiers. Even though my days were routine, there was always this nagging worry in my mind for Colin and his comrade’s safety. I didn’t realize until he was home how stressful it had been to turn on the news while he was overseas.
One Sunday morning during Colin’s tour, while preparing for work, my routine was to watch the CTV National News. There was an announcement that a Canadian Soldier had been killed just within a couple of hours and the name was being withheld until the next of kin were notified. Instantly I burst into tears. Fear took charge and possessed me. While clinging to hope that it wouldn’t be my dear Colin, there was no satisfaction to this Mom until the name was announced.
I phoned my other son, Cameron, Colin’s identical twin who is also in the Forces. Have you heard anything? Softly he responded “no Mom”. That helped but the fear kept strangling me tighter and tighter. Cameron tried to reassure me that the next of kin would be notified before it would be announced on the news. That was no consolation for this Mom as I had heard of horror stories where a family heard on the news that a soldier had been killed only to look out the window and see army personnel walking up to their front door.
Watching the clock, I couldn’t afford to stall and be late for work. My desperation kept mounting as I couldn’t contact Colin. To prevent leaks, their internet and phone systems in Afghanistan were shut down. I understood that. It didn’t help any. I emailed him regardless, trying to sound so non-chalant about the urgent need to hear from him.
I was leaning over the bathtub, rinsing my hair when everything in my body started to fall apart. I wailed with tears and yelled out upside down, pleading with God “please, please, please, oh please, oh please don’t let it be him”. I couldn’t stop. I yelled. I cried. I pleaded. My body shook. Looking in the mirror, to dry my hair, I pleaded some more, over and over “please, please, please”! “Oh please don’t let it be Colin”. Finally, I whimpered, softly repeating “Please don’t let it be Colin. Please”.
Making my way to my car, I walked past my tree with five yellow ribbons on it. My heart sank with worry for each and each one of them as my mind was floundering with the unknown.
Routine was good for loved ones worrying at home about their soldier. I started my workday and greeting customers occupied my mind. After a couple of hours, my cell phone rang. I ran for it with a pit in my stomach. The call identifier showed the foreign statement and I knew it was from Afghanistan. I answered the phone carefully; the world came to a standstill while I waited to hear who was on the other end of the phone. With unbelievable relief, I heard my precious Soldier on the phone “hi, Mom” in tone saying “here I am, I’m ok”. I broke down in tears. Tears of relief. Tears of happiness that my Soldier was alive.
But that good news didn’t wipe the slate clean. My relief was at the expense of someone else. As my fear loosened its grip, with thoughts that MY son was ok, I thought of someone else. My thoughts became very still and somber for some other Canadian family who didn’t hear their son or daughter on the other end of the phone. Someone else has being visited by the military while I escaped. I felt horrible for a Canadian family I didn’t know. Tears were shed for that Mom.
It’s been two years since that desperate time of pleading with all my might to God. From the time Colin received the phone call that he was going on his tour until Cameron came home from his tour safely, I had two years of that worry and fear in my soul.
I’m proud of our Canadian Soldiers who put their lives on the line for you and me. My thoughts are with all the families of the sons and daughters who gave their lives for you and me. We may not always agree with the missions, but our soldiers serve our country and when our country calls, they don’t question, they go and put their lives on the line. They just go for you and me. My thoughts are with those with missing limbs and war wounds whether visible or invisible.
Every time I hear O’Canada, my “Mom’s PTSD” wells up and my tears flow. I was stoic for the most part during my twin sons’ tours but I certainly had my moments and still do. Somehow it has to come out and for me that fear stuffed deep in my soul surfaces when it is touched by hearing “O’Canada”.
A few years ago I had the honour of meeting an elderly French Paratrooper in France on the anniversary of their liberation. He was so grateful to Canadians that he expressed with such serenity to me “thank you. (pause) Thank you. (pause) Thank you. (pause)”. I felt so unworthy of such praise and the only thing I could think to do with his precious words was to say it forward whenever I could to our soldiers and veterans. Please join me in spreading his appreciation by always thanking a soldier or vet three times.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Capt Susan Magill, Op ATHENA Roto 9, TAV 1 Apr – 28 June 10
Public Affairs Officer with HQ
Everything in Kandahar is beige – the sand, the rocks, the
mountains, our uniforms, even the buildings. On May 5, 2010, the morning of
Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake’s ramp ceremony, the entire sky rained
When I woke up that morning and opened the outside door to my barracks I could not believe my eyes. I stood for some time gazing at the Afghan skies. Everything was a golden-beige. There was no wind but the air was filled with softly drifting sand. It was as if tons of sand was simply falling lightly from the desert skies. Everything was coloured with a soft golden hue. My eyes had never seen such a wonder.
By the time I walked to the media tent, my clothes, hat and even my eyelashes were covered in a fine golden dust. My first task that day was to brief the embedded journalists on the procedure for the ramp ceremony. For some it was their first. It was my seventh.
Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake was 37 years old when he was killed by an improvised explosive device on May 3, 2010. He was the first sailor to die in action in Afghanistan. He had served with the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic based in Nova Scotia.
The journalists voiced concerns that the falling sand would ruin their photo opportunities during the daytime ramp ceremony. My only concern was that they followed the rules and regulations I laid out for them and provided media coverage that gave Craig Blake the dignified departure his sacrifice had earned.
The falling sand diffused the hot rays of the Afghan sun and left an eerie glow over the rows of soldiers as they stood at attention on the runway in honour of their fallen comrade.
The media photos were haunting. The golden dust softened everything leaving a sombre hue on the ceremony for the 143rd Canadian Forces soldier to die in Afghanistan.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tara Brautigam, Canadian Press
Pte (ret) Jarred Braybrook, 7 Platoon, Oscar Company, 1RCR Battle Group 15 April-21 November 2010, Panjwaii District
I Deployed to Panjawi during Op Athena in April 2010. We were sent to the small farming community of Chalghowr, located in the heart of Panjwaii. Here is where we would watch many of our close friends become casualties in this war that for me seemed to never want to end. As days and days went by, our efforts would always seem to be taking two steps back. Playing mental games with villagers who didn’t seem to care if we were there or not. Taking heavy fire day in and day out while dodging the unseen killer that would rise from the ground. We were just young kids. Myself coming from St. Catharines, Ontario was only 21 when I deployed. I spent my 22nd birthday sitting in a small dusty hole, dodging RPG’s and AK fire. This seemed as if it was more of a dream than the harsh reality of combat. My platoon spent 8 months enduring combat. Dodging sniper fire, being ambushed or dealing with IED’s, there was always something. Out of all those days, August 5th 2010 was the day that sticks out most in my mind.
I was heading to Kandahar Air Field from Forward Operating Base, Ma’sum Ghar. I was supposed to be heading on my leave. Upon my return to St. Catharines, I was to take my girlfriend, Kassy Sutch, to Saint Lucia for some needed R&R. Little did anyone know that this routine Chinook flight was to change our lives forever. Once we had taken off I settled into my seat and prepared for the 20min flight KAF. Roughly 5 min into flight, when we weren’t even outside of the Panjaw’i district yet, there was a large “THUDD” followed by an explosion. We came in contact with small arms fire from Taliban on the ground. The fuel tank exploded under my seat and sent me and the Warrant Officer next to me flying through the inside of the fuselage. Beams of day light ripped through the Chinook. The chopper started to shake violently and people begin to scream as the aircraft filled with smoke and fire. It felt as if I was burning alive. I could feel the hairs on my body begin to fry. The fire worked up from the back of the chopper, pushing us to the cockpit. Alarms are sounding and lights are flashing. I heard someone yell ” WE’RE GONNA CRASH!!!!” I lay on the deck and covered my face with my hands, trying hard not to breath in much smoke, and protect myself from the fire which is now all around me. Everything turned into slow motion and my thoughts flashed to home, my dad, my family, and my girlfriend, Kassy. I thought of how they were being taken away from me, and how i wouldn’t be traveling to the Caribbean with my love after all.
The Chinook smashed into a small field south of the Panjwaii district center. Someone yells, “GET OUT!!!MOVE”. I grabbed my rifle and left all other gear on the bird and crawled towards the only open door since the others are all on fire. I scrambled with others to get out of the small door. We come under small arms fire again. Taliban were shooting at us as we struggled to get out of the chopper. A small walk, about 50 meters to our south is where we need to go. Its the only cover around. ” ITS GONNA BLOW!!” I heard. I ran to the wall grabbing people, yelling at them to “GET UP!!” and “MOVE!!”. We made it to the wall and jumped into a small ditch on the other side of it. Roughly one to two minutes after the crash the whole chopper exploded with a massive display of fire power, as all different types of ammo, flares, and anything else on the bird cooked off, showing us one hell of a fire-works show.
I scanned my arcs looking for enemy. But they had all run off, probably scared off from the helos ammo cooking off. I found myself sitting sitting beside Capt. John Doig who was looking for a radio to call us in. Most of the people on board lost their weapons during the crash, so, there weren’t many guns on the ground. Not a lot of cover for us. We moved east and crossed a road, hunkering down into a larger ditch and waited for help to arrive. Within 10-15 minutes we saw a LAV III arriving, members of 8 Platoon from Oscar Company coming to our rescue. I must have smoked a whole pack of cigarettes by this time. The Sergeant Major showed up, looked at me and smiled, ” you okay Braybook?” he asked. I kind of laughed, “I’ve been better” and smiled back. We loaded onto the LAV’s and began the journey back to Ma’sum Ghar. There we were given a quick medical go over and told to go get some food.
I was standing in line and saw some of my friends, they were all smiling and cracking jokes at me. A crude sense of showing how one cared for other comrades “of course that would happen to you Braybrook”. Once in the mess tent I saw on the T.V. that the news had already hit home. Not even an hour had gone by and the people in Canada already knew that, according to the CBC, there has been a “hard landing” in Kandahar. Minutes after I finished eating I was told another chopper would be on its way an I would be on it. Thankfully this trip went without incident.
It was a Thursday afternoon when all this happened. On Sunday I was back in St. Catharines, having dinner at my grandparents house. I thought to myself, how can anyone ever explain what we young men have done what we will have to live with for the rest of our lives?
Today I have left the military. I spent 5 years in the infantry and it’s a young man’s game in my eyes. It was time to move on. I released from the Canadian Forces in September 2011, and now I work as an apprentice for Hydro One. But still, even as time moves forward, the actions from the summer of 2010 will always be with me and I don’t ever think they will ever go away.
Hard Chinook Landing 5 August 2010